Art seen: June 22

Double portrait, 1922, by Frances Hodgkins, oil on canvas.
Double portrait, 1922, by Frances Hodgkins, oil on canvas.

‘‘Highlights at Hocken'', (Hocken Gallery)

‘‘Highlights at Hocken'' is a thoughtful selection from the Hocken's vast collection of 17,000 art works, 1 million photographs and innumerable ephemera. Works on display range from early historical representations of New Zealand to 20th-century New Zealand art and recent contemporary acquisitions.‘‘Highlights'' is an understatement. Billed as an exploration of the Hocken's Pictorial Collection, the exhibition is much more: an inspiring glimpse into the nuances of New Zealand art history.

Although the works are varied, the exhibition grounds its selection by focusing on contemporary responses to history and art history; the connections, collaborations and relationships between artists and historical figures; and insights into the development of a number of masterworks.

The connectedness of art in New Zealand is a prominent feature. An interesting example is a Victorian chair owned by Toss Woollaston that sits next to a portrait by the artist of a model reclining in the chair. The exhibition label identifies that the chair was gifted to Woollaston by Colin McCahon. Abstract connections are also drawn between historically charged contemporary works, mutual stylistic developments and multiple views of similar subjects. This is a compelling exhibition that shows the immense depth and breadth of an important collection.


Tucked in a corner, the vivid orange rose Lydia looks a picture.
Tucked in a corner, the vivid orange rose Lydia looks a picture.

‘‘Rangi & Papa: Earth & Sky'', Fiona Stirling and Marion Familton (Moray Gallery)

Moray Gallery is exhibiting two series by Fiona Stirling and Marion Familton that reflect on themes and imagery surrounding the Maori creation story of Ranginui and Papatuanuku, the sky father and the earth mother.

Stirling's ‘‘Rangi & Papa'' is a series of paintings inspired by carvings found in the Otago Museum's Tangata Whenua Gallery. In the exhibition text, Stirling identifies that carving as a poutokomanawa, a support post to the ridgepole from a whare in Taupo.

Across a series of gestural paintings Stirling repeatedly renders the carving of Rangi and Papa and examines the composition and details of the embracing figures. By exploring the ‘‘one-ness'' of the carving (both figures are carved into one piece of wood) Stirling compares the carving to Brancusi's The Kiss, a modernist sculpture depicting two figures, carved from one stone.

Familton's ‘‘Earth & Sky'' is a series of small ceramics that explore the nature of ceramic art and the practice's elemental connection to earth and air. The earth series is a collection of sawdust-fired bowls with wide, sturdy bases and a dark, natural colour that reflects the ground they were fired within. Alternatively, the sky series shows the hazy, grey and white vases and plates that reflect the colours of an overcast Dunedin sky in glossy works replicating the evanescent nature of wind and air.


Untitled, by Sharon Singer
Untitled, by Sharon Singer

‘‘South'', (Savoie de Lacy)

South is a group exhibition featuring work by Sharon Singer, Brendon Jon Philip, Craig Freeborn, Ashlee O'Hagen, Felix Harris, James Bellaney and Yonel Watene.

The mix of artists makes a diverse exhibition that ultimately is an effort to represent new trends in New Zealand painting, specifically highlighting diverse paint practices in Dunedin.

The exhibition includes a series of works by Watene and Harris, who each fill a wall with a number of paintings that vary in size and subject. Watene's are in a bold, graffiti-like style, incorporating mixed media on heavily worked canvases. Harris similarly uses mixed media, however, his are more cartoon-like with bright colours and simplified lines. Both artists create disparate visual collages that appear to draw on a variety of personal and cultural reference material.

The other artists are each represented through a single, large-scale painting. Singer's is a muted, surreal scene filled with enigmatic icons and symbols. O'Hagen shows a similar soft palette, but creates ambiguity through curved, gestural brush strokes.

Philip and Bellaney both have abstract pieces, but vary greatly in style. Philip's a dark composition of heavy painted wood planks, and Bellaney's showing dreamy, liquid swirls of pastel paint on canvas.

The exhibition is the space's second show.

 - by Samantha McKegg 

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