Art Seen: February 01

In this week's Art Seen, James Dignan looks at exhibitions from Peter McLaren, a joint exhibition from Loraine Higgins and Sue Scobie, and Peter Walsh.


Silence of the waste, by Peter McLaren
Silence of the waste, by Peter McLaren
"A solitary tilt'', Peter McLaren (Eskdale Gallery)

There is a sense of belonging and longing in Peter McLaren's haunted landscapes. The works, with their depths and strong glowing colours, depict a land that is simultaneously known and unknown, a world with which the viewer and artist feel connection, but which is paradoxically also a world of mystery.

Working with acrylic, monotype, and lacquered glass, McLaren draws from his memories of Scotland and the similarities of it to the geography of New Zealand's South in sombre landscapes, which are as much psychological as physical. The turbulent seas and shadowed mountains of pieces, such as Odysseus's lament and An unknown destination become stark signifiers, yet for all their sinister depth, there is great beauty in the images.

The colours, too, though dark and foreboding, glow with an inner warmth. This is particularly the case with the more abstract glass work Night journey, but carries through into the monotype Ithaca. Overall, the monotypes rely largely on the moody subtle atmospheric shifting of tones. The acrylic paintings, on the other hand, display a violent mark-making and a bold painterly approach. Skies and seas are scored with the deep textures of forceful palette knife strokes, creating a land which is simultaneously believably real and intangibly imaginary.


Canyon III, by Sue Scobie
Canyon III, by Sue Scobie
''New works'', Lorraine Higgins and Sue Scobie (The Artist's Room)

The works of Lorraine Higgins and Sue Scobie on display at The Artist's Room are a fine example of serendipitous complementary art. Serendipitous, because the exhibition is not quite how the gallery had intended it to be.

When the exhibition was first planned, the idea was to display Scobie's landscape-influenced ceramics alongside Higgins' landscape-inspired paintings. Higgins' style and subject, however, have changed significantly from her previous exhibition, and here she presents a series of fine, impressionistic mixed-media flower studies.

These works are attractive pieces, making fine use of their circular format. In images such as Hydrangeas, the flowers are as much suggested by the the lines painted around them as by the blooms themselves.

At times the impressionistic style becomes thick enough that the title of one piece, Palette, is almost a wink to the viewer that the flowers have simply become a profusion of colour.

Despite not being the original intended partner to Sue Scobie's ceramics, these paintings perform the job admirably, counterpointing the ceramicists entrancing flowing striations.

Scobie's elegant vases are patterned with an earthy palette of clay browns and moss greens in undulating horizontal swathes of colour. The effect is beautiful, with its evocation of the dry, sunburnt hills of Central Otago.


Rituals (detail), by Peter Walsh
Rituals (detail), by Peter Walsh
''Ritual'', Peter Walsh (Blue Oyster Gallery)

Peter Walsh's exhibition ''Rituals'', currently showing at Blue Oyster Gallery, is a display focused as much on the process of creation as on the end result.

Taking his cue from the mythological tale of Sisyphus, the artist's aim is to engage in the ritual process of repeating activities to create the fleeting art moment and the connection between it and psychological understanding.

More prosaically put, the artist has created a space to think about art. He presents the detritus of studio work, a series of canvases which may or may not be complete, and a large array of automated processes which by their tiny repeated actions are in the process of creating their own art or artifice - namely the slow dripping of water on to treated metal plates to produce rust patterns.

The finished (or part-finished) pieces have an aesthetic beauty, and the processes revealed through the exhibition lead to provocative thoughts on the essence of art itself. While the studio debris does little more than lead us into the suggestion of the gallery as studio, the dripping of liquid on to resonating plates becomes in itself a kinetic and sound sculpture, and the tunnel-like forms on the canvases, reminiscent of patterns from water droplets, suggest passageways leading to some subtle esoteric truths of artistic endeavour.

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