The recent group shows at Franklin Arts Centre have been outstanding and well worth the drive. Ngaio Rue Blackwood, one of the artists from an exhibition earlier this year Made of Snow, was on view in the Community Gallery, alongside a group show titled Rumours which I was keen to check out 🙂
I managed to just catch Flight, which flitted onto the walls on Saturday 9th July before concluding on Friday 22nd. And indeed, the ephemerality of nature is explored by Blackwood in this exhibition. The emblematic bee makes its presence known throughout her works, such as Honey Sky (embroidery on linen, 22.9 x 17.8 cm) a personal fave.
By looking to the sky, weather and our environment, Blackwood examines these in numerous images of the ever-changing clouds to blooming flowers. There is a sense of play and investigation, most notably seen in 30 paintings in 30 days (watercolour on paper, A7 size) where she paints her quintessential hexagon/honeycomb shape each day for a month. Every day looks different, influenced by the artist’s state of mind and her external world. Moreover, Blackwood has incorporated some geographical maps that are embroidered on cotton, which appear to trace the path of bees, and how what happens in one area can influence what happens in another – our environments, like communities, are co-dependent.
Blackwood utilises a multitude of mediums and often embraces alternative modes such as watercolour and embroidery, which are not regularly seen in galleries. There is a sense of whimsy and delight to her painted and stitched lines, and throughout Flight there is a synergy, as each work inspires and motivates the creation of the next. With a large body of work created over the past six months, I am curious to see what Blackwood does in the future. A charming, thoughtful exhibition, I regret not being about to write about it earlier to allow you time to visit, and it was entirely my fault (and maybe a little bit of Pokémon Go’s…). I am working on getting to them sooner!
Some images of Blackwood’s exhibition are on Franklin Art Centre’s Facebook page and on the artist’s website:
An interview with the artist and some info on the exhibition is below:
Curated by Kara Wallace, Rumours focusses on contemporary portraiture, and features artists Anne-Sophie Adelys, Henrietta Harris, Gavin Hurley, Sam Mitchell, Séraphine Pick and Wayne Youle. These six artists investigate identity, memory, visibility and the self, each through their distinct styles; whilst collectively maintaining a fascination with blazing, bold coloration, and the signs and symbols of pop culture. Also, what a great title! I need to listen to that album again soon.
The first portrait you encounter is Big Saint Luke (2016) by Gavin Hurley. A static figure with stylised features, specifically the nose and chin, Luke is placed against a landscape background in a collage-like manner but is actually oil painted on linen. Mostly adopting middling blue and brown hues, pops of colour escape through his rather sensual lips, the rainbow to the left, and the sand coloured sun or halo (depending on your reading) that appears behind his head. Saint Luke is the patron saint of artists, and the flatness of this image is evocative of the saints in medieval stained glass windows, but with Clark Gable hair 😛 Indeed, Hurley’s work is reminiscent of many things, such as the personal memory of making faces from felt in primary school art classes. The palpable vintage vibe adds to that sense of familiarity, yet the passive immobility of his face draws the viewer in to ponder.
The next three portraits are by Anne-Sophie Adelys. Each has a figure delineated by a swathe of flat, bold colour and sketchily outlined. The background is loosely painted and gestural, and curiously the left arm of each figure is more developed and modelled. The faces are left completely blank creating a sense of anonymity, yet the poses and situations depicted are familiar and intimate. I almost felt as if I am intruding on a private moment of reflection. The lack of facial features invites the viewer to project; rather than being a representation, it allows the viewer to embody the work with their own memories, and consider what can be seen in the absence of things. Moreover, each painting has a witty title which I believe are drawn from quotes, for instance I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess (2016) is a declaration from biologist and feminist, Donna Haraway.
Henrietta Harris’ portraits are painted in an exacting, realistic style, highlighting a level of control and meticulous skill. This is then interrupted by a gestural flourish; a sweep of thick, soft-hued pink paint that obscures the face in each image. The portraits are of pensive young adults who seem somewhat uneasy or apprehensive, and who do not meet the viewer’s gaze; not that they can anyway 😀 I was fascinated by the juxtaposition between the imperceptible, immaculate brushwork of the fine strands of hair and the obvious, discernible lines in the brushy strokes. It seems like an afterthought, though it is clearly not, and the titles Fixed it III – VI (2016) certainly play up that aspect. It is as if some discord has occurred and there is a sense of frustration, a desire to forget or erase them from memory. Yet the mind almost automatically attempts to reconcile what it’s seeing, to look beneath the brushstrokes and complete the faces like a jigsaw, emphasising the subject’s refusal to be effaced or ignored.
Garishly bright in lollipop shades with wide grins and hollow eyes, it took a moment to discern the subjects of Wayne Youle’s portraits. Irreverent, convivial, and often addressing issues of race and identity, these particular images are highly topical. Bad choices (2016) is an image of Margaret Thatcher, whose legacy polarises to this day, and whom the new British Prime Minister Theresa May is currently being compared with as she negotiates Brexit. Bad manners (2016) is none other than Kanye West, another incredibly public and divisive figure, who is catching more of the spotlight with the recent Kardashian-West-Swift drama (you can catch up on it here,*sips tea*). With areas of flat colour that make the figures resemble the icons we see on postage stamps or bank notes, Youle has altered the context we normally see them in. By doing so, the feelings we have towards them (anger, admiration, disgust, the whole myriad) are suddenly jolted: they are made hilarious and absurd, and to an extent, so is their influence.
Along the left wall, the three images by Séraphine Pick resemble snapshots from a wild party, where comatose male revellers have had their faces doodled on or items balanced on their heads, such as a bottle. Pick’s portraits have this bewitching haziness which her painterly style contributes to, and the loudness of the doodling is nearly silenced by the subject’s lifeless slumber. It almost compels you to tiptoe past as to not rouse them. Each is intimately focussed on their faces, and your imagination runs amok in envisioning what else happened. Furthermore, you wonder if they will remember what has occurred, or confuse it with a disjointed dream. These images also invite projection, to look introspectively and consider our own inebriated experiences. Pick often draws inspiration from magazines and the internet, and there is an element of fantasy to these works which borders on predatory – questioning how we make ourselves, and such moments like these, public and available online.
Lastly, Sam Mitchell’s portraits take the form of two Perspex domes. With gargantuan eyes and pillowy lips, they resemble balloons that have been decorated and then inflated. Painted in reverse like much of Mitchell’s Perspex work, they have a deep space inspired background upon which a flurry of pop culture and retro imagery has been superimposed: pansies, the Taj Mahal, an old fashioned telephone, a canary, roses, guns, ‘60s damsels and more. Wickedly playful, they extend and protrude into the viewer’s space. There is a planetary feel to these large hemispherical shapes – the size is indicative of the wealth of memories and influences upon one’s sense of self. What we see is simply the surface, we cannot glimpse behind it, and each symbol represents an arbitrary, or perhaps not so arbitrary, thought that pops into our head. What is normally an invisible process is suddenly made very visible, and there is no hiding here.
Photos of Rumours can be found on Facebook:
A ruminative, enjoyable exhibition with lots to marvel and chuckle about, check out Rumours on until Saturday 20th August 2016, at the Franklin Art Centre, Pukekohe.
Phew, that was a long one! Thanks for reading to the end 😀