This is the season when columnists produce “best of the year” lists – best books, best films etc. Well, I don’t have “best” artists but, for what it is worth, I have ten local artists whose work I have found especially engaging this year. 

Chris Bryant of Toi Mairangi takes strength from past artists and traditions but uses modern materials and found objects to make contemporary comment on topics ranging from Maori art and Museology to the environment. The metaphors he uses to tell his stories are often cryptic but the elegance of his telling makes it well worth spending time deciphering them.

These days Gary Waldrom is better known outside Hawke’s Bay than he is locally yet he is, perhaps, our most truly local artist. James Mack, writing in “Art New Zealand” tells how Waldrom “in Waipawa, taught himself to paint like a renaissance master.”

Often his work features child-like figures who gaze out at us with a disturbing mix of innocence and worldliness from a Central Hawke’s Bay setting of high summer heat. His brushwork is sublime and he has an unerring eye for picture construction.

The least well-known of my artists is probably Helen Kerridge, but I rate her meticulously crafted paintings because they are loaded with ideas. These ideas can be cynical comment on the super-heated marketing of international art stars like Damian Hirst or a kiwiana re-visiting of a Goya etching. I have long conversations with her work.

The best known artist here is Dick Frizzell. A survivor from the new wave of the 1960s and 1970s artists who reshaped New Zealand art, Frizzell is, as they say, “still on the road”.

Although one of the few artists of that era to be touched by Pop Art, he is the most difficult to typecast stylistically. Whatever interests him at the moment is what he does. The late Bryan Dew described him as being “like a kid, still crazy about art”. I can’t imagine a greater compliment to pay an artist who is approaching the senior stage of his career.

Paratene Matchitt too, emerged with that influential 1960s group but galleries and critics were slower then to recognize Maori artists. Drawing upon a rich vocabulary of symbols from traditional sources and from luminaries such as Te Kooti, Rua Kenana and Picasso, Matchitt creates sculptures of considerable graphic strength and presence. He is one of the most successful exponents of that demanding field of sculpture for public places.

Nicol Sanders-O’Shea is the quiet achiever of this list. Her stylishly drawn scenes of domestic life, printed in post-Pop Art style on throw-away plastic plates look at how real life is now increasingly perceived through advertising and reality TV.

Jo Blogg exemplifies Picasso’s dictum “I do not seek, I find”, as she converts materials ranging from jigsaws and women’s magazines to old traffic signs into visual puns with provocative comments on human behaviour. She shows us that the stuff of art is all around us if only we have the eyes and the wit to see it.

There is no apparent content, message or agenda in the sculptures of Ben Pearce. His whimsical assemblages are pure surrealism in their intuitive design and look like sophisticated 3D doodles. They appear at first to be rickety but in fact are beautifully constructed and provide a playground for the imagination

Riks Terstappen has also charmed, entertained and beguiled me with the originality of his sculptures, especially his work in public places. When some of it was installed in the Hastings CBD, the town vandals paid him a compliment by tagging the nearby trees, but not his sculptures.

Is Wellesley Binding the Godfather of Hawke’s Bay painting? His influence as a teacher and mentor as well as by his personal achievement is considerable.

More than anyone he can touch our souls with paintings which speak of the tragi-comedy of the human condition. He is no Olympian though, passing judgement from above; he is down there in his pictures, like Goya, as tragi-comic as the rest of us. Technically and intellectually his work is never less than impressive.

This is just one person’s list and there are quite a number of other artists out there who deserve our attention. Give yourself a treat in the New Year and get around the galleries and enjoy them.

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