Sometimes it is good to be proven wrong.
I was dismayed when I learned that Creative Hawke’s Bay had, for the 2009 Invitational Exhibition, now showing at the Hastings City Art Gallery, decided to stand down artists who had shown in these Invitationals for the past two years. This meant removing 20 of last years’ exhibitors, 20 of our best and brightest; and I did not believe that 50 more artists of sufficient quality could be found and with Hawke’s Bay connections to mount a credible exhibition.
The good news is that, even without artists like Wellesley Binding, Sandy Adsett, Riks Terstappen, the 2009 Invitational looks fine.
Along with a healthy contingent of locals, there are some expatriates of national standing such as Louise Purvis, Neil Dawson and Don Driver. The Hawke’s Bay connection may be distant and tenuous in some cases but their presence is very welcome.
Of the work itself, I found the sculpture uniformly impressive.
Para Matchitt confirms his standing as a major New Zealand artist with “Pataka”, a massive, mounted cube in stainless steel with facets cut into cross and lozenge shapes enclosing a labyrinth of coloured Perspex planes. Our attention is caught by what we cannot see but would like to see. It is a work of great presence.
The sheer improbability of William Jamieson’s “Waka” made from a lattice of steel bands invites us to consider more deeply the nature of both the materials and the subject itself.
“Flying Backwards Here” is Perry Davies affectionate view of a time when innocence and integrity characterised domestic architecture.
Others to evoke the past are David Guerin, who contrasts early migrant’s nostalgia for home with the industrial realities of their new colonial world; and Martin Selman, whose marble land wars muskets and koru metamorphose into cloth folds which echo other, older master carvers like Bernini.
Chris Bryant might be Hawke’s Bay’s most under-rated artist. There is an engaging intelligence about his work and in “For Mana and Museeology” he looks at the changing attitude of museums towards Maori art, referencing the Pou tokomanawa in the Hawke’s Bay Museum and paying tribute to its first Kaitiaki, Raina Tutaki.
Internationally, Neil Dawson is probably New Zealand’s most successful living artist. His “Old/new/borrowed/blue” shows why. In this laser-cut steel plate piece he plays with light and space with a design that suggests the willow pattern (from domestic china) coming to the South Pacific. It shows a rare combination of energy and refinement.
Liz Earth bridges painting and sculpture in “Mind Your Hand”. While this work is an intuitive assemblage of random images, in true surrealist manner, it does reflect the artist’s concern for life both in its creation and destruction. A nest suggests nurturing but the eggs are dice suggesting an uncertain future. Metaphors abound; a fertility goddess morphing into a chicken carcass, a circular nest echoing the nearby moon and ink spatters which echo the drawn foliage. These devices give the work coherence, as does her admirable control of techniques. Liz Earth is an artist who continues to grow quietly in strength.
I love work that makes me think and Helen Kerridge’s still life does just that as she takes us on a journey from traditional painting to the philosophical issues surrounding Damien Hirst’s Turner prize-winning bejewelled skull and the inflated values of a wealth-fueled international art market. The artist’s own view is suggested by her inclusion of a print from Goya’s satirical “Los Caprichos” series.
The painting is technically satisfying too – check out the glazed vase – as it plays between the “real” foreground of objects and the paper reproductions behind them. Skilful composition keeps our eye on course in its voyage round the picture.
This is a very complete work of art.
By contrast, Jo Blogg uses retired road signs in her triptych “too old, too slow”. The past life of the signs becomes part of the work as all those who have used and abused the signs contribute to the texture of wear. Over this Blogg places a precise layer of concentric circles made up of coloured dots. The result suggests a wicked metaphor of colour vision tests (what number do you see?) and stressed out motorists grappling with road directions.
Paula Taafe also involves the viewer with a set of simian faces which appear to interrogate us with a range of human emotions.
All the photographers offer something interesting from Denise Wilkinson’s mysterious floods of light to Jeff Drabble’s improbable moment of street theatre where a lone eccentric acts out a magic-making rite. By accident or design Drabble has the figure surrounded by temples: one to art (the museum), one to god (the church) and one to commerce (the skyscraper) towering in the background. You couldn’t make this up!
I really enjoyed the drawing on show. Lesley Falls’ wall drawings extend her interest in mark making to the rhythms and cadences of written language and a whimsical ink drawing from Ben Pearce shows he can do 2-D as well as 3-D.
Grant Beran’s tribute to surrealist Joseph Cornell is daring and edgy. Using photochemicals to actually make images rather than just securing them, he shows an unsettling view of a world in constant change. Perhaps this is the most truly contemporary work in the show.
Printmaking is represented in Nicole Sanders O’Shea’s monumental chronicle of the theatre of domestic life. She draws upon the imagery of mid 20th century advertising but the results have the timeless dignity of Japanese woodcuts.
The variety in this exhibition is almost overwhelming. It also includes some beautifully wrought fabric art, some impressively innovative furniture and a splendidly expressionistic ceramic bowl by Kim Morgan.
It seems churlish to quibble about such a pleasing show but I do have some problems with the format. The inclusion of fifty artists does result in some tailing off of quality and the absence of any curatorial presence has resulted in one or two of our leading artists showing work that does them less than justice.
Viewing so many single works from each artist is difficult. It is like meeting a crowd of people; you say “hullo” but it is hard to have a conversation.
Sometimes seeing 2 to 3 works by an artist makes it easier to tune into their thinking.
As the Hawke’s Bay Review loses credibility with artists through erratic selection (last year’s Review was the worst that I can remember), so the Creative Hawke’ Bay Invitational has emerged as the major showcase for Hawke’s Bay art. With a little fine tuning it could be even better. Nonetheless, this is a most enjoyable exhibition and it would be a picky viewer indeed who couldn’t find something here that they can relate to.