Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Herne Bay show







Group Exhibition
Anna Bibby
11 February - 8 March 2008

The dozen artists in this group show present a sort of ‘After New Year’ celebration: a display of stock to kick-start 09’s season. While there are no real surprises it is a good chance to see Anna Bibby’s taste - (craft–oriented, domestic scale), if you are not familiar with her shows already – and to ponder what her artists do. Lots of them seem to like to make bird imagery. Apart from Des Helmore and Tim Thatcher, they all have avian subject-matter somewhere.

In some ways this display is more conservative than some of the Bibby solo artist shows. Heather Straka is represented by a rendered chicken wing, whereas her recent exhibition was of dissected body parts and not for the ultra-squeamish. I say ‘ultra’ because the images were still slightly tasteful. They weren’t photographic and stickily messy – though they were blackly humorous. In that context this chicken wing (extraordinary looking with its little stalactite flaps of loose skin) was a bizarre guffaw, and remains so here.

Jim Dennison and Leanne Williams cast-glass birds surprise not because of their cute angular forms but because of their translucent colour (delicate blues, greens and browns) that often seems deep inside the small glass masses, and casually positioned. This colour has a hovering independence from form, a freedom – and is birdlike in itself.

Megan Hansen-Knarhoi’s Flock presents 26 pairs of woolly, stylised hands, clapping in unison on the wall as if in a soft Killeen cutout. They applaud themselves like swirling, noisy birds – prodding the viewer’s aural imagination as well as visual.

In one of the front windows, Martin Poppelwell’s ceramic bird on a skull, with its buttery coloration and overlaid coal-black grid, is a strikingly combination of whimsy with sensuality. Focussed and uncluttered, it is unlike his scappier and looser work on paper in the other window.

Sam Mitchell’s acrylic paintings on clear Perspex dazzle with her technique of painting under the surface in ‘reverse’ order, so that detail is applied before planes of colour, covered from behind so not to be obliterated. Mitchell’s smaller forms (such as naked ladies, budgies etc.) are more successfully rendered than the large portraits they are positioned on. The little images have a fluid line and buoyant energy missing in the stiffer, bigger, blue visages.

Probably the most striking (and heretically non-feathered) paintings in the show are by Desmond Helmore and Tim Thatcher, works that celebrate the viscosity of paint while containing its fluidity within tight spatial structures. Helmore is the more austere of the two, a remarkably honed sensibility of exquisite precision. Thatcher, much looser, has larger less illustrative works, and uses a deeper space, but is just as controlled in organisation, though not in style of application.

The photorealism of Emily Wolfe is distinctive, but not the sole point, for it is accompanied by an exact sense of scale for each canvas. This sense of intimacy with the viewer is a vital ingredient, more important than her meticulous detail or plasticity of form. On the other hand, Gavin Hurley’s stencil-like portraits, with their airbrushed contours, floating shapes and skilled tonal control, comment on representation itself as a process, more than say, historical subject matter as content. Style is his subject, and narrative readings appear to be a red herring. He creates a celebration of flatness and contrivance, a relishing of artificiality.

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