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In this week's Art Seen, James Dignan looks at exhibitions from Anne Baldock, Gallery De Novo, and Matt Ritani.
''Look Out: Look Down'', Anne Baldock (Moray Gallery)
Anne Baldock shows two remarkably different sides to her art in her current exhibition at Moray Gallery, ''Look Out: Look Down''.
The ''Look Out'' images consist of moody painterly impressions of local scenery, with strong, heavy brushstrokes and rich dark shades displaying a land in rain shadow, with sombre harbour and hills under looming cloud, and the only sunlight glowing through a misty veil. The works are fine, evocative depictions, with the local land and water excellently depicted in images such as 8 am, Mission Cove and Heading to Portobello.
Alongside these paintings sit the startlingly different ''Look Down'' works, a series of bright, humorous pieces where caricature people going about their home lives are viewed from above. We become a fly on the ceiling as the protagonists chase an invading sparrow or try to remove a tiny threatening spider.
The two styles jostle and vie for attention like sweet and sour, sugar and spice. It's almost as if fellow local artists Inge Doesburg and Frank Gordon had decided to collaborate on an exhibition. Although the effect of two such different series within one exhibition could be jarring, they effectively leaven the effects that the display might have had if all the works had been one style or the other. You can have too much of a good thing.
''If You Have Nothing Nice To Say'', Matt Ritani (Blue Oyster Art Project Space)
Matt Ritani examines the seemingly supportive but ultimately meaningless words we exchange every day in public through the media of tattoo, clothing, personalised plates and advertising.
By exploring the seemingly generic platitudes embodied in the likes of T-shirt messages, the artist questions why a person might wear these unfocused slogans, and what the reaction to them might be. Does anyone ever act on the messages, and if they did would the wearer be shocked? Is there a real cry for help in their display, or a ''look at me'' call for attention?
The larger part of the exhibition looks at these questions directly, with a rack of slogan T-shirts, identical except for their message. Between these are placed similarly regimented car registration plates.
With the messages being the only differentiating features between the items, we are forced to re-examine their role and question whether they also create an anonymity in the wearer, ironically opposite to that wearer's likely intent.
The second, more intriguing, part of the exhibition involves an audio recording of cut-and-paste sections from novels, poems, and lyrics, all read in a slow, gentle monotone. We find ourselves drawn into the poignant and the cliched, interwoven into a form that is hypnotic, fascinating, and ultimately deliberately devoid of meaning.
''Central Otago Series'', John Gillies (Gallery De Novo)
Gallery De Novo is a exhibiting a small window display comprising a dozen Central Otago landscapes by John Gillies.
The works, all in an identical format and size, show generic but attractive scenes from around Wanaka and Wakatipu. The images are captured very nicely using strong brush and palette knife strokes, and present a land which is the antithesis of Anne Baldock's sombre misty hills.
Using a bold palette of blues, cyans, and rich earthy browns, Gillies creates his scenes using angular blocks of colour, creating impressions of the scenery which leave the viewer to fill in the details. Wanaka's lakeside trees become vertical russet strokes, and the people wandering under the golden leaves in Arrowtown's historic precinct remain shadowy ciphers.
By working in this way, Gillies successfully depicts the general feeling of the country as much as he does the specific scenes, even though each image is clearly of a specific place. In doing so, he avoids the obvious cliches that a photographic representation might create, allowing the viewer's mind to do the wandering and to perhaps see each painting in a new way with successive viewings.
The display is completed by a 13th work, a panoramic image of Walter Peak as seen across Lake Wakatipu.