Art Seen: May 13


"Trees", Liz Abbott

(Moray Gallery)

In recent years, Liz Abbott’s art has moved in a surprising but impressive new direction.

Many artists start their careers with tentative realism, moving from that eventually through a gain of confidence to a bolder, more painterly approach. Abbott has managed to pass the stage of confident expressionistic landforms to move into a world of magic realism, no less confident but filled with firm line and marked by a playful approach to composition.

Her latest exhibition, "Trees", is a creative attempt to find a firm grasp on the land after having led a somewhat nomadic life in the past few years. Inspired by the poetry of friend Kirstie McKinnon, the exhibition uses the tree as a metaphor for this solid grounding, a symbol of the need for a place of one’s own to stand.

As mentioned before, the art itself has moved into a confident realm in which the arboreal forms sway and swoop, playing with the confines of the canvas. The bowed form of Southern Rata: Purakaunui Bay and enhanced perspective of Forest Study I challenge the rectangular framing, and the elegant Winter Tree, Opoho is a copybook lesson in simple, effective composition. Mottled dawn-pink skies enhance the linear effects to produce a living, breathing forest.

"Godsend", Jason Greig

(Brett McDowell Gallery)

It wouldn’t seem like a complete year at Brett McDowell Gallery without a Jason Greig show. The Lyttelton-based artist has become an annual attraction with his moody Gothic fantasies, all heavily influenced by late 19th-century Symbolist art.

The artist’s latest display, "Godsend", shows several interesting departures from his previous shows, all while keeping within his trademark style. Colour is used more subtly. Gone are the deep blood crimsons and faded ochres, replaced by calmer — dare I say cheerful — tones of teal and apple green. The monochromatic monoprints also show a new addition, with bright (and beautifully created) halo-like glows behind the heads of the main protagonists. The artist has also experimented with ragged edging to some of his images, as might be expected from torn paper collage, although this style is presented within purely printed works.

Greig’s skill as a printmaker can easily be seen in the wealth of techniques used in the bold Return to Chaos and in the enigmatic expressions and delicate textures of Eastern Woman and Paradise Host. Nor is his skill confined only to the print — an impressively aged oil painting masquerades as a centuries-old work, and an eerie charcoal nude are also a memorable.

"Godskull", various artists

(Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery)

If Jason Greig’s work whets the appetite for dark fantasy, then "Godskull", a group show at Dunedin’s Museum of Natural Mystery, should also appeal.

The exhibition, on the theme of the skeleton as an artistic subject, features 40 works in a wide range of media, from Sharon Pine’s decorated thar skull to some impressive etched glass work by Sophie White, and Larissa Jones’ memorable embroidered canvas.

Understandably, many of the works are dark and sombre, including the exhibition’s largest piece, David Jones’ human skull painting, and Daniel Bloxham’s Defleshing the Serpent Infinity. Several artists, however, take a lighter approach, among them Catherine Mann with her steampunk-inspired assemblage Lord Buglehorn.

In many cases, it is the simpler approach which has paid the biggest dividend. Hannah King’s A-waiting Skull is gentle yet effective, and Veronica Grace Brett’s luminous ink snake skeleton and Alan Dove’s poignant photograph of an elephant skeleton are also memorable. So, too, is a photograph of a detail on a tombstone, taken by museum proprietor Bruce Mahalski.

This exhibition has links with "Our Evolutionary Past", an exhibition of anthropological evolution on show at Otago Museum, featuring large-scale artwork by Mahalski depicting hominid skulls. It’s well worth a combined trip to both exhibitions.

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