Art Seen: June 14

In this week's Art Seen, Laura Elliott looks at exhibitions from Gallery Thirty Three, and Milford Galleries.


Plain Song Working Surfaces — Landscape, by  J.S. Parker.
Plain Song Working Surfaces — Landscape, by J.S. Parker.
Works by J.S. Parker (Gallery Thirty Three, Wanaka).

Wanaka's Gallery Thirty Three celebrates the artistic vision and voice of two late, great New Zealand artists this month, with commemorative exhibitions of the works of J.S. Parker and Ian Scott.

Parker's ''Plain Song'' series, which he began in the 1980s, takes an iconic place in the history of national landscape painting. The title is a nod to the medieval Gregorian chant, and to the literal plains of Canterbury and Marlborough, incorporating and entwining Parker's interest in the land, and light, and music. In musical terms, ''plainsong'' is monophonic, a single melodic line, and that simplicity and purity of form and expression is deeply applicable to Parker's aesthetic.

He differentiated between colour and light; the light shines on the work, and it glows from within, giving life and movement to canvases that reveal, through every thick dollop and dash of paint, the vigorous energy of his art. Influenced by artists like McCahon, and Mondrian and the Cubists, Parker painted the melody of the land in visual form.

He stripped the landscape down to its barest geometric form, and took out the horizon line so that there seems no beginning or end to the composition. Yet, in his handling of colour and texture, you can see the land. You can see the sky, the terrain, water, fire, substance, and light. For a moment, you can see through his eyes.


Small Lattice No. 286, by Ian Scott.
Small Lattice No. 286, by Ian Scott.
Works by Ian Scott (Gallery Thirty Three, Wanaka).

Ian Scott was an artist who constantly sought new forms of expression, conveying his delight and passion for art-making through his work, which pushed boundaries and was part of the narrative of modernist art in this country.

After initially producing more figurative works in the 1960s, Scott was drawn to American minimalist art and abstract expressionism, at a time when the mainstream art industry and the public often did not acknowledge abstraction to be a legitimate form of art.

Artists who today are celebrated and considered part of our cultural tapestry were once faced with scepticism and scorn from peers and the commercial market, but battled on regardless.

Scott is most known for his ''Lattice'' series, which are numbered rather than titled with words, emphasising the painterly construction of each piece, putting the focus on the geometric lines, the solid blocks of colour, the physicality of the brushstrokes, rather than investing them with a layer of external meaning.

They seem to say, here is the work; see it as a physical object in front of you, not as merely the record or representation of something else. Except for the glorious rainbow of Small Lattice No. 286, the compositions are pared back to often just two or three colours, a few strikingly neat lines, a demonstration in conveying a great deal within a grid of deceptive simplicity.


37 47S 175 17E, by Brett Graham.
37 47S 175 17E, by Brett Graham.
The Arrow (Milford Galleries, Queenstown).

''The Arrow'', the title of the group show at Queenstown's Milford Galleries, references a geographical location, but is also indicative of the metaphorical ability of art to point to a certain direction.

Art directs attention to social issues, inequalities and persecution; it gives us a sense of home and place in its evocation of familiar landscapes; it brings in the influences of other artists, creating a continuing cycle of ideas and exploration.

The powerful work of Yuki Kihara, including the video Maui Descending a Staircase II (After Duchamp), examines art historical and photographic traditions while opening a stark and confronting narrative about identity, prejudice, and the enduring myths imposed by colonisation.

Brett Graham's silver beech and lacquer sculpture 37 47S 175 17E marks the co-ordinates of the land where Australian mercenary soldiers fighting for the New Zealand colonial government were once housed. In the shape of a target, the work seems to radiate and shimmer with a patchwork of slashing lines, like ripples in a pool, the ongoing consequences of a single act continuing to spread in ever-increasing circles. Neil Dawson's intricate Reflections sculptures make genius use of shadow to create multiple dimensions of imagery and reality.

The collection has been curated to bring in a wide range of cultural perspectives and artistic technique, leaving questions lingering in the air about the impact of religion, colonialism, gender roles, and our relationship with the environment.

-By Laura Elliott

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