‘Light in a Dark Place’ was the title of an exhibition held recently at the Community Arts Centre in Hastings. The works on show were created by artists from the Mosaic Creative Space in Taradale, run by Presbyterian Support to enable and facilitate creativity in the community for those who for various health reasons do not have easy access to the mainstream art world. Tutored by Napier based painter Ruth McLean, sculptor Liz Earth and model maker Joel Taylor, the works both singularly and collectively tell a tale of journeys and dreams beyond the everyday.

The notion of being an ‘outsider’ artist was embraced by the Surrealists and a number of other early European art movements such as Dada and Expressionism. Recalling aspects of these earlier moments in art because of their raw ingenious naivety and instinctive use of colour, the quality of the work in this recent show by Mosaic artists simultaneously defies classification. The work stands on its own and in spite of its marginalisation. One of the defining qualities of the exhibition as a whole was the combined use of image and text in much of the work, suggesting a world view that moves beyond rigid boundaries and any attempts at labeling. The main motif for the show is in fact a word-mobile made from a bicycle wheel from which are suspended letters (carved from soap), that read ‘Mosaic Real People’.

‘Love in the Tropics (in the Province of Otago)’ an acrylic painting by Nicholas Rodgers, highlights this joyful play with word and image and sets the pace for this exciting and intriguing exhibition. Completely original yet reminiscent of the American folk artist Howard Finster, Nicholas tells us in handwritten text at the bottom of his painting that the Tropics have never been this cool before. The work is part of a Wedding Series and in another painting called ‘The Honeymoon Suite’, text in the lower corner informs us that one of the guests takes photos of “the South Pacific wedding cake.” Depicted also are the Bride and Groom during their first ritual dance. Nicholas’ works are insightful and engaging, their strong earthy colours and primal symbolism strangely haunting.

Tony Ball, in a work entitled ‘Chris and the Potatoes’, takes us on a journey of the inner mind, creating a kind of intricate psychic space from simple lines, vertical and horizontal. As if haphazard grids, the seemingly random yet perfectly placed lines and use of colour draw in the viewer’s gaze in an almost hypnotic manner. Two circles, like concentric eyes, seem to echo this theme of hypnosis; in the manner of eyes on butterfly wings, one has the sense that something is indeed looking back at us from the picture surface. Other paintings by Ball are powerfully expressionist (notably their instinctive use of primal colour that recalls, for example, the German expressionist Emil Nolde) and yet another drawing is presented as if a language tree, with skeleton branches and symbols for leaves.

The paintings of Yvonne Nelson are ephemeral and evocative abstracts that are testament to her ability as a talented colourist. Crimsons, purples and blues are brought together in the most subtle and poetic way. Fluid and musical, it will be exciting to see where Yvonne’s painting takes her. “It’s work I’ve never done in my life, and seeing it hanging at the exhibition just blew me away” said Yvonne. Painting from her wheelchair, she comes to Mosaic three days a week and on Fridays is a volunteer helper at the Hastings hospital.

The theme of far away places was given concrete form in the brief that Joel Taylor gave to the students in his model-making workshop. He distributed images of New York and asked the students to respond to a particular place or idea that caught their imagination. Mack Tipu produced an almost cubist version of the Statue of Liberty from foam, plaster and  paint, while Katrina Osbourne made a model of the Brooklyn Bridge from plastic pens.

Katrina had been collecting pens from local retailers for some time and it seemed serendipity that they could now be used for the buttresses and massive columns of the Brooklyn Bridge. The seemingly simple but extremely meaningful activity of collecting pens is for Katrina the thing that, like the Brooklyn Bridge, connects her to the outside world and to the community at large. In tune with the use of image and text in much of the work, Katrina’s model says something fascinating about the desire of these students to communicate, this time the focus being on the instrument of writing, a pen, as opposed to the mark it makes.

Kandy Wilson saw a heart in an image of Central Park. It triggered for her memories of ice-skating when young and so she created a beautiful heart shaped ice rink complete with model skaters in the middle of New York’s Central Park. The linking of these two events powerfully evokes for the viewer a sense of Kandy’s poetic and symbolising world view, a moment of freedom and joy in her childhood is mirrored in the timeless and physically dynamic space of the ice rink.

Nicholas Rodgers responded to an image of Madison Square Gardens, making a model of Elton John performing on his grand piano. Again Nicholas uses text, it reads “One Night Only Concert’. The songs that Elton John sang that night are written in hieroglyphics on the model of the music sheet in front of him. Along with the use of text in his paintings, music is a major focus for Nicholas, again suggesting the need for alternative or more fluid forms of communication and language.

Eddie Budd works mainly from dreams, and his drawing, ‘Rendered Speechless’, seems to suggest in more direct form the barriers that many of the students confront in their desire to communicate, and their subsequent use of alternative forms. Another stunning work of Eddie’s depicts a line of white bowls that are being filled to overflowing from an invisible source in the ceiling of an enclosed room. This image of inspiration and hope in many ways suggests to me the atmosphere at Mosaic and the dedication of all involved to keep this valuable creative space operating.

RealPeople@Mosaic operates a commercial Gallery onsite where one is welcome to drop in and view the art works in progress or in completed form. The service is funded for 48 clients but provides for 75 a term on average. Mostly their works are for sale and support from the community is greatly appreciated.

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