Art Seen: April 12

In this week's Art Seen, James Dignan looks at exhibitions from John Z. Robinson, Philip James Frost, and the Fe29 Gallery.


Looking Towards Great King Street, by John Z. Robinson
Looking Towards Great King Street, by John Z. Robinson
''Dozen'', John Z. Robinson (Moray Gallery)

John Z. Robinson tongue-in-cheek artist's statement to his current show is in pictorial form - a self-portrait with a speech bubble saying, ''Mainly I like to draw the familiar places, faces, and things.''

A simple, but accurate, summation, although it fails to say that he often likes to depict them in surprising ways.

So it is with ''Dozen'', a satisfying display of 12 Dunedin townscapes and still lifes, each imbued with a woozy sense of the organic. Inspired by a visit by some of the artist's friends to Ethiopia, a country whose traditional building designs eschew straight lines, Robinson has created a fantasy Dunedin in which - in the artist's own words - ''horizontals and perpendiculars are laughing at each other''.

The resulting mixed-media images, in their washes of cool, muted colours over strong yet unorthodox lines, are appealing explorations of the city.

In pieces such as View from Lynn's Studio and Hospital and Mount Cargill, Dunedin remains clearly visible in the drawings, yet in other works such as Looking Towards Great King Street, the city seems like a churning wave on a stormy sea of buildings.

The works are impressive, and are reminiscent of some of the wonkily attractive yet sinister cityscapes of German expressionists such as Grosz and Beckmann.


Untitled, by Philip James Frost
Untitled, by Philip James Frost
''On an Alligator Date'', Philip James Frost (Gallery De Novo)

Former Dunedin artist Philip James Frost has returned to the city in pictorial form via a new exhibition, ''On an Alligator Date'', at Gallery De Novo. The title of the exhibition is typically cryptic for an artist who prefers to let the art do his talking, and, indeed, almost all of the works on display are untitled.

Frost's dense, frequently dark, mixed-media creations mine popular culture to juxtapose seemingly unrelated ideas into clashing or brutally contemplative images.

Working in a heavily expressionistic style, the artist's inspiration has come from source material ranging from advertising posters to aircraft in-flight safety manuals. In each piece he has stripped back the detail from the original to create oil and pastel works which are almost architectural in their approach.

While the themes of many of the pieces may be dark, the opposite can often be said of Frost's use of colour. Bright lemon yellow, rich teal blue, virulent lime green, and glaring orange combine to produce art which, if it doesn't assault you on a metaphysical level will do so on a chromatic one. Not that this is a bad thing; the works are powerful, inventive, and - despite their seeming brutality - ultimately very attractive.


Separation, by Cecilia Orr
Separation, by Cecilia Orr
''Texture and Light'' (Fe29 Gallery)

Fe29 Gallery is presenting a show of work by many of their regular artists, presenting the exhibits amidst a general theme of texture and light. In doing so, they are creating the opportunity to present impressive combinations of work which play off each other and which would not normally be seen together in the gallery space.

The resulting mix of styles and approaches is an impressive one, and many of the works do work very well when placed together. In particular, a large painting by Edward Povey beautifully complements sculptural pieces by Peter Nicholls and Marian Fountain and a John Drawbridge print presented nearby.

Drawbridge's work predominates in the house/gallery's hallway, though it is another of Fountain's works, a tall heavily worked statuette, that catches the eye here. Elsewhere, burnished statue forms by Tanya Ashken are also highly appealing.

Impressive large scale collage work by Simon Ogden is to be found in one of the front rooms, the other of which is dominated by metal pieces by Peter Nicholls and gallery co-director Cecilia Orr. Orr's deeply personal meditations on separation and the transmutability of existence find physical form in strong abstract metal works in burnished copper and weathered steel.

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