White Camellias Revisited
Just over a quarter of a century ago the Robert McDougall Art Gallery hosted an exhibition to celebrate a century of women’s art making in Canterbury. It was the Gallery’s contribution to the country-wide centenary celebrations of women’s suffrage. Co-curated by Lara Strongman and myself, White Camellias: A Century of Artmaking by Women in Canterbury, as its title suggests, was a springboard for both korero and further study of women’s art history.
I was in London last October and keen to visit Ron Mueck, but he wasn’t there: he’d gone down to Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight, where he has a studio. I spent my childhood in England, but I’d never been to the Isle of Wight. It’s in the English Channel; a Victorian retreat beloved by Tennyson, who wrote ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ here. It was also the home of the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, who made portraits of many of Tennyson’s guests. (When Tennyson took the American poet Longfellow to Cameron’s house for a portrait, he reportedly warned: “You’ll have to do whatever she tells you. I’ll come back soon and see what’s left of you.”)
Len Lye's Learning Curve
One of the most dramatic aspects of the career of Len Lye (who was born in Christchurch in 1901 and died in Warwick, New York, in 1980) was his youthful search for information about the modernist revolution in art. This occurred throughout the early 1920s, when New Zealand was still (in Peter Tomory’s words) ‘a cultural wasteland’ and (in Eric McCormick’s) a ‘backwater of nineteenth-century civilisation.’
The Devil’s Blind Spot
Te Puna o Waiwhetū Christchurch Art Gallery has a long-standing tradition of curating exhibitions of emerging and early-career artists. We do this in order to contribute to the ecology of the local art world, as well as because – quite straightforwardly – we’re interested in the practices of artists at all stages of their careers, and would like to bring the work of outstanding younger artists to wider public attention. The Devil’s Blind Spot is the latest in this ongoing series, but unlike earlier exhibitions, it’s concerned with a single medium – photography.
Doris Lusk: An Inventive Eye
In the strange, stunned afterlife that ticked slowly by in the first few years following Christchurch’s February 2011 earthquake, a curious note of recognition sounded through the shock and loss. As a massive programme of demolitions relentlessly hollowed out the city, many buildings were incompletely removed and lingered on for months as melancholy remains – stumps abandoned in a forlorn urban forest. Hideous, sculptural, beautiful; they bore compelling resemblance to a body of paintings created in the city more than three decades earlier.
Neil Pardington: The Vault
Like a location scout with a projected narrative in mind, Neil Pardington has taken his large-format camera to museum storage spaces throughout New Zealand.
The Vault is the intensive and unexpectedly intense series of images that results-a compelling photographic record of where (and how) the nation's unseen treasures sit.
As I write this I’m listening to Grimes. Jess Johnson likes Grimes. It’s the kind of music you might hear playing in her studio as she sits creating her complex drawings of alternate realities, line by meticulous line. A quiet achiever with numerous accomplishments under her belt, Johnson’s work ends up in all sorts of places – from the walls of Australia and New Zealand’s major institutions to the backs of some of pop culture’s coolest figures. Back in 2016 she collaborated with Australian fashion designers Romance Was Born on a range of clothes, some of which ended up being worn by Grimes herself. Not that you’d necessarily hear about this from Johnson, who is remarkably modest.
Steve Carr: Transpiration
In Steve Carr's Transpiration (2014), huge carnations hover in half-dozen clusters on the wall. They start their lives looking like balls of cotton rags – white, bunchy, frayed. Colour then gathers at their fringes and grows into a slow leach that turns them yellow, or pink, or blue. The flowers’ inner folds wobble slightly. There’s a more general sway at their outer limits – a kind of peripheral rocking. Single petals peel away, minuscule movements that turn into sublime shocks when you manage to catch one at the edges of your vision.
Charles Meryon: Etcher of Banks Peninsula
French explorers, natural historians, whalers and Catholic missionaries were increasingly present in the south-west Pacific from the mid-eighteenth century, but there was also a political thread in this activity. During the 1820s some in France saw New Zealand as a potential penal colony, and the project that saw a handful of French colonists settle on Banks Peninsula in 1840 made an official French presence in the region even more appropriate. This took the form of a French naval base, the ‘New Zealand station’, established at Akaroa in 1840.
Don Peebles: A Free Sense of Order
There’s a wonderful film on Don Peebles in the Gallery’s archive that provides a fascinating insight into the artist’s practice. Produced around 1980, it shows Peebles working in his studio and walking through his garden, past the fruit trees to his shed down the back, with an audio interview overdubbed. My favourite scene shows the artist in the shed with a box full of various wooden shapes that he has collected over the years, which he takes out and loosely assembles on a small sheet of plywood – a free sense of order created out of these seemingly random pieces.