Art Seen: September 14

In this week's Art Seen, James Dignan looks at exhibitions by Terry Stringer, Di ffrench, Rodney Hamel.

 

Hand Caressing Woman’s Head, by Terry Stringer
Hand Caressing Woman’s Head, by Terry Stringer
''That Certain Smile'', Terry Stringer (Milford Gallery, Dunedin)

Terry Stringer is one of New Zealand's foremost sculptors of the human form, and the sculptures he creates have an elegance and timeless beauty. These are no ordinary sculptures, however, but mathematical and perceptual puzzles, in which one form turns swiftly into another by moving around the work.

Stringer's sculptures are chimeric figures. A piece which appears to be a human torso on one side is simultaneously a hand holding a rose on the other. A group of three shaped bronze columns transforms with movement into a single head. A male face becomes a female face when it is rotated through 180 degrees.

Stringer's images are testimony to the artist's skills and knowledge of art. Created from bronze and patinated by paint, they are massive technical undertakings. They show a direct lineage back to the statuary of the mediaeval world and classical antiquity, a point emphasised by the temple-like feel of the smaller side gallery, a feeling enhanced by the painted backdrop and perfect use of lighting. Newer influences are also present in Stringer's art, most notably the 20th-century creations of Picasso, de Chirico, and Brancusi.

The display of such a large number of Stringer's works in one exhibition is a rare event, and worth a special visit to Dowling Street.

 

Theatre of the Non-Body — Untitled no. 6’’, by Di ffrench
Theatre of the Non-Body — Untitled no. 6’’, by Di ffrench
''Theatre of the Non-Body (1990)'', Di ffrench (Fe29 Gallery)

St Clair's Fe29 Gallery presents the second of a pair of exhibitions featuring the work of late Dunedin artist Di ffrench. Following on from May's ''Enduring Legacy'' exhibition, ''Theatre of the Non-Body'' presents a series of previously unexhibited images from 1990, mostly forming the series which shares the exhibition's title.

The works in this exhibition date from a period when the artist had just completed her Trustbank residency at the Christchurch Art Centre. They focus on the juxtapositions of natural spring blooms and human-made architectural features found in and around Hagley Park. The dichotomy of the two forms of beauty serve to emphasise and complement each other; the former represents untamed nature, the latter rigorous formal design, but both share their own wonders of geometry.

The works seem to glow from within. This is partly the result of their creation on metal-coated paper, and partly of the artist's typical style, which presents the images drenched in a strong honeyed glow, as if the scenes were preserved by being embedded in amber. At times, the works move close to pure abstraction, particularly with images such as Image Seeking its Text: Gingko III, in which the swirling leaves and blooms seem to become living embers in the fire of nature.

 

Fog on Taieri, by Rodney Hamel
Fog on Taieri, by Rodney Hamel
''Never a Look Back'', Rodney Hamel (Moray Gallery)

Rodney Hamel presents a charming exhibition of gentle country scenes at the Moray Gallery. The images have touches of naive and regionalist art in their bucolic simplicity, but these factors work well to create wistful odes to the Otago countryside.

The works form two distinct series, the smaller pieces showing elevated views of open, rolling countryside somewhat reminiscent of the Great Depression farmland images of Grant Wood. All is airiness and light, with pastel paddocks sitting under open skies and rendered solid by the contrasting dark purples of the bush.

The three larger, newer works generate a markedly different mood. Here, the viewpoint is lower, and even the most open of the scenes feels enclosed by the tangle of tree branches. Only in the image of Bull Creek does the sky again begin to dominate. Colours are richer, lines are stronger, and there is an air that here the land has not been tamed and still has a wild underbelly.

The images are painted in oil on hessian which has been deliberately stretched unevenly, producing an underpinning of curved warp and weft. In the newer works, this tends to reinforce the untamed nature of the images, but in all works it adds an extra textural layer to the pastoral scenes.

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