Art seen: January 21

Lost River, by Rachel Hirabayashi
Lost River, by Rachel Hirabayashi
"Works by Rachel Hirabayashi",

Rachel Hirabayashi

(Cromwell Museum)

A WIRE horse sits on a red shelf. A toy mouse swings gently from the ceiling rafters, suspended inside a reflective glass bauble. Patchwork fish hang from a loop of twine, books lie open and waiting, and a paint-splattered apron is hooked on the back of an easel, as if its owner will shortly return to pick up her brush. Stepping inside Cromwell Museum is currently like opening a door into the evocative imagination of artist Rachel Hirabayashi — and travelling back in time with your own memories.

Hirabayashi surrounds herself with the objects she’s collected throughout her life, each one linked to a memory, and she explores that connection through her art. It’s an intensely personal exhibition, with the artist’s own chair and furniture adding to the strong sense of her presence throughout the space. However, her work doesn’t merely present finished images for the viewer to observe from a distance. It opens a door and invites you to fill any empty space with your own emotional connections.

Many of the works reference the flooding that formed Lake Dunstan, with paintings depicting objects floating underwater — houses, teapots, the ghostly outlines of human figures. Just as those objects fall into the abyss of the flooded land, our memories are not fixed and infallible. Our perception of the past changes with the passing of time and new experiences, but we turn everyday items into treasures, a repository for our memories until we’re ready to pull them out and examine them once more.

Lake Matheson, by Peter Walker
Lake Matheson, by Peter Walker

"Final Destinations/Just Beginnings",

Peter Walker

(Eade Gallery, Clyde)

PETER WALKER is another artist who reaches out and draws the viewer into his work, using a slightly abstracted Expressionist style to set the scene without stripping it of all mystery. His multimedia landscapes are painted with a certain spontaneity, letting the direction of each canvas unfold in the moment, responding to changes in mood and atmosphere. That vividity and dynamism is very apparent in the finished work: you can clearly see the movements of his brush, the speed and energy in some sections, the meditative delicacy in others. Paint is applied in thick, textural dabs, left to drip, brought together in violent collision, stroked on in large sweeps and minuscule flicks.

Walker has a superlative eye for colour — not simply the blending of tones, the perfect balance of complementary shades, but in using colour to harness the transformative qualities of light. A lake becomes a stretch of impenetrable darkness, the eye skating across its surface, drawing away from the cold depths and up to the snowy mountains, glittering under a winter sky. A patch of golden light breaks through grey cloud and sets the world below aglow, creating a small haven of warmth and comfort amidst an otherwise barren land. A consistent feature throughout the collection is the sweep of tumultuous sky, so atmospheric that it seems almost a living presence in the scene, and often noticeably different in style from the terrain below.

Print, by Robin Brisker
Print, by Robin Brisker

"20 Years On", Robin Brisker

(Hullabaloo Art Space, Cromwell)

HAVING travelled widely, living in 10 different countries before settling in Wanaka 20 years ago, Robin Brisker celebrates two decades in Otago with this solo exhibition.

A recent addition to the talented collective at the gallery, Brisker works in a variety of media, in this instance watercolour, ink, and collage, tying together frequently disparate subject matter with humour and whimsy. The collages use objects collected during his journeys — magazine and newspaper clippings, photographs, calendars, stamps, playing cards, old tickets, each one having its own history and connections.

Rather like reading a mystery novel and piecing together clues, each collage holds endless possible stories, likely to be distinct to the individual viewer.

Even the watercolour and ink works have an effect of collage, as Brisker pens a visual tale with grouped objects — plants and shells, birds and horseshoes, a lugubrious fish and a hopeful man brandishing a flower. Circles of colour become objects in themselves, and the whole effect is of various emotions translated into visual form. Early abstract artists such as Wassily Kandinsky experimented with synesthesia, the intersection of the senses — like hearing a music note and seeing a colour in your mind. In a similar vein, Brisker’s art often give the effect of being handed a brush and asked to paint a feeling like joy or curiosity. Ultimately, it’s an intriguing, unique chronicle of human experience.

Laura Elliott

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