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In this week's Art Seen Robyn Maree Pickens looks at exhibitions from Eskdale Gallery, Justin Morshuis and The Artist's Room.
''Putai tau, Putai aho'' (Eskdale Gallery)
''Putai tau, Putai aho'' is a group exhibition featuring the work of acclaimed artists (in alphabetical order) Barry Cleavin, Murray Eskdale, Scott Flanagan, Anet Neutze, Ben Webb and Marilynn Webb. According to gallery director Murray Eskdale, the exhibition's title translates as ''from the land far away'' and refers to the arrival of settlers (colonisation) to Aotearoa New Zealand.
My own forays into the title's meaning brought up words like sea foam (putai) and threads (aho), both of which seem somewhat apt. If there are any references to colonisation, however, they are muted and subtle.
The titles of Barry Cleavin's four works (Jack London, Joseph Conrad, Edgar Alan Poe and Herman Melville) could, to varying extents, allude to explorers and travellers. Or Anet Neutze's watercolour portraits of flowers, such as Orchid #2 (and Orchid #3) and Cranberry #2 could be interpreted as plant arrivals, yet there is also a native plant, Horopito #3.
In the general sense of aho meaning threads, Eskdale has woven together a stellar selection of works, from his own large-scale photographs to Neutze's charismatic watercolours, print works from two of this country's finest practitioners, Cleavin and Marilynn Webb, a large figure study by Ben Webb and complex graphite drawings by Scott Flanagan featuring his recurring rhombus motif.
''Ten Paintings for Ten Days'', Justin Morshuis (Inge Doesburg Gallery)
Currently on display for a short period of time are 10 paintings by local artist Justin Morshuis. Each small-scale painting presents figures (predominately three) in a landscape with trees, and occasionally buildings, executed in a style caught between post-impressionism and German expressionism.
For all the pastoral connotations of the figure-in-landscape genre, Morshuis' paintings range in tone or mood from sunny to unease. In some paintings the trees appear as benign guardians and in others they seem to harbour the melancholic and press in on the figures.
In one work (all are untitled), the viewer is reminded that Morshuis is also a photographer, and the trees in this painting function as a structural motif, a repeating vertical element anchoring the scene.
The intimate scale of the paintings and their installation also trigger a filmic reading of his work, a reading that is pleasingly interrupted with the generous impasto-style Morshuis deploys to build up the colours and shapes of his figures and forms. His paintings are engaging and humble.
On the opposite wall, Doesburg has hung a selection of works by artists represented by the gallery. The 12 or so works are hung in a salon style that brings out complementary formal relationships between, in particular, the works of Motoko Kikkawa, Kirsten Ferguson and Kim Pieters.
''Best in Show'' (The Artist's Room)
For some of us, the phrase ''best in show'' brings to mind the film of the same title by Christopher Guest (2000) in which canines and their idiosyncratic owners compete at the fictitious Mayflower Dog Show.
However, in acknowledgment of the Chinese Year of the Dog, Michelle Chalklin-Sinclair, of The Artist's Room, has assembled a group of local, national and international artists who specialise in portraying animals in their art, and particularly dogs, titling the exhibition ''Best in Show''.
With the tagline ''a celebration of all things canine'', this exhibition certainly delivers, with canines rendered in watercolour, ceramics, coloured pencil and various mixed media. In keeping with the varied media, the artists, including Ray Richardson (London), Michel Tuffery (Aotearoa New Zealand) and Laura Hardie (Scotland), work in a range of styles from the realistic (Hardie) to the cartoon-like (Tony Cribb).
In all Best in Show presents the work of seven key artists, some of whom have been exhibiting at The Artist's Room since its inception 14 years ago. Despite the scattered geographical locations of the artists and the broad curatorial premise, one dog breed serendipitously dominates: the English bull terrier.
This exhibition will appeal to animal lovers, dog enthusiasts and viewers who enjoy both an artist's ability to capture likeness, and to go beyond realism.