Art Seen: March 14

In this week's Art Seen, James Dignan looks at exhibitions from Robert P. West, Jonette Murray, and Louise Menzies.

Cielo Nocturno Sobre Madrid, by Robert P. West
Cielo Nocturno Sobre Madrid, by Robert P. West
''Perfect Weather to Fly'', Robert P. West (Moray Gallery)

Robert P. West's latest exhibition at Moray Gallery marks a progression. While many of the works still rely on West's intriguing abstract combinations of coloured shapes connected by thin lines (in this instance, drawn or painted rather than using thread), he has also produced a number of works in a bolder, grittier style.

These latter works pack a certain amount of punch which has occasionally been lacking in the more grid-like designs. Even here, West's trademark connecting threads are visible, though running across the canvas to cut rather than connect the blocks of colour. Many of these threads have expanded to create white forms of their own, reflecting the negative spaces in the artist's more usual pieces. West's mixed-media pieces combine paint, collage, and, occasionally, the now archaic technology of Letraset to create interesting compositions.

West has also displayed his influences more openly; there is a clear nod to Piet Mondrian in the title of the Broad Bay Boogie Woogie series, and many of the other works are inspired by English indie band Elbow. West notes that Elbow's music has been described as ''lines of choice poetry set to random chords and off-kilter rhythms'', and suggests that his art might have something of this same feel, a suggestion with which it is easy to agree.


Ephemeral Delight, by Jonette Murray
Ephemeral Delight, by Jonette Murray
''Composed'', Jonette Murray (The Artist's Room)

Jonette Murray's impressive still lifes are the subject of ''Composed'' at The Artist's Room. The artist has created a series of tableaux in which the individual elements have been composed so as to play off each other, in terms of position and colour. The works are beautifully created, the soft lighting and gentle reflected surfaces reminiscent of Flemish art of the 17th century, even though the artist's influences and tastes surprisingly veer towards more modern painting.

The still lifes are generally restricted to a few items - fruit, butterflies, jugs - set against plain backgrounds. This allows for the relationship between the items to become a major point of focus, in terms of their position within the picture frame and the psychological interplay of the items. The relationship between colour and tone is also brought to the fore, especially in works such as These golden moments, with its rich golden pears, brass jug, and deep golden cream backdrop.

Several of the pieces bring to mind classical vanitas images, with antique utensils placed against the ephemeral lives of fruit and insects. This is emphasised in Elevation, where a burnt-out candle rests on a dog-eared book alongside a sickle, all traditional symbols of the too, too short nature of life.


Untitled (textile design no. II), 1925, by Louise Menzies
Untitled (textile design no. II), 1925, by Louise Menzies
''In an Orange My Mother was Eating'', Louise Menzies (Hocken Collections Gallery)

At the Hocken, 2018 Frances Hodgkins Fellow Louise Menzies examines the works of Hodgkins and Joanna Margaret Paul, creating pieces which draw directly on their art.

The central work is a series of book plates from Paul's book The Lone Goose. The plates have been reproduced on hand-made paper, and interspersed with ephemera relating to the book's publication. We thus see the book and at the behind-the-scenes actions which led to its creation.

The resonance of time and place is a concern of a 2019 calendar created from reproduced pages from older months which had coincident days and dates. It also finds an echo in the use of a fabric design by Frances Hogkins, not woven during her lifetime, but now created and used to upholster some worn furniture from Menzies' studio.

The echoes of time are most poignant in the exhibition's titular video installation. To a background of Ornette Coleman jazz, we read a Joanna Paul poem recalling children trying to work out where they came from. The words are interspersed with images of one of Paul's own children, now grown, seen against a background of photographs including some of his late mother. The subtly sad juxtaposition draws attention to the passage of time and how it can change our appreciation of objects and people.

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