August 2016

Twilight garden

Winter finally loosens its hold during August in New Zealand, bringing the welcome appearance of the first blossoms on the trees and an increase in daylight time.

Okahu Bay blossoms

This month I have been reading Angie Lewin : Plants and Places. Angie Lewin is a UK printmaker whose artwork focuses on the small botanic details found in gardens and wild places, particularly East Anglia and Scotland. She depicts overlooked native weeds, dried seed heads and other plant details in a style influenced by earlier British artists and designers such as Eric Ravilious.

“As I draw the indistinguishable mass of growth, I gradually unravel the structure of individual plants and explore the patterns made by their relationships with one another.”Angie Lewin : Plants and Places p8.

Her work really appealed to me when I first came across it whilst living in England and it continues to be an inspiration. I also became interested in artwork by Mark Hearld and other British artists and designers during this time.

Colour experiment

In London I took frequent walks in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and often visited the allotment in Kensington Gardens. This small abundant vegetable garden complete with resident chickens was a hidden oasis of calm in a city of millions.

The allotment

The allotment in Kensington Gardens

I missed the green spaces of New Zealand and it was ironically far from these that I renewed my connection to and interest in the natural world. Perhaps if we are deprived of that connection it calls attention to it and we seek it out more urgently. Excursions to the British countryside and some of the great gardens such as the RHS garden Wisley and the arboretum at Westonbirt were highlights of my stay in England and a rich source of ideas and imagery.

Spring Blossoms

Upon returning to New Zealand there has been a shift in my artwork away from abstraction towards a more direct engagement with and depiction of the natural world, using foliage to make prints directly onto paper or canvas. When collecting and utilising foliage in this way I notice the smallest details of plants – the skeletons of the leaves, the small changes in size and scale, marks and bites made by insects. The patterns start with the internal structures of the leaves themselves. One becomes acutely aware that there is a whole intricate world of detail and abundant life in just the smallest patch of garden or native bush.

Garden in sun
This month I also had the opportunity to finish reading Tim Winton’s excellent landscape memoir, Island Home. As a child I grew up both in New Zealand and in rural Victoria. Early years in the native forests of the Dandenong ranges had a profound impact on me and I was very moved by Tim’s novel about the unique Australian landscape and his relationship to it.

“I think people everywhere yearn for connection, to be overwhelmed by beauty. Maybe, deep down, people need to feel proper scale. Perhaps in the face of grandeur we silently acknowledge our smallness, our bit-part in majesty.” Island Home, by Tim Winton p.233

Tropical sketch

I’m looking forward to the arrival of Spring and some studio time in the coming month to bring sketches and unfinished works to completion.

July 2016

July Garden

The Greek philosopher Plato gave his lectures in a sacred olive grove on the northwest side of Athens. We are a long way from ancient Greece here in New Zealand but this month I discovered the wonderful old olive grove in Cornwall Park which was originally planted by Sir John Logan Campbell in the 1860s. Unfortunately the grove was not a successful commercial venture. Not many of the original trees remain but those left have grown into dramatic twisted shapes and rabbits have made their burrows amongst the roots. It is a quiet spot to walk in the morning although the hum and bustle of the surrounding city can still be heard. The grove also has lovely old stone walls bordering the field.

Olive Grove

Some olive tree leaf prints and their trunk forms will no doubt work their way into my next paintings with the beautiful soft greys and greens as a starting point. Years ago I was fortunate to study some philosophy (including the philosophy of art) as an undergraduate at the University of Auckland and I think an olive grove would be an excellent place to learn, albeit perhaps in a warmer climate.

Olive trees

Looking over my artwork of the past month there is a mix of work inspired by Tahuna Torea (Glendowie Sandpit) reserve and garden pictures made using leaves from my own small overgrown garden. An Osmanthus Pearly Gates plant is flowering in the garden at present and it has a wonderful scent. Winter can sometimes be a difficult time and it is small things like this that can give one a lift. The promise of Spring awaits and I’m planning some experiments with printing using petals in my artwork when the season changes.

Lemon Balm Garden

Soft Lemon Balm Garden (above)

Orangerie

Orangerie

Akeake and Kawakawa

Akeake and Kawakawa

This month I visited Auckland Museum and was captivated by the exhibition by Areta Wilkinson and Te Rongo Kirkwood. The contemporary cloaks by Te Rongo Kirkwood are impressive, incorporating glass, flax and other materials. The use of glass in these cloaks creates interesting light effects and patterns. They are fragile, beautiful and fascinating. Each cloak represents a different phase of life. (Pictured below are The Midday of Life and The Evening of Life on the right)

The midday of life detailThe Evening of life detail1

I love the idea of creating artwork that reflects a passage of time in this way. In my own work seasonal changes over the year are reflected in the size, shape and availability of the leaves and foliage that I use as paintbrushes and printing tools. The choice of colours is also influenced by the transitions between seasons.

For Corokia Studio this month I have been working on some fun stuff including new products and a book project. Corokia Studio art prints and iPhone cases are now available online at Society6. 

iphone caseNasturtiums print

Garden in Blue (below) is a new artwork inspired by cool winter days and nights in my garden that I’ll be adding to the Corokia Society6 shop soon.

Garden in Blue

I’ll finish my blog this month with this little painting that I did on the weekend on an offcut of gorgeous primed linen. It feels somewhat like a pastel confection to brighten up a cold winter night.

Pastels on linen

Midwinter, June 2016

Tahuna Torea

This month we passed the Winter Solstice and in New Zealand it is also the time of year known as Matariki, the Maori New Year. In many traditions midwinter is a time for quiet reflection and renewal. So I will be reviewing my artwork of the past few months with this in mind and making plans for the coming seasons.

In last month’s blog I wrote about the Estuary Art Awards and the research I was doing to prepare an entry for this competition. I did a pair of paintings entitled Aestuarium, Land and Sea, in acrylic on linen for the award using foliage gathered from the Tamaki Estuary area.

Aestuarium, LandAestuarium, Sea

The Tamaki Estuary area is a rich ecosystem and I discovered many varieties of plants growing on the banks of the sea and in the bush nearby. Native trees and plants in nearby Tahuna Torea reserve included Taraire, Kahikatea, Rimu, Kawaka, Swamp Maire and Pukatea. Because this is a protected area I had to use some leaves from other areas nearby including mangrove leaf skeletons in the blue painting. Invasive introduced species and contaminants threaten both the native bush and wetland areas as well as the native fish species that rely on these habitats. I was fortunate to find a couple of fallen Kauri leaves which I used in the work to make leaf prints. The Kauri is an ancient species of tree, once plentiful in New Zealand but which in recent times has come under threat from a mysterious disease.

Kauri sketch

I also visited the Auckland Art Gallery this month to view two exhibitions, Fiona Pardington’s photographic works and Space to Dream, Recent Art from South America. Fiona Pardington’s large scale photographs are fascinating. Having a strong interest in the historic Dutch still life tradition I really enjoyed the opportunity to view her large contemporary still life photographs. The combination of flora, fruit, personal relics and contemporary objects results in compelling images.

Space to Dream is an interesting exhibition with a very broad scope. Some of the works deal with very painful events. I found Maximo Corvalan’s Proyecto ADN (DNA Project), a work about locating the remains of missing people using DNA testing very disturbing.

DNA Project

The large installation by Ernesto Neto at the end of the exhibition is also a highlight and smells gorgeous due to the inclusion of many spices.

ErnestoNeto

There is so much foliage in my work these days that it feels worlds away from the very concrete urban environment of central Auckland and other cities I have lived in. Fortunately Auckland has some lovely old parks such as the Domain and Albert Park to provide some balance. Most of my time is spent close to home and I always seem to return from every walk with a pocket full of leaves. I’ve broadened the range of foliage I’m using in all the artworks. Plans for the coming months include some works that will continue to deal with the theme of local ecology.

Aroha nui

Akeake

May 2016

Whimsy garden detail

This month I have been preparing an entry for the 2016 Estuary Art Award, which involves research into the ecology of the Tamaki Estuary in Auckland and aims to encourage action to remedy the pollution of this waterway. It has been interesting to delve into the history of this area and to learn more about the many species of plants and aquatic life living in the estuary. Heavy industry in the past around the estuary, housing development and introduced species has meant that much of the ecology of the estuary has been damaged. It will take a huge amount of work and time to restore the ecology of the Tamaki Estuary to good health.

Autumn painting

I have also been doing a series of small Autumn paintings on wood for friends and Corokia Studio. These have been really enjoyable to work on over the past month. There has been an ecological and garden theme in all my work during May. I have been using an assortment of native and exotic foliage in these to make the leaf prints and some strong warm tones. Pictured above is Autumn Garden (a gift) and below is Autumn Song. Autumn Song is available on Felt NZ.

Autumn song

There has been plenty of inspiration this month with Autumn leaves everywhere. I have also enjoyed seeing images of the Chelsea Flower show, especially the L’Occitane Haute Provence garden that New Zealand garden designer Xanthe White helped make. Highlights of the winning gardens can be found in this Guardian article.

Also exciting this month was the opportunity to visit the Auckland Art Fair. It was really interesting to see a large number of artworks and to discover some artists new to me. I had some interesting conversations with some of the senior art dealers in Auckland and got a good sense of how the art market is faring. It also gave me some idea of whom I’d like to exhibit with in the future. One of my personal favourites from the show were the cast glass works of Layla Walter. Pictured below is a detail from one of her artworks. The leaves in this piece about Tiritiri Matangi island are particularly lovely. Making cast glass with these sort of details is a demanding and time consuming process but the results are stunning.

Layla Walter cast glass

I was also intrigued by the mesmorising digital works of teamLab, a collaboration of Japanese artists. Below is the rather large crowd-pleasing digital work entitled Flowers and People – Gold.

Flowers and People - Gold

My final project in progress this month are a series of garden pictures in preparation for a book project. These have been a delight to do and I’m looking forward to creating larger-scale works in this vein.

Whimsy garden

Whimsy Garden

Nasturtiums

Lavender

 

April 2016

Corokia berry

Autumn is more keenly felt in April with shortening days and leaves showering down in the wind. The Corokia in the garden are producing red berries and cherry guava are starting to ripen. All my artworks seem to be full of leaves at the moment. I have been working on small paintings on wood for Corokia Studio and taking time to remember and reflect this month.

April 25th is ANZAC day, the anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli in 1915. It is the date when Australia and New Zealand commemorate all their people killed in war and honour those who have served in overseas wars. One does not have to look too far into the family history of many New Zealanders and Australians to discover just how profoundly these wars affected families and the terrible losses that were sustained. My great uncles served in World War II. In Canberra some years ago I visited the war memorial and found the name of the one who did not return home. So this month I remember him and all the others who did not return to their fair homelands.

Gallipoli

Gallipoli, 2003

I remember Gallipoli was a strangely peaceful place but scarred with trenches and the memories and stories of immense bloodshed. The Turkish historian who guided my group was extremely knowledgeable and a day with him was like reading an entire book on the topic. The older New Zealanders I met on that journey were wonderful, after a long time away and travelling alone at that point it was a joy to spend time with them and share a meal together. I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to visit Gallipoli and the surrounding area.

Indigo Garden with leaves

Indigo Garden, acrylic on wood.

ANZAC day

Dawn service, Whangarei

Orchard with leaves

Orchard, acrylic on wood.

Autumn painting

This one is still in progress, as yet untitled.

March 2016

Emerald painting

March is a really beautiful time in New Zealand, still warm in the middle of the day but cooler in the evenings and early morning. Grapes are ripe and the leaves of the deciduous trees are just starting to show signs of turning a multitude of autumn colours.

The image above, created for St Patrick’s Day 2016, is the one I’m most happy with this month. It is a small A4 size painting on Hahnemuhle Britannia watercolour paper which fuses some of the leafprints I’ve been incorporating into my work with soft forms suggestive of flowers and foliage.

I’ve also been experimenting with a blue and violet colour scheme, using prints from feijoa leaves to build up layers of paint. It is nearly feijoa season here in New Zealand, so it feels appropriate to be using these leaves at this time of year. I started using the leafprints in my work as a way to reference the natural world more directly than I had previously. I have also renewed my interest in using collage after reading a book by poet Molly Peacock about Mary Delany, an artist from the 1700’s famous for her intricate flower collages. It will be interesting to do a work that incorporates all of these elements.

Blue leaves

Yellows have also made an appearance. This work in progress is on a small offcut of linen.

Yellows

On March 22nd I posted this picture (below), on Facebook and Instagram. It is a small painting on an offcut of Belgium linen. Waking up the next morning to the awful news of terrorist attacks in Brussels I decided to dedicate this painting to peace and Brussels. Thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones.

For Bruxelles

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them. This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” (Dalai Lama) 

Clover

February 2016

Work in progress

It is late summer in New Zealand and my studio is baking. This time of year is busy with social and family commitments. An unexpected summer flu swept through our household and derailed many fine plans. So work has been progressing slowly and with many stops and starts. Above is a detail from a work in progress, it is 24 x 24 inch, acrylic on canvas. I have also been finishing a small panel painting for the fortieth birthday of a friend, pictured below. A few more touches and it will be done.

Painting for Xanthe

I am slightly obsessed with taking photos of the dawn and have been lucky to see some really beautiful sunrises this month. The sudden clearance of a large section of bush nearby has altered my usual dawn vista considerably. A highlight this month was a visit to Leigh north of Auckland, a lovely spot with many happy memories. On Sunday there was an incredible dawn of startling beauty at Leigh, here is one of the shots from that morning.

Leigh Sunrise

 

Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth

Len Lye Exterior2

This summer I took a road trip and visited two regional galleries in New Zealand. The first stop was the Len Lye Centre and Govett-Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth. The new Len Lye Centre opened in 2015 and has attracted a lot of media attention. It was interesting to visit a regional gallery that has managed to make such a large impact beyond its immediate region. Like all good aspiring art galleries, the architecture by Patterson Associates is unusual and makes a bold statement.

Len Lye Exterior3

The shiny and highly reflective marine grade stainless steel surface of the building continues along two curved, rippling facades. The repeating forms reflected in these reminded me of some of the Len Lye films screened inside with their jumping rhythmic frames. The striking facade is an excellent counterpoint to the large, stainless steel kinetic sculptures exhibited inside. Whilst photographing the facade a couple of women walked past and one remarked “I hate that building, it looks disgusting.” Regardless of some negative opinions it seems likely this new building will be hugely beneficial in developing cultural tourism to the region. Whilst I was there children were having a great time peering at their distorted images in the mirror-like surface – a facade for the selfie generation perhaps?

Len Lye artwork

The Len Lye exhibition inside the building gives one a good introduction to his work and left me wanting to see more. I liked the way the steel fountains create an ever-changing series of forms as the steel rods move and shimmy. It was a delight to photograph and observe these, they reminded me of the (rather static!) metallic lines in some of my earlier paintings.

Fountains

I was excited to come across an exhibition in the Govett-Brewster section of work by an artist I was not previously familiar with. Sister Corita was a Roman Catholic nun (1918-1986) who produced and taught art in Los Angeles in the 1960’s and later in Boston. Her silk screen prints look extraordinarily modern and fresh, like they were produced yesterday, a reminder of how much we owe to the recent past. She used elements of popular culture to produce bright and thoughtful works. These often have a political undercurrent. I found her work fascinating and the inclusion of contemporary record covers and some posters from New Zealand by the Wellington Media Collective made for an interesting show.

Sister Corita alphabet

Sister Corita artwork

More information about the Sister Corita exhibition can be found here: Sister Corita’s Summer of Love

If you miss seeing this show at the Govett-Brewster it will be travelling to the City Gallery, Wellington later this year. Sister Corita at City Gallery

The second regional gallery I visited was the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui. Read about this gallery in my blog here: Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui

Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui

Sarjeant Gallery dome

Last week I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui with Senior Curator Greg Anderson.

The beautiful original building from 1919 sits in a prominent position near the town centre, with impressive views from front and back. Sightlines were obviously a big consideration in the design and planned redevelopment will preserve and enhance these. Prior to shifting the collection out of the gallery a section of the masonry ceiling fell out, grazing the marble bust of gallery founder Henry Sarjeant and revealing further damage underneath. It was obvious that the time had come to take action. Rated at only 5% of the current new building code, the original building is in dire need of earthquake strengthening and basic restoration, with various types of damage visible throughout the structure. Previous collection storage in the basement was also very inadequate. Luckily the central dome (pictured) remains intact although that too will require a degree of strengthening work.

The gallery has an interesting and significant art collection of over 8000 items. I caught a glimpse of some of these works in storage ranging from historic European painters through to prominent New Zealand artists. Protecting it has been a challenge given the state of the building – no environmental or lighting control. Just getting access to items was a major issue in the confined spaces of the old excavated basement below the original building.

Sarjeant Gallery exterior

Sarjeant Gallery rear2

In preparation for redevelopment and to mitigate earthquake risk the collection has been moved and a temporary location for the gallery at 38 Taupo Quay has opened. Fortunately the art collection was safe from recent floods which damaged much of this area of Whanganui, although the gallery space of the temporary building did have to be repaired. Moving the collection has been a huge but rewarding task. Over two thousand items with little or no documentation were uncovered during the process and inventoried. Some of these items will no doubt prove interesting to art history students of the future and will provide the gallery with previously unseen material for future exhibitions.

When the redevelopment occurs a new wing will be added to increase exhibition, education, amenities and storage space for the art collection. The design and position of the new wing behind the original building will ensure that the historic old building will still be the main feature visible from the town centre. View the flythrough here: http://sarjeant.org.nz/flythrough/

Sarjeant Gallery banister detail

Sarjeant Gallery damage

At the Sarjeant’s glass and object gallery located above the Whanganui iSite at 31 Taupo Quay, there are some intriguing works currently on view. Above the Whanganui tourism site are cast glass works by Emma Camden. These large, weighty forms reminiscent of architecture are really beautiful. Whanganui has a strong tradition in this area and it will be interesting to see more works in glass in future exhibitions.

Glass art

In the main gallery at 38 Taupo Quay there are collection works by Vivian Smith and Mary Green, artists who taught at Whanganui Technical College. The William Morris influenced floral designs are particularly appealing. Contemporary works on display include portraits of opera singers participating in the New Zealand Opera School in Whanganui by Felicity Priest, and a large work entitled “The Horses Stayed Behind” by Cat Auburn. This work by Cat Auburn is made of a multitude of Victorian style rosettes created from donated horse and pony hair, each identifiable and spread across four large panels. More information about this work can be found here:

http://www.artnews.co.nz/profile-winter-2015/

http://www.sarjeant.org.nz/site/pages/exhibitions/cat-auburn-the-horses-stayed-behind.php

Cat Auburn the Horses stayed behind

Quote

Securing the funding for the proposed redevelopment of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui has been an extremely challenging task and it is a testament to the perseverance and dedication of Greg Anderson and his team that a significant portion of the funding required has already been secured. A quote on the wall in the staff area (pictured above) gave me some sense of just how daunting it must have seemed at times given the setbacks and the scale of the tasks involved.

Some of the larger works requiring restoration need additional funding to carry this out and hopefully donors can be found for these. It will be very exciting to see the whole project finally go ahead and it will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the city, the region and New Zealand culture. It will be a real pleasure to see a vision fulfilled at the opening in 2019 of the restored gallery and new wing.

Burne-Jones under wraps

Above: A beautiful large work by Edward Burne-Jones under wraps whose frame is awaiting conservation.