Reviews

Harriet Millar, 2 paintings

The Artist’s Room, Ōtepoti

09-03-21

10.00am

Tunnel Beach, 2020, acrylic on canvas

Diverse Textures Work Together to Create an Exhilarating Storm

Meteorological threat and innocence collide in an evening sky. Brush strokes rush in, unapologetic storm clouds trail in dry acrylic on a churning sky. The energy of Millar’s paint application is compelling, the brush multi-loaded from the palette and twisted as the strokes are laid down. Dabs of tangerine paint ignite distant cliff tops.

Rich black-navy rocks wake to green and ochre hues, sunlit. The rocks are depicted in short, motley, commentary strokes, strokes which describe ancient and secure presences. And those concentrated wiggles contrast with both the long, youthful, diving bodies of the clouds, and the smooth, cool-blue reach of the ocean. An unpeopled landscape, this is wilderness at its best.

By virtue of Millar’s composition, the viewer is safe from such a charged landscape: boulders in the foreground—by which the scene is framed—shelter the viewer from the power of the elements. But while powerful, this picture is not at all menacing, primarily thanks to Millar’s pallete. Her colours make of the location a fiction. Like much of her work, and this is her strength, her colours make all her pictures allegra, vivace, joyful and alive.

On a material note, the dense, glossy acrylic perks out from the canvas and reflects the gallery lights, thereby celebrating the nature of paint. An unselfconscious work, this skillful painting is confident, impulsive, and abundant like a child.

Posy of Anemones, 2019, acrylic on card, framed

Rich and Dexterous Paint-Application a Pure Delight

Lush.

A posy tributes fecundity. Here is a glass packed with anemones in full bloom. One petal fallen, its opaque shadow proving the petal to be velvet.

A pink undercoat gives an aura to both the anemones and the vase, while an indigo-grey shadow holds them to the cross-hatched, grey ground – a grey against which the red bloom, the violet blooms, and the mauve bloom wobble their saturation joyously.

Extravagant, casual nudity: in a glass vase the stems pose, neither hidden nor shameful. Hot contrasts of white, navy, and khaki respect that freakish property of water to jerk and refract objects. The vase is completely convex, bowl shaped: the fullness of fullness. And it is perfectly clean – no reflections, no marks, no harsh lights; my eyes are drawn instead to the internal luminosity of the anemones.

These anemones have an iris quality, with tongue-like petals, tails wagging, puppy love. A slick of turquoise slips along a violet petal. For another petal, lilac heaps onto white like pouring cream. One anemone whorls like a whirlpool, a lazy river. Traces of white marble the opiate colours of the flower heads, further emphasising these contours which slip with life.

On the left, the anemones lounge in privacy, their faces not lit, dark hearts, black holes; on the right, the principal anemones upturn their faces, flaunting Van Gogh-yellow pollen, runny sunshine dots.

Millar interprets her subjects in a fresh and sumptuous style. I find her paintings beautiful.

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Selection from ‘The New Salon’

Milford Galleries Dunedin

Sculptures by Neil Dawson, Martin Selman, Emily Siddell, and Chris Charteris.

02-03-21

09.30am

The New Salon

Textures Contend and Reconcile


Now here’s harmonic curation at work: I mistake five wall-mounted sculptures for the work of one artist. The artists are four. The piece I first adopt is White Feather by Neil Dawson (2020). I take a seat. What can a white feather do to me?

Scaled up to the height of me and suspended above me, White Feather has presence. Triple shadows from down-lights emphasize the object’s detachment – a feather, so easily two-dimensional, flat in nature for the sake of aerodynamism, here with those telltale curlicues in the shorter feathers at the shaft. The opaque feather’s shaft fades to transparency, so ultra-real. White paint shimmers, aerosol finer than sand particles. The teeth of the feather have a leather quality, each fringe fed into the shaft.

Here is no fresh feather. It has weathered poorly, been waterlogged or dragged – the teeth have separated into clusters and they curl upward. However, the scalloped edge of the feather runs unspoilt, a 4mm edge has not been put through the paper shredder. The shaft’s transparent tip continually draws my eye back. It is the dose of realism that undoes the artifice of the starchy white paint, the paint the strong overhead lighting is too quick to highlight. Stared at long enough, the nylon sound of blowing through a rigid feather haunts me. I stand too close. Again and again to that transparent tip, the familiar blunt point, the artwork’s erogenous zone.

White Feather is, at first, perplexingly simple. Nothing more than a stage prop for the imagination. A prop only able to be activated by company, by juxtaposition – and then infinitely able, admittedly. This feather is from a seagull? I couldn’t tell you which bird keeps white feathers into adulthood. But while exact replication may be a strength of Dawson’s, it is not White Feather’s point. Where making a replica isn’t a labour intensive party-trick, it provokes reverence. It is Dawson’s mastery of fabrication which gives airtime to the white feather. When audiences marvel at craftsmanship, at one material embodying another, larger-than-life replicas have say in our psyches.

Mounted on a black wall it’s significance for me is evident; in silhouette, unmistakeable: Te Whiti o Rongomai. The white feather is this nation’s inherited symbol for non-violent resistance. White Feather has the look of a flag upheld either in protest or in a religious procession. It’s tilted at the over-the-shoulder angle, and Dawson or the curator’s choice of direction makes it dynamic. Mid-swivel, it demonstrates a feather’s principal capacity for drag.

And yet, contextualised with the sculpture alongside it, this great flag shrinks: beside a necklace of fist-sized granite beads threaded on wire cable and bolted to the wall (Chris Charteris, Friendship), the feather shrinks to an intricate brooch. Each of the six sculptures provides an unreliable point of reference for the rest. The imagination is given license to resize. Wherein the filigree of a once human-scale necklace (Emily Siddell, Teeth Garland) becomes ridiculously intricate, microscopic, spellbinding me in the small hooks of repetition.

I move to Martin Selman’s exquisite Pistol and Kotiate. The items have both been stamp-cut from their textural opposite: Carrara marble hewn like the swathed garments of saints. The rumpled textile contrasts with the hard edges of each cut-out. Form sprawls and relaxes me but Shape cuts that short. Marble is usually so inviting to touch, cool and smooth, but the cut-outs’ hard edges have no tactile appeal. Instead, they frame. They act as keyholes; we glimpse rumpled cloth, softness. To glimpse is frustrating, we are not privy. More nothing than something, but still, something.

War and cemeteries, an easy link. Battle and monuments. Weapons cut from the cloth of old grievances. What else can you cut from the cloth of tombstones? As if in answer, White Feather hovers overhead – agile, shapely in contrast, weightless, representing freedom.

In a second necklace (Large Shell Necklace), Siddell has threaded ceramic pipi densely, one shell protects the next, they spoon in alternate laterals. Imagine the noise when you move that thing! Tight as family. The surface gives pleasure, those sedimentary horizontals, the build up of calcium, rings of growth, lapping, rippling, the chalky appeal, the hood shape of the shells.

Stone, shell, feather and marble. A subtle but powerful suite. For as much as any flag, jewellery represents empowerment and taking a stand. Jewellery is bold. Jewellery is never uniform. When I look at these pieces I’m fooled into thinking art hasn’t changed much since we were hunter gatherers, but the feather is synthetic through and through. The shells and teeth are also replicas, provoking awe, in glossy or chalky, comforting materials. Extraordinary craftsmanship, the six pieces accenting one against the next.

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Prayers for Water

Anne Basquin, paintings and photographs

AYU Art Space, Dunedin

10-02-20

01.00pm

Underwater Point of View Suggests Openness

Anne Marie Basquin paints poems in wetwash cursive directly onto her canvas, making the primal layer invite its own colorific fulfilment.

Listen to these names: ‘Being Swept Up in Everything’, ‘Deep Singer’ and ‘What Great Expanses One Inspires’. When the accompanying photographs swim before you the painting titles come into their own; referring to the deep sea, the cobalt swirls.

A fully loaded brush drew ripples. A curve passing into circularity was given over to inertia. The psyche of two works is the kimono blue of the ocean – Edo blue, indigo – and tender rose apricot. Eyes reach out to eyes. Doors do and do not open. One painting whispered interspecies-communication, and then it blinked.

Whale ribbing is chalked across an oversize canvas, and flighty white paint spirals with the energy of jumping light. The phenomena of waves scattering light – that glittering bewitches me. For Basquin it’s flash communicated in fine threads of acrylic hooping over the large canvas. It’s also captured in her motion-cheating photographs.

I meet eight large photographs. The crispness of the foreground tangles in my eye, photons scatter. A blurred sea throws up an aurora, both beacon and lure. The trillion fish are not coming to us; they’re in their own delving, fleeing, and pursuit.

Treading water and gazing up to a blurred island, a point of view has submerged me. Invited to take on Water’s sensibility, who does Water pray for? Rubbery belly stripes mesmerise. This one-tonne humpback has so small an eye, no larger than any nodule on her beak. Yet the lid may open and close. The scale of our freedoms will interpose.

Few practitioners can bring us so intimate an image of a humpback, an image taken in the first-person and finished on archival paper, soaked to its margin in topaz ink.

I trust this artist because she respects fellow mammals, I think wryly, breastfeeding my infant son.

Whatever practise Basquin returns to—be it painting, photography, being in the water, or writing— it’s as though she’s never been away from it. In continually exploring she enjoys a transdisciplinary approach: daring, encountering, and retelling.

This exhibition comes to us from the depths. I swim out of it buoyant, into the myth of above-water.