Review

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:

http://melanierogergallery.com/exhibitions/new-work-8

http://artsdiary.co.nz/86/2259.html

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:

https://thehairpin.com/scandals-of-classic-hollywood-the-ecstasy-of-hedy-lamarr-6131a25291d0#.8fc0mq80l

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 🙂

M.

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Review

Flight | Rumours

Hi there!

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:

https://www.facebook.com/FranklinArtsCentre/photos/pcb.1144429015577905/1144422662245207/?type=3&theater

http://ngaioblackwood.com/

An interview with the artist and some info on the exhibition is below:

http://blog.monkey101.nz/flight-the-action-or-process-of-flying-through-the-air/

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:

https://www.facebook.com/FranklinArtsCentre/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1141224669231673

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 😀

M.

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Review

One of Us Cannot Be Wrong by Sam Mitchell

2014 seems to be an interesting year for Sam Mitchell.  I previously wrote about an exhibition she had at Corban Estate Arts Centre in January, which featured bold larger than life portraits painted in reverse onto transparent Perspex sheets.  Now, nine months later, Mitchell presents One of Us Cannot Be Wrong at Melanie Roger Gallery in Herne Bay that comprises of artworks created during her residency in Invercargill as the William Hodges Fellow.

What demarcates this exhibition from previous ones is her venture into ceramics.  Plates and platters are clothed in detail – it almost seems like an effortlessly natural progression, as her work is highly decorative.  This is especially seen in the re-emergence of the stylised Japanese wave design which she applied to Michael Jackson’s ‘fro in her January show.  She has contrasted this wave design with some lines and circles for added flourish, and the details really pop when seen in person.

You can check out some photos of Mitchell’s ceramics on the Melanie Roger Gallery website:

http://melanierogergallery.com/exhibitions/new-work-2

Though she has changed medium and scale, Mitchell’s artworks are still portraits.  Her plates and platters are exclusively red and blue, and are filled with localised Southern characters expressive of her time in Invercargill.  Some are rather specific, for instance Ernest Rutherford dabbling with atoms and long-time journalist Frederick Walter Gascoyne Miller, whilst others seem more like stereotypes, such as a muscly Young Farmer of the Year and a pert, salacious Miss Invercargill.  To complete the set, she has included some more whimsical pieces, like a cross section of an oyster, a pig’s pork chart, and a bunch of fun skulls.

There is still that great sense of irreverence and wicked humour in Mitchell’s works – everyone’s a bit cheeky or a bit wry, and I particularly like how revelatory her art is.  Her ceramics captures the subtlety of facial expressions or those truthful moments that we don’t always want people to see, with great economy of drawn line (not unlike one of my favourite artists, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec).  The medium and applied detail has a delicacy and intricacy, which is contrasted with her razor wit.  When viewing her ceramics, I couldn’t help but think of the naughty soup bowls in The Birdcage (1996) with late great Robin Williams, Nathan Lane and Gene Hackman.  If you need to refresh your memory watch the video below, and if you haven’t seen the film, do!

What was also captivating about this exhibition was the installation: each work is placed on a wooden chair, like the ones used to fill school halls, and their backs are stamped with the words ‘MEMORIAL HALL’.  Showing a little wear and tear but still sturdy, they definitely added to the playful, retro vibe and made for entertaining viewing and a bit of reminiscing 🙂

One of Us Cannot Be Wrong is on until Saturday 18th October at Melanie Roger Gallery.  Make sure to check it out!

Also for you Wellingtonians, Paula Schaafhausen’s Tagaloas (which were showing at Corbans alongside Mitchell) are currently exhibiting at Enjoy Public Art Gallery on Cuba St.  Do take the opportunity to see the statues/savour their delicious scent.

Please see the link below for more info:

http://enjoy.org.nz/ebbing-tagaloa

M.

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Review

Sam Mitchell’s First is Last, Last is First (and a little on the New Grads Show)

Oh my how time flies, a belated Happy New Year to you all!  Did you all have a fun and relaxing holiday?  I hope 2014 is everything you wish it to be 🙂

It has been quite a while since I last posted – all the usual Christmas and New Year’s madness – and there were also a few distractions, such as Auckland’s epic sunny weather and Sherlock season 3 (holy shizz!)  But I’m back, and now that the galleries have reopened, it’s time to get perusing again.

The first offering that I checked out for 2014 was First is Last, Last is First by Sam Mitchell at Corban Estate Arts Centre, Henderson, and curated by Kara Wallace. Wandering into this exhibition, Mitchell’s larger than life portraits give the impression of being in a candy coloured tattoo parlour 😛  These sleek glossy works are created with acrylic on Perspex sheets and are actually painted in reverse – the final flourishes are daubed first, hence the title.  Each vibrant portrait hosts a legion of imagery adopted from comics, cartoons, fairy tales and magazines.  These icons of pop culture are etched upon the faces of the portraits, forming a collector’s dream if you will.

A few snaps of Sam Mitchell’s exhibition were taken by artsdiary:

http://www.artsdiary.co.nz/bt48/1317/1.html

You can find more information on Sam Mitchell below:

http://melanierogergallery.com/stockroom/sam-mitchell/

The most instantly recognisable portrait is of a young, Jackson Five era Michael Jackson, replete with an impressive afro that is filled with a design reminiscent of stylised Japanese waves.  Another is of a modelesque blue-skinned blonde (sort of a cross between Ursula Andress and Mystique from X-Men) with an identical design applied to her golden locks.  The final portrait is a large skull loaded with images of death and horror, yet curiously juxtaposed with beautiful flowers.  They all rest against a colourful geometric background that propel the heads forward in space, as if they are buoyant and disconnected, waiting to be addressed.

Many of the characters inked upon these works are identifiable: Skeletor from He-Man, Richie Rich, Bambi, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a unicorn, Sleeping Beauty, Goldilocks, Dracula, Vishnu, St George and the Dragon, the list goes on.  But beneath this bright pop veneer and taste for nostalgia, Mitchell has constructed spaces to examine deeper political, social and gender concerns. 

For instance, Mitchell makes reference to current affairs by inscribing the words ‘E.U. Bailout’ and ‘Snowden Leaks’ within the portrait of Michael Jackson.  The images that adorn the pop star can be seen as indexes of his inner thoughts, or how people perceive him.  Bambi could allude to his childlike naiveté, the literal deer caught in the headlights of fame; Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde could represent his ever changing appearance, or the battle between private and public selves.

Similarly, the blue-skinned woman displays the words ‘Once Upon a Time’ and ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, along with images of damsels in distress and a figure who I think is a Golden Age Wonder Woman.  These illustrate the various influential sources that shape women’s innermost desires, their expectations of their societal roles, as well as providing points of difference.  This is achieved with a sense of irreverence and whimsy, and Mitchell essentially twists portraiture on its head: rather than solely showing the symbols of wealth, power and status, she instead reveals things that we perhaps don’t want people to see.

You can easily spend half an hour staring at a work, looking at each image and searching the recesses of your mind for the original source – kind of like combing through designs at a tattoo parlour.  There is level of transference with Mitchell’s works: she lays out clues, and asks the viewer to complete the work with our own narratives and interpretations of the images lain before them.

Sam Mitchell will be giving an artist talk on Saturday 15th February at 11am, be sure not to miss it!

Though this post is mainly about Sam Mitchell’s exhibition, I couldn’t help but pop into the other rooms and look at works by the latest graduates.  Curated again by Ms. Wallace, Auckland’s various art schools are well represented and the exhibition showcases the varying media used.

The standout work from this exhibition would be Paula Schaafhausen’s Tuvalu (2013).   It features eight statues of the Polynesian god Tagaloa, and each are hand moulded from coconut oil and koko (pure cocoa).  You will smell this work before you see it, and the fact that they look like white and dark chocolate is very appealing 🙂  Over the six week duration of the exhibition, they will gradually melt into oblivion, affected by time and temperature.  Their melting represents the disappearing islands of Tuvalu due to rising sea levels.  The alluring scent of coconut and cocoa will linger in the air, and along with a mass of marbled liquid, will be all that remains of this installation.

I liked the ephemeral nature of this work, and found Schaafhausen’s message to be effectively conveyed.  I have visited the work on two separate occasions, and already found myself mourning their disintegration.  Every viewer’s experience of this work will be different – they may be indeterminate blobs by the time you visit them, and you would have missed the intricately formed Tagaloas in their full glory.  It’s also quite a funny work, as the first to melt is a certain part of the human anatomy 😛

The first link is Tuvalu on the evening of the exhibition opening, the second the day after:

http://www.artsdiary.co.nz/bt48/1318/13.html

http://www.artsdiary.co.nz/bt48/1318/14.html

There are many intriguing works in the New Grads Show, do check it out 😀

First is Last, Last is First and the New Grads Show is on at Corban Estate Arts Centre, Henderson until Sunday 2nd March 2014. There will be a Kids Art Workshop relating to the New Grads Show on Saturday 22nd February, 11am.

Enjoy!

M.

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