Sam Mitchell – Desires Postponed

I could not contain my excitement when I saw this exhibition advertised at the Melanie Roger Gallery in Herne Bay.  Why?  It brings together some of my favourite things: art and the Classic Hollywood era.

Artist Sam Mitchell often utilises various mediums, and here she applies her unmistakable style to inky blue watercolours on paper displayed in a tight grid, and slick Perspex domes which she has painted on the inside, and thus in reverse.  As the title proffers, Desires Postponed is an exploration of hindered dreams and forgotten endeavours.  Filtered through Mitchell’s prolific knowledge of pop culture and imagery, it features tragic figures from history – some more recent, some only recently rediscovered.

Embodying this theme and providing inspiration is Hedy Lamarr, an Austrian-born Hollywood actress and inventor.  During World War II, Lamarr and composer George Antheil created frequency-hopping spread-spectrum technology, where the signals for radio controlled torpedoes would hop from frequency to frequency, rendering them difficult to jam.  Patented in 1942, it was never implemented and forgotten, until 1962 when the US Navy utilised the design during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Lamarr and Antheil’s invention laid the groundwork for our modern Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and other communication technology.

It is only in the last few decades that Lamarr’s achievements as an inventor have received recognition, and her face (in her own words, a mask she cannot remove, a curse) populates this exhibition.  I could spot at least two of the watercolour portraits that resembled iconic images of her.  In the Perspex dome work Cuban Missile Crisis (2016), Lamarr’s face is central with gilded seigaiha (Japanese wave design) hair and hollow eyes, as she floats almost deity-like.  Along the edge of the dome, runs a row of missiles which appear to be aimed at Lamarr.  This image could well be a commentary on the corruption of intentions and inventions, during the Cold War and in our current global situation.  The threat and consequence of nuclear arms is also evident in Shattered Dreams, where the word ‘Chernobyl’ is blazoned on the left side next to what appears to be a child and a melting ice cream.

Other forlorn figures with unrealised ambitions include Alexander the Great, who created one of the largest empires spanning from Greece to the top of India, and who died at the age of 32 mid campaign.  Another much more contemporary figure is the legendary musician David Bowie on Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe (2016) in his Ziggy Stardust persona and drawn from the lyrics of the 1971 song ‘Moonage Daydream’.  One of the rare images in this show not to have hollow eyes – his eyes were so distinctive – the galactic setting suggested in the lyrics of ‘Moonage Daydream’ perfuses the illustrations on the dome, and in fact several of the domes.  Boldly Go is coated in sci-fi references from R2-D2 to Alf to the Vulcan Salute.  Moreover, their globular shape contributes to this theme of deep space, and their installation at varying points on the walls has the appearance of planets in orbit.

There are a dizzying number of faces and an epic array of eyewear amongst the watercolours.  They are all young, and their hollow eyes create a sense of weariness and ambivalence.  Their faces and poses feel familiar, almost frustratingly so.  Along with the budgies, flowers, cassette tapes and what looked like a smiling cow cutting parts of its body off, there are layers upon layers of references to pop culture which could take hours or more to dissect.  Riveting and visually rich, the brightness of such imagery alludes to the optimism and flourishing of technology and pop culture during the mid-20th Century, yet lurking beneath are latent dreams and aspirations which Mitchell has bubbled to the surface.

Please see the Melanie Roger Gallery website and Artsdiary for images:

If you would like to learn more about Hedy Lamarr, I highly recommend this fabulous piece by Anne Helen Petersen.  Petersen did her PhD in celebrity gossip, and writes accessible academic critique on celebrity culture:

All her pieces are excellent and she’s even got a book!

And you can’t talk about Lamarr without mentioning the TV series Agent Carter (such a great show, why, why couldn’t they give us a season 3) as the character Whitney Frost is based upon her.

Sam Mitchell – Desires Postponed is on at the Melanie Roger Gallery, Herne Bay until Saturday 17th September 2016.  Not to be missed 🙂



Liberal Application: Claudia Jowitt

I was very excited to see that Claudia Jowitt was exhibiting this month.  Her latest (and only second solo) exhibition Liberal Application is at Bath Street Gallery; tucked down one of the meandering streets of Parnell and dangerously close to Vaniye, a French patisserie.

A substantial show with 26 impressive new works, Jowitt explores notions of potentiality and becoming in the painting process.  Jowitt has described how painting is an arena where each action can potentially bring about entire change, that there is life within the marks on canvas which turn it into a palpable story of its own creation.[1]  Essentially what we are shown are artworks that contain the vestiges of paint at play, an account of all the possible directions that emerge in their genesis.

Skilfully employing both acrylic and oil paints in subdued shades of white and other muted hues, it can be easy to glimpse past her work, especially when displayed against white walls.  However Jowitt’s paintings require being looked at; in fact, I found their unassuming monochromatic palette actually demanding attention.  The subtle modulations along the pastel coloured spectrum skirmish for recognition and regard.

Jowitt has applied paint with liberal generosity, and the paint itself has dispersed liberally across the canvas.  The vacillating brushwork made up of intensely thick, toothpaste-like impasto that squiggles and squirms, contrasts areas where an airy brush has scantily licked the surface.  She has applied paint past the edge of the canvas, all around the sides, giving the impression that these works extend and connect beyond the canvas or paper.  This is evident in a number of her paintings for instance, Legato I – II (both 2016, acrylic and oil on linen, 500 x 550 mm).

As you pause before the tactility of Jowitt’s art, expanses reveal and hide, tantalising the eye.  Ridges emerge casting penumbral veils over painted plains when the works are viewed at a distance.  On some of the artworks, such as Sway (2016, acrylic and oil on linen, 350 x 300 mm) the exposed linen canvas adds to the eye’s attempt to decipher, as it disrupts the daubs of white.  The longer you look at her paintings, the more your initial thoughts and interpretations shift.  In a way, the gratification received from Jowitt’s work is slow releasing.  I think if I were to visit this show again (which I likely will) I would see something different and new that I may have missed before.

An astounding exhibition with loads to see, Liberal Application is on at Bath Street Gallery, Parnell until Saturday 2nd April 2016.  As part of White Night, the gallery will be open from 5:30 – 10pm on Saturday 12th March with DJ Johnny Elbo from Yam Jams playing a live vinyl set 🙂

Jowitt was recently named the 2016 Tautai Pacific Artist in Residence at the Dunedin School of Art at Otago Polytechnic.  I can’t wait to see what she does next!

For info on the exhibition, please see Bath Street Gallery’s website:

Quite a good interview with Jowitt from 2014 can be found below:

Enjoy!  And don’t forget White Night is coming up very soon 😀


˟Update 08.03.16: Artsdiary have posted some photos of the opening, check them out here

˟Update 02.08.16: A great catalogue accompanied this exhibition, featuring the artist’s conversations with Amber Wilson, Kara Wallace and Lisa Rayner.  The section with Wilson, Feminine Painting/Painting Feminine, has been made accessible through the Melanie Roger Gallery website and Pantograph Punch

[1] ‘Claudia Jowitt Dunedin Air,’ Tautai Pacific Arts Trust, accessed March 6, 2016,


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:

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 🙂


[1] ‘Pamela Wolfe Nature Study,’ Artis Gallery,


Fatu Feu’u –The Village

What a gloriously sunny weekend we are having.  Summer is almost here!  I recently dropped into the first gallery I wrote about nearly two years ago when I started this blog, and I know I say it often but time really does fly by 🙂  As the art world is forever on the go, the Warwick Henderson Gallery has hopped over a neighbourhood and relocated to Newmarket.

Currently on display are paintings by the well-known and prominent contemporary artist, Fatu Feu’u.  This exhibition is called The Village, and each painting draws thematically on this, with titles such as Kumara Patch (2015) and Le Lagoon (2015).  Feu’u regularly journeys back to his village of Poutasi, Samoa, and he is regarded as a leader and elder in society.  These works emphasise the importance of family, community and culture, particularly in the wake of the 2009 tsunami.

Even with the knowledge that these were new works by Feu’u, I still found his paintings surprising and unexpected.  They were far more abstract than I anticipated; the motifs I most associate with Feu’u’s oeuvre, such as the frangipani and tribal mask, have been replaced with sketchy, energetic images drawn from ancient Lapita pottery and other prehistoric Pacific sources.

Incredibly gestural and intensely coloured with an earthy palette, the focus appears to be on mark making – the art of suggesting forms with a myriad of strokes and splashes from a paintbrush.  Somewhat resembling cave drawings as well as the paper cut out works by Henri Matisse, these paintings exhibit a sense of joie de vivre and togetherness, which is particularly demonstrated by the bopping figures in Lolita Come Play (2015) and Lolita Come Dance (2015).  The loose, almost instinctive brushwork adds to this impression of movement, as if they are abuzz with activity.

With the repetition of patterns throughout The Village, this series can be read in its entirety.  Each painting is like a cornerstone of a village, individually accentuating their significance to the community and culture as a whole.  That is at the heart of Feu’u’s paintings, and though some viewers may not find these as immediately iconic as his earlier works, the message is still essential and needing to be articulated.  Continuously evolving, I am excited to see where this direction will lead Fatu Feu’u next.

Fatu Feu’u –The Village is on until Sunday 11th October 2015 at Warwick Henderson Gallery, Newmarket.

For further info on the exhibition, please see the website:

And a great resource is Cultural Icons, where you can hear Fatu Feu’u discuss his life and work in episode #74:

Until next time!



Liz Maw: The Age of the Multiverse

Liz Maw does some of the most alluring and otherworldly contemporary portraits out there.  Intricately detailed, it is easy to marvel at their sheer size and her exquisite brushwork.  Maw contrasts her highly realistic style with fantastical subject matter, and she imbues her work with a sort of outré magnetism, for a lack of a better term 😛

Her latest exhibition The Age of the Multiverse concludes today at Ivan Anthony Gallery near the corner of East St and K’Rd.  I managed to just catch it, and though I do like to allow readers the opportunity to visit works themselves, time was not on my side.  I still wanted to write about the exhibition as I was quite taken by it, and was thinking about the works for some time afterwards.

The Age of the Multiverse features two large portraits and a smaller landscape.  The landscape is pastoral and picturesque, with rose pinks repeated in the sky and in the trees, but personally I found the portraits to be of greater fascination.

The first work you encounter is Dark Lord x 2 (2015, oil on board) which is about 2 metres high and features a solemn male figure in a jewelled doublet.  The jewels dazzle brilliantly, as if catching the light, and the buttons are exceptionally adorned with what I think are ships and dragons.  He is exhaustively modelled and Maw has surprisingly juxtaposed him with a shadowy female figure, depicted with almost Édouard Manet levels of flatness and in a simplistic style similar to Japanese manga.

Maw engages with the rich history of portraiture in art, and this image is reminiscent of the royal portraits painted by the likes of Hans Holbein, Diego Velázquez, Anthony van Dyck and more.  These images were often symbols of power, used to assert authority.  However, unlike those portraits, the male figure averts his gaze, somewhat diminishing his power.  When considering the power of the gaze in art and how the objects being gazed at were usually women, the male figure’s passivity did bring to mind Laura Mulvey’s seminal essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975).  Yet like all art, this work should not solely be seen through one lens but through a scope of thought.  Amongst all the ideas I had about this image, my sense of wonder was definitely struck by the unusual composition and minutiae, and simply the question of what is going on in this work?  I think part of the fun is in the not knowing 😀

In contrast to the Dark Lord’s downward gaze, blonde bombshell Charlotte fixes her bewitching stare upon you.  Titled Charlotte from the South (2015, oil on board) it is another relatively large work at about 1.5 x 1.5 metres.  Featuring what initially seems to be a simple image of a woman standing outdoors in a fur coat on a miserable day, it is also strikingly detailed.  Her luscious thick curls seem to shimmer and shine, and Maw has even painted her individual eyelashes.  The entire image is covered in drizzly rain, which doesn’t seem to dampen her hair or coat, and the light refracts the rain drops transforming them into twinkling diamond shapes.  Just beautiful.

With the rapid growth of celebrity culture due to advancements in mass and social media, celebrities have been elevated to the status of icons, and painted in a way that is on par to that of religious icons.  A number of Maw’s mesmerising portraits elicit such reflections and questioning of contemporary society, as does Charlotte from the South.  She is depicted as an ethereal winter temptress yet bears a slight sardonic smirk, like she is on a secret, aware of her 15 minutes of fame and the fleeting nature of beauty and stardom.

To view the Dark Lord and Charlotte, please click on the link:

And to see images of Maw’s other work, visit her website:

Maw also gave a wonderfully funny and honest interview for The Vernacularist Special Edition: Wāhine – Women published by the Depot Artspace, which celebrates the work, lives and thoughts of women in Aotearoa, New Zealand, specifically those involved in unique cultural, social, scientific and creative processes.

To view some of the pages and order a copy, please see below:

Thanks for reading, and I’ll try to be more onto it next time 🙂



Medieval Moderns: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

I have long been enraptured with Pre-Raphaelite art: the high key jewel like colours, aesthetically lush scenes rendered in minute detail, and references to literature and mythology.  Dare I say that it is my favourite art movement?  It’s definitely in my top 10.  Okay, maybe my top 5.  Better not laminate that list 😛

When I heard about Medieval Moderns: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne, I couldn’t wait to skip across the pond to see some works by my fave lads – Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Millais, et al.  The exhibition showcases the gallery’s extensive collection of Pre-Raphaelite art which includes paintings, drawings, stained glass, textiles and photographs, indicative of how they were not only artists but craftsmen.

Established in 1848, the Pre-Raphaelites drew their name from their influence: 15th Century artists working prior to Raphael (1483 – 1520) the great master, revered by the Royal Academy of Art.  Reacting against the Academy and the rapid industrialisation of the Victorian era, they sought simplicity, moral and social reform through art, and ‘truth to nature’.  The title of this exhibition highlights that whilst they drew on the stylistic characteristics of the medieval age, they were thoroughly modern through their utilisation of photography as a medium, and their desire to overturn the current establishment.

The artworks exhibited in Medieval Moderns are embellished by sumptuously coloured walls – carmine red and teal blue.  In one room, the walls are completely covered in a grape and vine wallpaper designed by Pre-Raphaelite artist, and later founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, William Morris.  The archways into each room are also pointed like Gothic cathedral spires and add to the medieval feel of the space.

There are a number of glorious works to see.  A particular highlight was Paolo and Francesca da Rimini (1867, gouache, watercolour and gum over black chalk with sponging on 2 sheets of paper) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  A passionate image, the couple depicted are Francesca da Rimini and her brother-in-law Paolo Malatesta, who appear in the poem, Divine Comedy by Rossetti’s idol Dante Alighieri.  The roses at their feet are symbolic of love, whilst the book they were reading, which is about to fall from Paolo’s lap, details the love affair between Queen Guinevere and Lancelot du Lac – a foreshadowing tale to this scene.  What I find to be greatly fascinating about the Pre-Raphaelites is that the skill and craft doesn’t stop at the edge of the canvas or paper: the frames are specifically designed, they are extensions of the works, and executed in marvellous detail.

Another highlight was Edward Burne-Jones’ Wheel of Fortune (1871–85, oil on canvas).  Burne-Jones was a later Pre-Raphaelite artist, and the defined musculature and Michelangelesque modelling is more Classical than medieval.  Yet the theme of lady Justice turning her unbiased and inescapable wheel of a prisoner, a king and a poet has appeared on a number of occasions in medieval literature.  It was one of significant interest for Burne-Jones, and he would return to it often in his oeuvre.  He was a self-taught artist, which I find astounding, as some of my favourite images such as Laus Veneris (1873–78) and The Legend of Briar Rose (1885–1890) are exquisite displays of technique.

Burne-Jones also did a fantastic stained glass window titled St Paul from the Chapel of Cheadle Royal Hospital, Manchester (1892 designed, 1911 manufactured, stained glass and lead).  William Morris had formed a decorative arts manufacturing firm in 1861, initially called Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, before becoming Morris & Co in 1875.  As mentioned, the Pre-Raphaelites interests included crafts and stained glass, and this work is very medieval inspired with the distinct halo and decorative detail.  This window is amazingly lit from the behind, and just radiates beauty.

Do also check out Ford Madox Brown’s The Baptism of Edwin, King of Northumbria (1879–91, cartoon: pastel, coloured chalks and grey wash) simply for its intense horizontality, and basically any photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron.

Well worth the skip over the pond, Medieval Moderns is at National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne until the 12th July 2015.  It is free entry and the gallery is open every day except Tuesdays.

Please see the link below for more info:



Janette Cervin: Blended Families

As we somersault towards the end of 2014, I thought I would write about Janette Cervin, an artist whose exquisite hydrangeas I had encountered in January of this year.  Now part of the December exhibitions at the Depot Artspace in Devonport, I think her works are a delightful way to bookend what has been a fascinating year of art.

In her exhibition Blended Families, Cervin presents a series of flower paintings that are splendorous with local flora and fauna – depicting New Zealand as an Antipodean paradise.  Her style is highly decorative with details such as korus, hydrangeas and birds being repeated within paintings and across works in this exhibition.  Cervin engages with the floral motif in the history of art, particularly the theme of vanitas, a type of still life featuring objects that symbolise mortality and transience, and was popular in the Netherlands during the 16th and 17th Centuries.  She furthermore points to how repetitive natural forms would historically appear in the domestic sphere of arts and crafts created by women.  Some of her works for example Birds on Blossoms, easily resembles textile or wallpaper design with its neutral coloured background and is reminiscent of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement.

I am enchanted by Cervin’s painting technique – she creates the illusion of depth in a remarkable way, in that it is less of an illusion.  Working on an aluminium surface, she paints in heady colour before applying glossy resin, and then repeats this layering process.  She builds up specific areas at different stages, and on some artworks such as Iris and Flax and Blue Hydrangeas, the paint sits atop the final thick application of resin.  All the flowers are at the height of their bloom, and you can see the details tenderly suspended amongst the gooey glazed layers, at varying depths from the surface.  In some ways it is almost like looking into a deep pool of water, like a pond, as the resin has a highly reflective polish.

Almost all of her verdant scenes are encapsulated by the tondo shape of the panel she paints upon, apart from the odd rectangular and oval artwork.  This rounded shape is reminiscent of many things: a magnifying glass, an embroidery hoop, and a William Hodges’ work titled A View of Dusky Bay, New Zealand (1773, oil on panel, 81 x 79.5 x 6.4 cm, Auckland Art Gallery).  One of the first paintings of New Zealand, Hodges presents an idealised, sublime scene of arriving in Dusky Bay with a towering Maori man set in the foreground.  Though his painting is greatly romanticised, Hodges does depict the beauty and power of nature.  I can’t help but think of how Cervin similarly comments on our stunning surroundings, and what could easily be lost and become extinct.

These paintings celebrate the vitality and beauty of our landscape, our clean green backyards, whilst also drawing attention to the fragility and transience of such beauty in our contemporary world.  Janette Cervin’s exhibition Blended Families is on at the Depot Artspace, Devonport until Thursday 18th December 2014.

For more info on the exhibition please click on the link below:

For info on Cervin, check out her website:

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  Bring on 2015 😀