Art Seen: November 02

In this week's Art Seen, Laura Elliott looks at exhibitions from Art Bay Gallery, Milford Galleries, and Hullabaloo Art Space.


Remembrance, by Raquel Clarke.
Remembrance, by Raquel Clarke.
''The Secret Place'', Raquel Clarke (Art Bay Gallery, Queenstown)

The beauties of spring are flourishing in Central Otago, but Raquel Clarke gives nature a run for its money with her latest collection ''The Secret Place''. Her very recognisable style is shown to best advantage in the large-scale canvases.

The thick layers and impasto application of paint create a three-dimensional effect in her flowers, with each individual petal and strand of grass standing out. As the imagery moves up the picture plane, the surface smooths out, blurring the eyes with the effect of looking towards the distant horizon, an expert and unique handling of perspective.

Each work acts as a window for the viewer. Clarke opens portals into beautiful, dreamy landscapes in which flowers bloom and the land sprawls out in sun-dappled serenity. There is a touch of Monet in the softly impressionistic Autumn Willows, and more than a hint of poignant emotion in Remembrance, with its sea of poppies waving gently in the breeze, all sign of human presence erased.

The eponymous The Secret Place is a restful clearing, spattered with daisies and lit with a warm garden light. Clarke uses distinct colour palettes, with the cool green tones of The Secret Place contrasting with the glowing orange haze of California Poppies, but they are united in the invitation they offer, resonating such a sense of peace that you want to step inside and feel that calm.


Routeburn Road, by Michael Hight
Routeburn Road, by Michael Hight
''Recent Paintings'', Michael Hight (Milford Galleries, Queenstown)

Michael Hight has long been one of the most popular landscape artists in this country. His characteristic depictions of apparently empty beehives, placed against the craggy rise of mountains, can act as a commentary on the inevitable cycle of decay and change in nature and culture. They are also a sensitively observed vision of beauty, and a feat of technical skill.

Something rather wonderful occurs when viewing a Hight painting: when standing up close, many of the strokes can blend together, their significance not yet apparent. Take a few steps back, however, and suddenly those individual blocks of colour, that dramatic demarcation of dark against light, draw together in incredible realism.

The sun skates over peaks, leaving other areas bathed in shadow as they would be in nature. Splotches on abandoned cars mimic spreading rust and flaking paint with such accuracy that you almost expect to hear the soft thud as another piece of the ailing vehicle falls off to the grass below.

Conversely, details that can disappear when viewed from a distance will emerge again when moving closer. There are delicate strokes of branches and tussock, weathering on a rock, and an incredible use of negative space in the composition.

The eye tends to focus on positive space, the more noticeable features, but the areas in between add an enormous sense of depth, such as the black holes where doors and window glass might once have been.


Mountain Guardian, by Luke Anthony
Mountain Guardian, by Luke Anthony
''Avian'', Luke Anthony (Hullabaloo Art Space, Cromwell)

Birdsong ought to be resounding from Hullabaloo Art Space, with sculptor Luke Anthony's latest collection of realistic and charming wooden birds taking up residence. Carved from native timber and painted in acrylics, each creature is a faithful reproduction of its living counterpart, with a sense of life and fluttering movement, tiny delicate claws clinging to branches and stone, and flecks of colour used to give depth to sculpted feathers.

There is an intense personality to each bird, a mischievousness in the gleaming eyes, whether they are attending to their own business, like the House hunting pair busy exploring the homely possibilities of a knothole, or overseeing the movements of visitors below like the matai and onyx rifleman, perched inquisitively on the gallery wall. The fantails on their branches appear poised for flight at any moment, as if one hasty step would send them skittering away and escaping out the door.

In the centre of it all is the majestic Mountain Guardian, a kea carved from a silver pine fence post, a silent, watchful presence with alert eyes and a proud demeanour. This year's New Zealand Bird of the Year is an apt subject for the undeniable power figure in the collection. The shimmer of blue among the green feathers is serenely beautiful, but the obvious restrained power and strength in the solid body make the kea a forceful guardian of the show.

-By Laura Elliott

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