Melanie Roger Gallery FITTS, HARRIS, HENDERSON,POUND & WOLFE
7 July- 7 August 2021 444 Karangahape Road, Newton, Auckland Director/Curator -Melanie Roger
A group exhibition featuring new and recent works by Emma Fitts, Henrietta Harris, Derek Henderson, Patrick Pound and Emily Wolfe. On entering the gallery space I scanned the room to see which works would immediately draw me in, but no works particularly caught my eye. I found myself having to slow down my gaze to find focus on each particular artists work. Most works in the show are quite small scale, and possibly described as soft works, with muted sfumato tones, or low volume works, nothing was bold or loud. But then I was drawn to Emily Wolfe’s Falls, shown in figure 1, because I was intrigued by the certainty of what I was looking at, my eyes were beguiled by ambiguity, challenged to reconsider just what it was I could see.
Figure 1. Emily Wolfe, Falls, 2021.
Emily Wolfe, Auckland born, London based artist, has seven paintings in the exhibition, oil on linen, six of them measuring 400mm x 500m, and the seventh, Falls measuring 1000mm x 800mm. At first glance they look like very old and delicate photos of old French Romantic landscape paintings that have been glued onto a white canvas, and then, to throw the arrangement into disorder, they have much smaller pieces of gauze or paper sellotaped overtop of them. Layers that are adjacent, overlapping, echoing, arguing? Then you are challenged to reconsider, does the order have a purpose...which then slows you right down to decipher, is there a judicious relationship to the space each object inhabits? On closer inspection I realise, each piece is entirely and quite exquisitely painted. Next I found myself drawn to look more closely at the work of Sydney based artist Derek Henderson. His works were to my surprise, a little bigger than Falls. Two large works hanging side by side, measuring 1000mm x 850mm. Both C-type prints, framed by a solid, glossy finished material with mitred corners. These appear to be photographs of rocks, waterfalls and landscape, that resound dominance of dark colours in the foreground, but the chiaroscuro is opposed by the almost sepia, old fashioned , faded orange over tone that gives them a real dated, aged feel,almost like Wolfe’s paintings, but then in contrast, perhaps more recent. Underneath these large framed photographs I noticed a whole lot of little, what appeared to be -old postcards, sitting on the skirting boards of the gallery. A small scale multi-part work by Melbourne based New Zealand artist Patrick Pound, presenting ‘found’ postcards of the same waterfall in Colorado. An intriguing choice of spatial location, being underneath the large photographic images of Derek Henderson. Placed in a repetitive logic, making them almost feel like they are in the foreground, equally bringing into question whether perhaps the compositions of these postcards are connected by place or time to the works of Derek Henderson. I had to go back outside to find the small paintings by Henrietta Harris which were both hung in the window of the gallery. Oil on canvas, 400mm x 400mm and 400mm x 300mm. Both small scale and also delicately painted works. At once recognised as reassuring landscape paintings that are representational, without the disruptive formal experiment of layers in Emily Wolfe’s paintings. Reassuring as landscape’s because their literal clarity is simple to interpret, unlike Wolfe’s paintings that command the viewer to slow down and dissect their composition in order to conceptualise the layers. Harris’s works display the surreal beauty of the environment with a distinctly photographic quality, which then also aligns them with the Romantic Landscape layers in the background of Wolfe’s works. Emma Fitts works are a considerable contradistinction to all the others in this group exhibition. Four works composed of flashe on canvas with southern beech wood, all 950mm x 1000mm. I would describe them as textile, or fabric folded and hung from a wooden rod in a sculptural fashion, almost like fabric samples in a textile shop. Each one a richly-faded colour, possibly being the 4 primary colours. Perhaps these are a translation of form, composition and colour of paintings into sculptures made of textile. Bringing into question whether the focus in this group exhibition of paintings and essentially photographs is infact ‘landscape’ or ‘still life’? When I think of Falls as a beautifully painted landscape painting , I think of an etching by Rembrandt, The Three Trees, shown in figure 2. They both play between obscurity and light,
both rendered with exceptional skill in hushed tones and darkness, refractions and shadows...that evoke quietude and pause. But in Wolfe’s painting, the carefully placed pieces of gauze and paper that appear to be sellotaped to the landscape pushes the landscape into the background and brings the subject of the wholly resolved still life into the foreground. A resounding slipperiness that forces the viewer to engage on a deeper level.
Figure 2. Rembrandt, The Three Trees, 1643, Etching, dry point and burin
with some sulphur tint etching, 21.3 cm x 28cm
When I realise Falls is a still life, the translucency of the elements within the composition appeal to my sense of discourse around spatial ambiguity. In Falls where the top of the landscape appears to be sellotaped against a wall, the bottom of the landscape contradictorily appears to be on the floor, or perhaps a table? Similarly in Jude Rae’s still life SL 429, shown in figure 3, objects and in turn their relations to the space and canvas edges challenges our visual perception. The objects appear to be standing on a bench or table, but the obscurity of where and how the table ends is unresolved. Both artists also make use of diaphanous object matter to break solid forms, both revealing the evident layers, although nuanced by their differing intentions. Wolfe’s translucent elements create an unsettling discourse depicting scenes haunted by unseen presences, shadows and time. Conversely Rae’s translucent objects tend to infer a critical importance of water, its necessity and its misuse globally. In both cases the viewer has to work to re-educate the eye and the mind, due to the artist’s skilled composition and painting technique. Consequently the viewer’s expectations of spatial composition are questioned.
Figure 3. Jude Rae,SL 429,2021, Oil on linen, 122cm x 137.5cm
I understand the curatorial objective for the show was to create a discussion around landscape based works. Each contributing artist approached landscape from a slightly different territory; painting, photography, collected items and textiles. Each discipline triggers an attitude of study towards the relevance of landscape and time. Emily Wolfe’s works within the landscape based show depicts a critical contrast as their intention questions the integrity of a landscape painting because on closer inspection they are actually still life.
Emily Wolfe, Falls, 2021, oil on linen, 1000mm x 800mm, Two Rooms, Auckland.
Rembrandt van Rijn, The Three Trees,1643, etching, dry point and burin with some sulphur tint etching, 21.3cm x 28cm, Princeton University Art Museum, United States, in Rembrandt: a genius and his impact/, National Gallery of Victoria, 405.
Jude Rae, SL429,2021, oil on linen, 122cm x 137.5cm, Two Rooms, Auckland.