On one of the year’s darkest nights, Napier’s streets were alight with life Thursday night as revellers anticipated Matariki’s dawn rise. A rosy glow emitted from the War Memorial Conference Centre as this year’s Artex was unveiled to an enthusiastic crowd ready to empty their pockets and fill their walls with artwork in the name of charity.

Greenmeadows Rotary have been putting on this show for forty years raising close to a cumulative $900,000 for community causes. This year’s worthy benefactors are Surf Lifesaving Hawke’s Bay, an organisation all ocean lovers can be grateful exists, though hopeful we will not need to avail of their services. 

Rotarians project the event will match the $30,000 generated for them last year, spent on essential safety equipment, vehicles and boats. Voluntary life savers across five of the bay’s popular beaches themselves donated 10,500 hours of time, taking 3,000 preventative actions, assisting 100 people to safety and saving 34 from drowning. At the opening soirée uniformed lifesavers were on hand, passing out canapés and holding auction items aloft with disarming wholesomeness. 

There was certainly celebration in the air, aided by free-flowing wine and the soulful sounds of Scarlett Eden’s vocals, skillfully accompanied by Aaron Sankey on keys. The auction was a performance in itself, with sponsor Harcourts’ Craig Smith commanding the floor with effervescent banter, getting amongst the audience, throwing around oar puns and squeezing out every last penny. Three paddles, painted by exhibiting artists Kylie Parish, Nick Hayter and Bari Duncan, fetched between $1,200 and $1,500 apiece. Richard Boyd Dunlop’s ottoman emblazoned with a pop-art portrait of Marilyn Munroe went for $2,000 and Ricks Terstappen’s cluster of godwits, miniature cousins of the ones on display at our regional airport, went for $2,200. These works were all donated by the artists, so all $8,150 went straight to the Surf Lifesaver’s coffers.

Around the walls, a plethora of red dots showed there was more to come. Project Director, Brian Matthews has ambitions for the event to continue to grow. The two years since he has been at the helm has seen the exhibition reinvented, expanding in scale and aspiration. Rotarians Denise Primrose and John Hanlen are responsible for curatorship. They invited artists from Auckland to Queenstown to submit up to three pieces each and to set their price. The Rotary, and the good causes they support, get a 40% cut, generous by commercial gallery standards.

The children’s competition is a delight. Four-year-old August Grounds slipped in below the age limit to take a well-deserved prize, her work displaying a boldness of brush stroke and sense of balance and space many artists of age would do well to strive for. In providing a platform for fostering excellence in art from a young age, the Rotary shows their genuine commitment to community development.

With more than sixty artists exhibiting 150 pieces, there is a lot to look at. Almost all are two dimensional framed pieces, though Richard Boyd-Dunlop’s decorated barrels dotted about the room as a rest for wine glasses provide a welcome counterpoint. Janice Corbishley’s mosaic mask, the Metcalf sisters’ metal flowers and Elisa Koski-Taylor’s intricately inlaid woodwork are also points of difference. There are several resin works in discrete styles, displaying the versatility of the medium. Plus a smattering of photographs and a vast array of paintings in a variety of media — oils and watercolours and acrylics, and a range of styles — impressionistic, pop, ultra-realistic and illustrative to name but a few. Their subjects are landscapes and portraits, florals and fantasies, nature studies and whimsical cartoonish characters. It’s mostly figurative though there are a few abstract pieces in the mix.

Stand-out works to my eye include Bruce Mortimer’s stark greyscale urban landscapes, pared back and brooding, a master of composition, the empty spaces alive with the tension of all that is left unsaid. EIT student, Solomon Bakker Jenkins’ untitled and unframed painting on a grand scale is probably the most exciting piece of work in the room, bursting with raw energy, strangely resolved composition unfolding from the surface chaos. An emerging artist, his brush is one to watch. 

But my picks are a reflection of my personal taste. If you would like something nice to adorn your walls best make your way to Napier War Memorial Conference Centre at some point over the next three days, dig deep and make one of these pieces your own.

June 24-26, Napier War Memorial and Conference Centre.

Photos: Andrew Caldwell, Ankh Photography

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