Art seen

<i>'Bijin-ga - Beautiful Women of the Edo Period'</i> (Brett McDowell Gallery)
<i>'Bijin-ga - Beautiful Women of the Edo Period'</i> (Brett McDowell Gallery)
The Edo era, stretching from the 17th to the 19th centuries, was a time of a major burgeoning of Japanese culture. A newly-monied merchant class had developed, and a wealth of arts and entertainments, from kabuki theatre to high-status brothels to highly stylised Ukiyo-e art, grew up as a result. The latter of these in turn became a major influence on 19th-century Western art, and echoes of it can be seen in the work of artists from Degas to Lautrec.

The current exhibition at the Brett McDowell Gallery displays images from this bright demimonde - "beauties", geisha and courtesans in their daily lives and preparation for their duties. The images are beautifully created and in fine condition (unusual for works of this period, which were little regarded by the upper classes of Japanese society).

The colours are bright, and there is as much fascination with the dyes and processes as in the beauty of the images themselves. The woodblock prints, dating from 1810 to 1870, would have been drawn by the artists and laboriously and meticulously pressed into prints by skilled craftsmen under the auspices of individual publishers, whose cartouches are often clearly visible.

The exhibition is a fine display of a fascinating artistic period, and is well worth a look.

<i>'Come back'</i>, Anita de Soto (Milford Galleries)
<i>'Come back'</i>, Anita de Soto (Milford Galleries)
Anita De Soto's latest exhibition clearly shows the changes that her art has undergone since undertaking a recent residency in Leipzig.

De Soto's work has always been noted for its stark symbolism - figures engaged in arcane activities against sombre shrouded backgrounds and removed from the world at large. The paintings have been exquisite and highly polished, smoothly finished to a high degree.

While beautiful and showing the skill of the artist, these pieces have often allowed little room for the viewer to drift in the psychological worlds created. They are pristine, captivating and yet, perhaps, sometimes too finished.

The artist's latest work, on display at the Milford, shows a dramatic shift. The works are still impressive, but are now firmly grounded in a real - or surreal - world. The polish has gone, but to good effect. There is a freedom to the brushwork, and the symbolism is now attached to a strong narrative sense. Distinct themes are emerging - the reciprocal transformative power between man and environment is a major theme, as is the stylish use of miniature paintings as cameos within the main body of the works. De Soto's skilled use of paint and light is also strongly evident, especially in paintings such as Nearly Home.

<i>'Gilded'</i>, Catherine Garrett and Rachel Hirabayashi (The Artist's Room)
<i>'Gilded'</i>, Catherine Garrett and Rachel Hirabayashi (The Artist's Room)
Central Otago is a land of contrasts and extremes: goldrush history and adventure tourism, dusty plains and autumnal colours, parched earth and tumbling rivers. Some of these dichotomies have been captured in the disparate art of Catherine Garrett and Rachel Hirabayashi, on display at The Artist's Room.

Both artists take Central Otago as their subject, but the two sets of works could not differ more in their emotional palettes. Hirabayashi's images are steeped in a dust-brown land, populated with archetypal goldrush communities. The cabins which dot the valleys lie haphazardly, imposed on the eternal land.

Their anonymous ephemeral nature is reinforced by the works' prosaic titles. Subtle streaking of the paint and the misty unknowability of the countryside add to the archaic, old-photograph feel of the images.

Garrett's bright river valleys sit alongside in startling contrast. Here, the ochre land is complemented by the reds of autumn and blues of water and sky. These works too hark back, in this case to the Clutha and Kawarau as they existed before the Clyde high dam. There is an exuberance and playfulness to this Otago, albeit a rough embrace carrying the same hidden dangers as Hirabayashi's more austere land.

Between them, the artists sum up the region well in their starkly differing styles.



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