Art seen: 9 February

Portrait of Milton, by Alan R. Pearson.
Portrait of Milton, by Alan R. Pearson.
"Hurahia Ana Ka Whetu/Unveiling the Stars"

(Dunedin Public Art Gallery)

Dunedin Public Art Gallery is hosting an intriguing exhibition featuring works from its permanent collection. As such, many of the items may be familiar to gallery visitors, but the display has been deliberately staged so as to present the works in a new light.

The exhibition, a collaboration between the gallery and a group of Kāi Tahu artists, literally aims to unveil the stars of the gallery’s collection. By presenting these pieces accompanied by newly written material reflecting on the works, the gallery visitor is encouraged to look beyond the images to what it represent in terms of the art’s history, the gallery’s history, and the shared history of the land. The entrance to the galleries has become the gateway to a marae, with new works by Cath Brown and Ross Hemera becoming both karanga and karakia.

Within the gallery, works by artists ranging from Frances Hodgkins to Michael Parekowhai are presented with detailed panels giving new interpretations of the works, challenging us to understand the sitters and the hidden messages behind the art. Grahame Sydney and Colin McCahon’s work is redefined by means of poetry; Gretchen Albrecht’s abstract becomes a meditation on Rangi and Papa.

As a postmodern thought experiment, the exhibition works well. As a means of discovering a new side to old artistic friends, it works even better.

Forest Fern, by Keith Olsen.
Forest Fern, by Keith Olsen.
"All the World’s a Garden", Keith Olsen

(Moray Gallery)

The garden is a major inspiration for the art of Catlins-based illustrator and writer Keith Olsen.

Olsen describes his works, currently on display at Moray Gallery, as "pencil paintings", which is an apt description. The works are created from deep washes of acrylic paint on wood and cardboard panels, which form the backdrop for the artist’s meticulously-worked coloured pencil. The acrylic is generally subtly shaded, providing only the gentlest of detail; rich blue skies alternate with earthy browns and dark shadowy charcoal black. Over this base Olsen describes plants in bold detail, building them up from dark to light in a series of deftly worked layers.

Seen from the distance, it is a surprise to realise that the images are predominantly pencil. The artist beautifully captures light as it reflects on leaves and penetrates membraneous fruit skins to produce a warm soft glow in images like Gooseberries. The works where the background is dark tend to have a stronger effect than those images where the plants are presented against strong blue skies, largely because the brightness and subtle variations in the blue tend to distract the eye. In all of the works, however, there is a strength of image-making and fine capturing of light and detail which makes these works a delight.

Meadow, by Beth Gare.
Meadow, by Beth Gare.
"Freestyle/Singular/Papercuts", Beth Garey

(Maggie’s/Morning Magpie)

Of the many cafes around Dunedin, few do more to promote small art exhibitions than Morning Magpie. Its latest exhibition is a meticulously created series of works by Beth Garey.

Garey works in a delicate medium, paper, to build works through a process of cutting. The artist produces fine traceries which could almost be considered filigree, so fine are the lines created. As with Keith Olsen’s work, the garden forms a major inspiration, with the delicacy of blooms and tendrils replicated in the intricacy of the artist’s work.

The skill required to produce the minute cuts and working in images such as MeadowSerpentine, and Flame Flower is quite remarkable. These pieces, which move away from the symmetrical forms employed in several of the close-up "full frontal" blooms, are most appealing, allowing the artist full rein to produce a scene rather than relying solely on the patterns within an individual plant to catch the eye. Garey does not disappoint, with well-composed images. Meadow in particular is impressive, with the artist being bold enough to leave the upper half of her picture area almost untouched, creating a negative-space sky which gives her paper plants room to live and breathe.

By James Dignan