Art seen: 6 April

Fukugawa, by Keisai Eisen.
Fukugawa, by Keisai Eisen.
"Keisai Eisen: Bijin-ga Master of the Edo Period"

(Brett McDowell Gallery)

Brett McDowell Gallery in Dowling Street annually presents a series of traditional Japanese artworks.

This year’s display is by Keisai Eisen, a notable early 19th-century artist working within the popular genre of ukiyo-e ("floating world"). Eisen’s art was predominantly bijin-ga (literally "beautiful people art"), a subject which consisted of portraits of the beautiful women around court. Bijin-ga prints were largely produced at a time when the techniques used in Japanese art were rapidly evolving, and the need to present their subjects in as realistic a way as possible made bijin-ga artists among the forefront of adopters of these new skills.

Keisai Eisen’s images combine the techniques of a top printmaker with an understanding of the traditional stylings of bijin-ga. Many of the pieces combine the use of woodblock and brushed ink, the latter delineating the areas of printing with flowing lines which add a sense of motion to the works.

The images are beautifully complex, the printmaker’s skills coming to the fore in the intricacies of the design. Images such as Beauty with Umbrella nicely combine detailed portraiture with a gently shaded background landscape, the monochrome nature of the latter allowing the subject to become a powerful focal point.

Looking Back, by Meg Gallagher.
Looking Back, by Meg Gallagher.
"Recent Works", Meg Gallagher


Meg Gallagher has recently moved back to Dunedin after time spent working in the fashion and art industries in Australia. Her unique art style marries concepts and materials from the two disciplines into a strong gestalt, the painting techniques enhancing the fabric materials and vice versa.

Gallagher’s art treads that delicious borderline between abstraction and landscape, at times favouring the solid land (as in The Sun is Darker), and at others the amorphous mists (Moving Forward). Using a minimal palette of rich sepias and occasional flashes of darkest indigo, the artist has created a series of images into which the viewer can fall and become lost.

What makes these works unique is Gallagher’s use of fashion materials in what are, ostensibly, paintings. Canvas has been replaced by black and indigo denim, which has been partially bleached and washed to produce a swirling backdrop. Over this, the artist has worked with acrylic, pigment powder and, in one notable case, thick dye; the brown of the latter becoming a rich and smooth raised layer which almost gives the impression of the denim being worn under a skin-tight leather skirt.

The sensual nature of this coating couples beautifully with the shifting, ambiguous landforms of the image to produce a compelling work.

Commission of Inquiry, by Tessa Barringer.
Commission of Inquiry, by Tessa Barringer.
"Birds and a Feather", Tessa Barringer and Claire Jensen

(The Artist’s Room)

Birdlife dominates proceedings at The Artist’s Room in a joint exhibition by Tessa Barringer and Claire Jensen.

Barringer’s work is perhaps the better known to Dunedin gallery-goers. Her images combine animal portraiture with the techniques of still life, in a series of fine tableaux in which native birds are depicted alongside glassware and silverware on supports of bare timber, all presented in Rembrandtesque lighting against smokey dark backgrounds.

Barringer’s skill at both capturing the life within the birds and the intricate surfaces of glass and metal is excellent, and she also imbues her pastel work with a wry sense of humour, as exemplified in titles and compositions such as Commission of Inquiry and Green Glass Hierarchy.

These works sit alongside Claire Jensen’s large carved works. Using native rimu and miro, Jensen has created two types of form: large free-standing forms inspired by native flax, and oversized feathers. Much can be read into this combination, especially with regards to the synergy between the environment, its use as a creative medium and traditional skills and culture. The flax and native wood, both important traditional sources of creative material, and the cultural significance of native bird feathers within New Zealand, work together to produce a satisfying display, one which beautifully complements Barringer’s images.

By James Dignan