Art seen: Capturing NZ art history moments

'Painting No. 9', by Don Peebles.
'Painting No. 9', by Don Peebles.
> "Pieces of Eight" (Dunedin Public Art Gallery)

"Pieces of Eight" is a snapshot of a major moment in New Zealand art history, and is one of several exhibitions at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery focusing on New Zealand modern art. It draws its name from a seminal 1970s article highlighting the work of eight Kiwi abstract artists, all of whom were to become highly influential.

The exhibition comprises large works by five of these artists, all displaying aspects of the rigorous minimalism in vogue at the time.

The largest piece is Don Peebles' bold formal abstract Painting No. 9, its two strident irregular red panels dominating the gallery space. Opposite, Gordon Walthers' dynamic koru-inspired figure-and-ground work adds a needed softness to the display, despite its strong uniformity of line.

The remaining works emphasise stark reductionist purity. Milan Mrkusich and Ray Thorburn provide geometric meditations echoing the overseas work of Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt.

In Thorburn's work, the physicality of the art object has been stressed by the warping of the panels, creating an undulating modular form.

Ralph Hotere's two black works, with their minimal use of colour, present the void as a presence rather than an absence, using internal texture as a means of differentiating and stressing the darknesses inherent in the works.

'Hive Mind,' by Olav Nielsen.
'Hive Mind,' by Olav Nielsen.
> "Three Lights" (The Artist's Room)

The Artist's Room has brought together three disparate yet complementary artists, celebrating realism, magic realism, and surrealism in the exhibition "Three Lights".

The title of the exhibition is apt, as the work of all three artists glows in its own light. In the case of Sam Foley's road and path scenes, it is the soft light of spring or the harsh incandescence of streetlight falling on to the impressive canvases.

Foley has taken a trip north for some of his latest scenes, creating his own road movie from the wide vistas and country towns of the Canterbury Plains.

The surreal section of the troika is supplied by the anonymous spotlit characters of Thomas Elliott's theatre-like world. Emerging from the darkness, the mysterious white figures are caught mid-action in their arcane, stage-directed pursuits and large tableaux, leaving an indelible mystery in the minds of the viewers.

Between these two extremes are the evocative dreamscapes of Olav Nielsen. The artist is introducing continually more elements to his honey-lit villas, the addition of beekeepers and kites now creating yet more layers of personal symbology in these sumptuous pieces.

The artist has also effectively extended his techniques by presenting his prints wrapped over stretchers and within frames to give the impression of painted canvas.

'Stockholm Archipelago', by Nic Dempster.
'Stockholm Archipelago', by Nic Dempster.
> "The Artist's Companion", Nic Dempster (Gallery De Novo)

Nic Dempster uses an attractive, simplified style for his oil and acrylic works. Flat areas of colour are delineated by thick black lines, lending the paintings an air halfway between lino or woodcut prints and stained glass.

Indeed, the various acrylics and oils are interspersed with linocuts which seem perfectly attuned to the spirit of the paintings which surround them.

The style works well with Dempster's hallmark townscapes, drawn from both New Zealand and his European travels.

The block-like approach is particularly effective when depicting ranked roofs and walls in images such as the rooftop view of Dubrovnik and the flat-panelled houses of the Stockholm archipelago.

In the latter work, there are hints of a more painterly approach which is beginning to creep into several of the artist's images - the rocks and water, and especially the blooms, are no longer flat slabs but have delineation, gradation, and sculpted form.

Dempster has strayed a little from his usual subjects in several of the pieces exhibited, including travel-related images such as stacked suitcases and a room interior.

There are also two fine nods to one of the artist's New Zealand influences, Rita Angus, with the works Boats and rope for Rita I and II.


Add a Comment