- Purchased 2012
- 415 x 521mm
- View on google maps
Related reading: Above Ground
This article first appeared in The Press on 25 January 2013.
New to the Gallery: an etching dated 1922 by John Mills Thomasson (1893–1969) was purchased recently for the collection.
I go into the Gallery. Haven’t been there in a while. Building closed. It was open to begin with. Civil Defence HQ in the weeks following the shock that laid the city low and who knew glass could be so strong, so resilient? Then the Gallery closed. It was cordoned off, behind wire netting. Something was going on in there. Someone said something had cracked in the basement. Someone said they needed to insert a layer of bouncy forgiving rubber beneath glass and concrete, ready for any future slapdown.
City of Shadows and Stories
If cities are the ground into which we plant stories, the soil of Ōtautahi – later Christchurch – is undergoing a protracted tilling season. Five years is a long unsettlement in human terms; on a geological (or indeed narratological) scale, time moves more gradually. Christchurch exists today as a rich aggregation of narratives, propping up physical edifices of crumbling stone and cardboard.
It's where we live: the encrusted surface of a molten planet, rotating on its own axis, circling round the star that gives our daylight. Geographically, it's a mapped-out city at the edge of a plain, bordered by sea and rising, broken geological features. Zooming in further, it's a neighbourhood, a street, a shelter – all things existing at first as outlines, drawings, plans. And it's a body: portable abode of mind, spirit, psyche (however we choose to view these things); the breathing physical location of unique identity and passage.
For many passers-by, Christchurch art Gallery is identified by its dramatic glass façade—the public face it presents to the world. but De-Building is an exhibition that offers a very different view. bringing together the work of fourteen artists from new Zealand and farther afield, this group exhibition draws inspiration from the working spaces gallery-goers seldom see: the workshops, loading bays and back corridors; the scruffy, half-defined zones.
Prominent Christchurch painter Bill Sutton was an influential teacher from 1949 to 1979 at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts. Sutton has chosen here a restricted palette – ochre, brown and black – to portray this aged wooden façade under streetlight glare, with a reflected neon glow of red.
The Manchester Private Hotel, already rundown when Sutton painted it in 1954, was a somewhat disreputable boarding house on the corner of Manchester and Southwark Streets on the outskirts of central Christchurch. Belonging to a series of paintings that Sutton made depicting old, inner city buildings, it conveys the imprint of memory and the local past.
(Above ground, 2015)
Giovanni Battista Piranesi The Drawbridge, Plate VII (second state) from the series Invenzioni Capric di Carceri
Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s The Drawbridge is one of sixteen plates from a folio of prints depicting imaginary prisons that has repeatedly haunted and inspired writers, artists and architects for over two and a half centuries. Three of Piranesi’s Carceri engravings, for example, were included in Alfred H. Barr’s exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1936.
First issued in 1749–50, but attracting little attention to begin with, the series was republished with heavily reworked plates in 1761, yielding darker, more detailed and more resolved prints that brought an attendant increase to their public reception and acclaim. (Above ground, 2015)
Many artists have depicted this city’s urban spaces, including Ivy Fife, who studied at the Canterbury College School of Art from 1920 to 1931 and taught there from 1936 until 1959.
Fife captured the clamour of Christchurch’s railway station on Moorhouse Avenue during the new Queen’s royal visit. Opened in 1877, the station had been a handsome structure, but by 1954 its Venetian gothic arches were under lean-to additions and its brick warmth covered in paint. Demolition came five years later; its replacement, a landmark modernist building, was itself demolished after the Christchurch earthquakes.
(Above ground, 2015)
Giovanni Battista Piranesi, son of a Venetian stone- mason and master builder, trained in architecture and stage design before moving to Rome and training there as an engraver. Producing many picturesque Grand Tour views of Rome, he was hugely influential on the classical revival in European architecture. In Rome in 1755 he befriended the visiting architect Robert Adam, who praised Piranesi in a letter to his brother in London:
'[S]o amazing and ingenious fancies as he has produced in the different plans of the Temples, Baths and Palaces and other buildings I never saw and are the greatest fund for inspiring and instilling invention in any lover of architecture that can be imagined.'
(Above ground, 2015)
James Fitzgerald moved from England to Auckland in 1903, and then twenty years later to Christchurch, where he established his own commercial art studio. His watercolour view captures Christchurch’s Cathedral Square at its most architecturally cohesive and complete. Many will remember the United Service Hotel at left, built in 1884–85, demolished 1990; fewer will recall the neoclassical Bank of New Zealand building at right, designed in 1866, demolished 1963. While it is possible to lament our general cultural attitude to architectural heritage, it is also difficult to imagine anything here, even if it had been protected, as capable of surviving the 2010-11 earthquakes that hit the city.
(Above ground, 2015)
L. S. Lowry’s best-known paintings present rhythmic crowds of ‘matchstick figures’ spilling across tightly constructed northern English industrial and urban landscapes. The sparser setting of Factory at Widnes presents one of Britain’s grimmest environments, a birthplace of the chemical industry. Some have interpreted the trio of strolling bowler-hatted figures as factory managers, others as perhaps visiting comics – Charlie Chaplin and transatlantic duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were still in the public eye when this was painted, and two of the three had performed in Widnes. Lowry had developed his own uniquely comical outlook over forty-two years while treading the streets of Manchester as a rent collector with the same company, from which he retired on full pension in 1952. This part of his story was long kept hidden from an admiring public.
(Leaving for Work 2 October 2021 - 1 May 2022)