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In this week's Art Seen, James Dignan looks at exhibitions from Ron Esplin, Mathieson Beaumont, and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.
''Bella Italia'', Ron and Tom Esplin (Rob Piggott Gallery)
Ron Esplin continues exploring the family links in his art in his latest exhibition at Rob Piggott Gallery. Ostensibly a collection of watercolour works based on Italian scenes, the exhibition also contains several European landscapes by his late father, Tom.
The three Tom Esplin works show strength and maturity in their use of oil paint, thickly applied with a palette knife. The impasto work is effective, most notably in the nocturnal village scene Clair de Lune.
By comparison, Ron's works are softer mood pieces, though that is in part the consequence of his chosen medium of watercolour. The artist has succeeded in bringing out depth and solidity to his colours, effectively capturing the bright southern European sunlight in works such as Vernazza Cinque Terre and St Stephen's Portovenere. The artist delights in the study of the movement of people in the narrow Italian streets in works such as Alley Italia and the nicely composed Village in Istria.
Esplin junior has extended his study of people to include sketchy yet attractive small group scenes which are filled with spontaneity and occasional humour. Works such as Tre Maglie and the wry Adolescente! capture moments as charming, light-hearted delights.
''From the Archives'', Mathieson Beaumont (Fe29 Gallery)
Mathieson Beaumont is without doubt an elder statesman of Dunedin photography. His works have graced galleries and delighted audiences for many years.
The artist recently moved from his St Clair home to take up residence in the Frances Hodgkins Retirement Village, and during the process of packing for the move, he discovered a wealth of previously unexhibited photographs. The works included a number of images created during his travels in China and Southeast Asia, and also a number of more experimental pieces, which display a side of the artist's oeuvre which is not often seen by the public.
The works are, without exception, beautifully imagined and composed, and equally beautifully executed. Moods and moments are frozen in time yet still have the impact of the instant of their creation. Whether the image is of a Dunedin storefront, a Vietnamese street vendor, or two young lovers on a sun-drenched balcony, we feel we are transported to the moment that it was captured by the photographer.
The more experimental works show a different Mathieson Beaumont. In photographs such as those of a Dunedin phone booth in 1965, and 1950s views of Wellington's Thorndon Quay, the treatment and manipulation of the images has created a dreamlike unreality which draws the viewer back again and again.
''Freedom and Structure: Cubism and New Zealand Art 1930-1960'' (Dunedin Public Art Gallery)
Dunedin Public Art Gallery's exhibition ''Freedom and Structure'' is a major display examining the development of Cubism in New Zealand. The style, originating in France, became influential in many countries worldwide, and New Zealand was no exception.
Here, the style found an early champion in John Weeks, but really hit its stride in the 1950s, when artists such as Colin McCahon, Melvin Day and Louise Henderson became major exponents. The current exhibition looks at the works of Henderson and McCahon, in particular, though Weeks and Day are both well represented, as are other New Zealand cubists.
Of particular note is the development of specific artists. We can see, for example, the changes in McCahon's work through an extended series of images he did of Kauri forest which show his shift from a formal cubist structure to something more original and more in keeping with the New Zealand landscape.
Henderson's work shows an even more dramatic shift, from recognisable forms such as her Braque-influenced 1951 townscape of Duravel and 1954 reclining portrait to the bright semi-abstract forms of her Dieppe series of the late 1950s.
As always with DPAG exhibitions, the display is fastidiously annotated, detailing individual works and also giving general overviews.
The display is fascinating, highly informative and equally entertaining.