Art seen: May 11

Drifting Down the Clutha River, by Philip Beadle. Photo: L Elliott
Drifting Down the Clutha River, by Philip Beadle. Photo: L Elliott
"Light and Colour", Philip Beadle

(Eade Gallery, Clyde)

As the seasonal colours begin to fade into the silvery frost of winter, Philip Beadle’s new solo exhibition brings the peak of autumnal golds and reds back to Clyde. Focusing on the very particular light and golden glow of Central Otago, "Light and Colour" is a beautifully atmospheric, quite gentle collection, its hills and horizons softened with a romantic haze. Most of the works have the feel of a quiet late afternoon, with few people about as the evening edges in, a contemplative stillness settling over the hills.

Beadle has a particularly skilful hand with reflective surfaces, and sunlight leaves a glittering trail up the river in Clutha River Below the Clutha Dam, nature tracing its own path towards the dam. The larger landscapes have the immediate visual impact, from the timeless journey Drifting Down the Clutha River, the eye passing over trees like spun gold, heading into the cool shadows, to 9th Fairway, The Hills, Arrowtown, where the curated golf course is a stark contrast against the raw wildness of the mountains.

However, Central Otago isn’t all majestic landscapes and views, and the slices of life in the smaller pieces add an appealing sense of community and humanity. Pedestrians weave casually behind a cyclist on Clyde’s nostalgic main street, passengers disembark from the float plane on Lake Te Anau and, as the sun sets over the Ida Valley, the lingering feeling is one of peace and connection.

Evanescence XXXIV, by Debbie Neill. Photo: L Elliott
Evanescence XXXIV, by Debbie Neill. Photo: L Elliott
"Curiously Curated", Debbie Neill

(Hullabaloo Art Space, Cromwell)

Debbie Neill is something of a magician, weaving ethereal wonders from the most utilitarian of materials, and speaking entire paragraphs with the faintest whisper of wire. An accomplished life-drawing artist, she wields wire like a pencil, and different widths and curves of recycled metal appear to entwine and unwind with the elegant ease of silken threads.

"Curiously Curated" reflects Neill’s fascination with the Victorian period, exploring the intellectual preoccupation with the timeless and the transient, beauty and mortality. Flowers and birds were emblems of contemplation, femininity, freedom and science — in their living state; in death and decay, they were reminders of the fragility and inevitability of the life cycle. In Dead Bird Tryptic, the forms of the three birds lie suspended, their wings drooping and broken, but still a powerful — if ghostly — presence, casting shadowy echoes along the wall. The imagery of life extinguished is juxtaposed against the suggestion of insistent, cheeping new souls with Baby Birds in Nest. Endings and beginnings, in a perpetual, immortal loop.

Neill’s technique is strongly associated with her figure sculptures, and the female form is depicted in Evanescence XXXVII and Evanescence XXXIV with a robust sensuality and personality, wrought from a deceptively minimal arrangement of lines. With coiling energy, both figures appear as if the outlines might move and reform into different poses at any moment, but the faint rusting of the wires is a further nod to the relentless march of time.

The Botanist’s Garden, by Michael McHugh. Photo: Glenn Frei
The Botanist’s Garden, by Michael McHugh. Photo: Glenn Frei
"Kawarau 2", Group Show

(Milford Galleries Queenstown)

Karl Maughan’s gardens are always joyful, a forever summer captured in paint. Short, choppy brushstrokes create vivid bursts of colour, and the repeated circular forms within the composition keep the eye continually moving over and around the scene. There’s an intimacy about Maughan’s botanical imagery, a sense of calm that twangs at personal memories. Even small glimpses of pathways have significant impact, slightly shifting the tone of each work to take on a cultivated aesthetic, an invisible human presence, rather than a wild, untouched beauty.

In a very different style, Michael McHugh’s own odes to nature are more abstracted and layered, a fascinating study of vibrant colour and textural pattern. Works like The Botanist’s Garden have an interesting three-dimensional effect, with light and shade harnessed to push back certain areas, others popping to the foreground, and in some cases appearing to spring forward from the canvas. Tiny dots and circular detail create a riot of almost otherworldly, fantastical shapes, as if you’ve suddenly fallen headlong into a storybook or myth, not quite sure whether you’re in the presence of friends or foe. There’s a similar hint of eeriness to Hideaway, a faintly sinister aspect to twining vines and tightly clustering leaves, but the monochromatic palette brings in a different atmosphere to its companions, a verdant growth and humidity, the plant life appearing to rapidly take over the canvas.

By Laura Elliott