Art Seen: May 18

In this week's Art Seen, Laura Elliott looks at exhibitions by Joanna Braithwaite, the Lakes District Museum & Gallery, and Sue Rutherford.


Explorers Club, by Joanna Braithwaite
Explorers Club, by Joanna Braithwaite
‘‘Catch of the Day’’, Joanna Braithwaite (Milford Galleries,  Queenstown)

Joanna Braithwaite is known for her skilful blending of the techniques of multiple art movements throughout history, introducing elements of tongue-in-cheek surrealism to the formality and sombre palette of an Old Masters-style portrait, testing and playing with traditional conventions.

It is the depth of feeling that informs her work, however, that invests each piece with such uniqueness, such genuine pathos. Her collection ``Catch of the Day'' focuses on a changing environment, the slow destruction of the natural world and the devastating impact on the animals that inhabit it.

Melting icecaps and rising seas cast her desperate subjects adrift, leaving them literally clinging to survival, and their painted expressions and poses are distinctly and poignantly human.

In Waiting Game, a polar bear clutches its cub as it sits precariously on a dripping shelf of ice, the theme of protective parent and child repeated in Catch of the Day #9, where the bear pair are seated on a melting throne of ice, maintaining a remarkable sense of dignity in the face of disaster.

The castaway seals of Explorers Club cluster together on floating wood, adrift in an endless sea. In this world where brutal reality blends with the fantastical, what at first glance appears to be predators becoming prey in Catch of the Day #7, with a penguin seizing upon a fish before being snatched up from behind by an albatross, could also be an attempt at a rescue, an ambiguity reflected in Catch of the Day #8, where a penguin hitches a ride on the back of a whale.


Buckingham Belle, by Lisa Duncan
Buckingham Belle, by Lisa Duncan
Arrowtown Autumn Festival Art Exhibition (Lakes District Museum & Gallery, Arrowtown)

Always a highlight on the arts calendar, the annual Arrowtown Autumn Festival Art Exhibition continues to bring together an impressive number of works, showcasing the techniques of both professional and amateur artists across the region in landscapes, still life, portraiture, abstraction, ceramics, sculpture, photography and collage.

Highlights include premier award-winner Laura Cahill's Morning Chorus (Bellbird) and Days of Old (Huia), beautifully, meticulously drawn wreaths of leaves and flowers, forming both a frame and a window on to their pictured bird. Penny Cowley's aptly titled Mysterious is an abstract acrylic in shades of white, grey and gold that conjures up impressions of shapes emerging from a fog, never fully materialising.

The realism of David John's Still Life with Mandolin Banjo, where a plastic bag is so sharply detailed as to almost rustle and the skin of the fruit looks waxy and touchable, is juxtaposed with the semi-abstraction and bright palette of Jane Burdon's Recycle, the joyous venture into surrealism with Anne Barwood's Puberty Blues, the slightly haunting mixed media Buckingham Belle by Lisa Duncan, and the sophisticated stylised landscapes of Esther Dexter and Jacquie Buick.

The crowning achievement of this exhibition is the way in which every artist focuses on a defining aspect of life in this land - the landscapes that represent photographic realism and dreamlike impressions that play with the senses, the slices of daily life and humour, the cycle of the seasons, a history of diverse cultures, war, gold-mining, tourism and development - with every individual artist contributing threads that collectively create a rich tapestry of Central Otago.


Beacon, by Sue Rutherford
Beacon, by Sue Rutherford
‘‘Buoys, Beacons & Markers’’, Sue Rutherford (Hullabaloo Art Space, Cromwell)

In her current solo exhibition, Sue Rutherford traces a map of journeys across the water with ceramic reproductions of buoys, beacons and markers, mounted on or among roughened timber from the Maniototo that brings the suggestion of a wharf and the battering influence of the tide.

Each vessel is handmade from earthenware clay, glazed to a smooth finish inside, but layered with vitreous slip on the exterior that creates a unique, crusted texture. The result is particularly effective on the series of sculptural beacons, giving such an appearance of weathering that the pieces might be underwater artefacts, rescued from a siege of the elements and bearing the scars of algae, barnacles and erosion.

Marked with the numbers and symbols of buoys and markers that Rutherford photographed along the east coast of the South Island, the ceramic versions are fascinatingly textural, the rough surface finish causing the paint to flake with every indication of age and wear, yet still clearly bearing the numbers and letters of their identifying codes, still deceptively functional.

The collection is enhanced by the clever inclusion of the Rock Pools, a number of dishes and vases that further bring the marine environment into the gallery, evoking the experience of exploring among the rocks on the shore, finding secret pockets of teeming life revealed by the moving tide. If the Rock Pool vessels are turned over, the underneath is strongly grooved, transforming the piece into something more like a shell.

-By Laura Elliott

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