Review

Pamela Wolfe | Savage Beauty

Spring time calls for spring flowers, and at Artis Gallery in Parnell, Pamela Wolfe presents her latest works in an exhibition titled Savage Beauty, as part of Artweek Auckland.

Wolfe’s paintings explore notions of transience and fleeting beauty through floral still lifes.  Exquisitely painted in splendid detail, all the flowers are brimming and abloom, suffused with striking, rich colour.  The floral arrangements have a staged quality as they are juxtaposed against stark black, grey or white backgrounds.  Furthermore the bouquets appear zoomed in, as some flowers are cut off by the edge of the canvas, and only the lips or tops of vases seen.  This contrasts 17th Century Dutch still lifes, which Wolfe clearly draws reference from, where usually the whole vase and table they sit upon are depicted.  With a magnified, close up setting, the flowers and all their headiness are almost within our grasp – I nearly expect their perfume to waft into our presence.

Highly photorealistic, certain flowers in the foreground are painted with crisp edges on petals and distinct stamens; Wolfe contrasts this sharpness with areas of haziness in other sections of the bouquet.  This adds to the illusion of depth in the shallow pictorial space.  It has been noted that Wolfe is influenced by German painter Gerhard Richter and his photopaintings, where he replicated a photographic image in paint, including the camera’s ‘blur’ effect.[1]  I find that my eye is easily drawn into her works by their photographic detail and clarity, and once there, it is captured by the luscious viscosity of paint, and the artist’s virtuosity in the medium. Wolfe’s paintings toy with what is real and illusory, raising questions of verisimilitude in art.

Each of the artworks in this exhibition have titles that relate to ‘savage beauty’: Reckless, Dishevelled, Rustic and so on.   Though I wouldn’t say that these images are particularly savage or unkempt, they are wildly abundant and bountiful floral arrangements, full of vigour and life.  Most of Wolfe’s oeuvre has consisted of large oil on canvas works, but here she has also included five new and smaller works, Spring in London I-V which are gouache on paper.  Inspired by her time in London earlier this year, these bouquets are more typical of an English garden, as there are notably no orchids or other exotic flora, that have appeared in the other artworks, in these arrangements.  Moreover, they are much finer and delicately painted images, yet still have her signature bold colour and sensuousness.

Displayed simply against white walls where Wolfe’s works can do the talking, personal favourites are Tangle (oil on canvas, 1500 x 1600 mm), Primeval (oil on canvas, 1150 x 1550 mm) and Spring in London IV (gouache on paper, 380 x 510 mm).  Sumptuous and magnificent, I like the sense of compositional balance in each of them.  This is especially seen in Primeval where the two halves of the painting almost mirror each other when divided down the middle.  Pamela Wolfe’s paintings are passionate celebrations of the beauty of flowers and nature.

Savage Beauty is on until Sunday 1st November 2015 at Artis Gallery, Parnell.

For more information on the exhibition, please follow the link:

http://artisgallery.co.nz/exhibitions/savage-beauty/

Wolfe is also a successful book illustrator, and along with her husband Richard, published one of my favourite children’s books Midnight at the Museum (1997).  I think it’s now out of print, but you can still find it in the library 😀

I hope you had a chance to check out many of the other exhibitions and events during Artweek Auckland!

Until next time 🙂

M.


[1] ‘Pamela Wolfe Nature Study,’ Artis Gallery, http://artisgallery.co.nz/exhibitions/nature-study/

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