Art Seen: February 22

In this week's Art Seen, Laura Elliott looks at exhibitions from Janette Cervin, the Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery, Alexandra, and Sue Rutherford.


The Beautiful Vagabonds, by Janette Cervin.
The Beautiful Vagabonds, by Janette Cervin.
''What Lies Beneath'', Janette Cervin (Gallery Thirty Three, Wanaka)

The title of Janette Cervin's latest collection, ''What Lies Beneath'', could be interpreted both metaphorically and literally. Cervin's multifaceted images of plant and birdlife are painted on progressive layers of resin over an aluminium canvas, which creates an intense depth and dimension. The resin has a reflective finish like glass, a window on to the scene within, and different features are caught between each layer, bringing certain shapes to the forefront while others recede into the shadows. The eye wants to keep looking and searching for each tiny detail, and there always seems to be something else to uncover. Each work is an explosion of exuberant jewel-tones and abundant life, as if you've pushed aside the branches in a wood and found yourself in the midst of magic.

Cervin's use of colour is phenomenal, incorporating effective touches of the metallic, which glows under the resin. In The Garden of Excess II, a golden hue saturates the depicted scene, the extremely busy garden so flooded with sunlight that it appears to resonate warmth. The pastel-toned Remember Us Together is romantic and evocative, faintly misty like fragments of memory. Two of the standout pieces are The Circle of Life and The Beautiful Vagabonds, bursting with botanical splendor and encompassing every shade in the rainbow. Cervin's work is intricate and skilful, and has the aesthetic beauty of a stained-glass window or a medieval tapestry.


Studio with Still Life, by Elizabeth Stevens.
Studio with Still Life, by Elizabeth Stevens.
''Rediscover Elizabeth Stevens: Creating Order from Chaos'', Elizabeth Stevens (Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery, Alexandra)

''Rediscover Elizabeth Stevens: Creating Order from Chaos'' is a retrospective showcase of the work of prolific and innovative painter Elizabeth Stevens; it's a fascinating journey through 40-odd years of a long career. Born in 1923, Stevens spent most of her childhood on a remote farm, seeing very few people, and in that isolated landscape bloomed a vivid and inquiring imagination. She had an intense scientific and spiritual curiosity, and much of her work is preoccupied with the ''big'' questions in life, the search for meaning, the human spirit, the connections with both people and the earth, and the development of new forms of expression.

Steven's influences were many and varied; she studied under Colin McCahon, she was part of the evolution of modernist art in 20th-century New Zealand, and she absorbed styles as widely divergent as the early medieval artists and the American Modernists. Many of her works trace a path through abstraction, fragmenting the canvas and drawing attention to the structure of every line. In her landscapes, Stevens captured the plains and peaks of Central Otago in their essence rather than by photorealistic representation.

The exhibition is a glimpse into the artist's questioning mind, her ideas and her dreams; it's as if you've emerged from a long and thought-provoking conversation with her.


"Wall Pods - Sphere" - Sue Rutherford
"Wall Pods - Sphere" - Sue Rutherford
''Podcast: A Ceramic Conversation with Nature'', Sue Rutherford (Hullabaloo Art Space, Cromwell)

Ceramic artist Sue Rutherford returns with her new solo show, the humorously titled ''Podcast'', which continues her explorations into plant and marine life, and the ways in which she can communicate those thoughts and observations through her art. Rutherford is known for her wall pods, here mounted in respective groups of ''sphere'' and ''leaf'' shapes; they come together to form striking imagery, but each pod is uniquely conceived and detailed. They might be natural treasures collected on a walk through nature, preserved as richly toned and textured artefacts. Some are rippled across the surface as if shaped by the movements of the waves; others appear to be pitted and alive with other forms of life. Flowers bloom on one surface; another is cast into blue and black shadows, like looking into the darkest depths of water.

The ''Aqua Pods'' and ''Rock Pods'' series is also fascinating, suggesting both the gorgeous blue and green sunlit surface of apparently clear water, in all its serenity, and the creatures and organisms that teem beneath the waves. Two small framed landscapes might be maps painted on stone, a visual marker of where to find the other exhibits, and the theme of the show is carried through Rutherford's beautiful vessels. The paint appears to be weathered and flaking, as if shaped and scarred by the forces of nature rather than by human hands.


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