Art Seen: January 24th

In this week's Art Seen, Laura Elliott looks at exhibitions from Milford Galleries, Gretl Barzotto, and Gail De Jong.


Golden Oriori, by Israel Birch
Golden Oriori, by Israel Birch
''The Earl Street Journal'', various artists (Milford Galleries, Queenstown)

It's worth seeing this year's impressive ''The Earl Street Journal'' exhibition at Queenstown's Milford Galleries just for Israel Birch's Golden Oriori.

The large work, created with layers of lacquer over stainless steel, is nothing short of mesmerising. As you move position, the surface layer changes from an impenetrable obsidian to a flickering pool that glows with metallic flames.

An inner structure of curving shapes creates the appearance of constant sinuous motion, as if fire is licking against glass, pushing out from the patterned rings to set the entire piece aflame.

Stand at the right angle and etched words appear in the central circle, illuminated against the burnished light.

From the power of fire to the peaceful warmth of sunshine and flowers, Neil Dawson's beautiful Florasphere gives the feeling of being outside, watching the shadows cast by leaves and branches as they move in the breeze.

Each stainless steel leaf is joined to another by the tiniest touch to form a perfect globe, the perpetual cycle of nature. As with all of Dawson's works, the surrounding environment becomes a part of the work, as sunlight shines through and reflects off the metal, tracing shadowed patterns on the white walls beyond.

His art is so intricately wrought that it creates a deceptive delicacy, as if the shapes have been cut carefully from fragile paper rather than steel.


Terreno Celeste, by Gretl Barzotto
Terreno Celeste, by Gretl Barzotto
''Terreno'', Gretl Barzotto (Eade Gallery, Clyde)

The earth shimmers with gold dust, the hills suddenly glittering as if the light catches on a thousand hidden jewels. On an overcast day, Gretl Barzotto's Terreno, the centrepiece of her current exhibition, is a sweepingly moody, atmospheric landscape, layer upon layer of cool-toned hills that bleed into a misty grey horizon.

As you step closer, a tiny flicker of surface sparkle emerges, and when the sun fully hits the canvas, particles of gold pigment come alive and the whole composition takes on a new dimension.

Nearby, the scattering of glittering pigment in the darker-toned Terreno Oro conjures romantic imagery of sandy plains beneath a night sky. Every work in the collection appears completely altered at different times of the day, and it's brilliantly executed.

There is a kinetic energy to Barzotto's work. Her connection to the land, her desire to capture her feelings about her environment shines through in the sweeping brushstrokes that criss-cross the picture plane, the droplets of colour allowed to drip down the surface.

Bartozzo sources paper and materials from Italy and Japan, and grinds Japanese ink sticks to make her pigments, and there is a deep sense of personal investment in every piece.

The collection includes large canvases and smaller paper works, the latter tending further towards abstraction, and although cool tones dominate, the effect is evocative rather than sombre, tugging at the senses.


To the valley below, by Gail de Jong
To the valley below, by Gail de Jong
''In the Neighbourhood'', Gail de Jong (Hullabaloo Art Space, Cromwell)

Gail De Jong describes her landscapes as ''spaces felt rather than seen'', which perfectly articulates the experience of viewing her work. From a technical perspective, her use of colour and texture is phenomenal. The roughened surfaces often give the impression of painted rock and stone, as if the images have emerged organically from the earth they represent.

De Jong's brushstrokes build layers of depth and shadow, which becomes fascinatingly textural the closer you move to the canvas and see the individual marks, the small splashes of seemingly sporadic colour that, from a distance, merge together to create a rich, evocative scene.

A spattering of aquamarine and orange drops suddenly become a perfect beam of light shimmering across the terrain.

Beyond the technical skill is an ability to connect people with her work on a more emotional level. There's a misty, almost dream-like quality to many of De Jong's landscapes, as if you're viewing the world as it once was, either well back in the past or from your own memories.

There is no mistaking the delineations between sky, hills, mountain peaks and winding bodies of water, but De Jong abstracts her composition just enough that the mind picks up and continues the narrative, and every person who views it will bring their own experiences, thoughts and feelings to the interpretation of the scene.

-By Laura Elliott

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