Categories
Reviews, News and Commentary

Auckland exhibition of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel looks better than the original

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam

MICHELANGELO – A Different View 

Hunua Room, Level 1, Aotea Centre

Until Jan 30

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The Sistine Chapel at the Vatican is home to one of the greatest artistic accomplishments in history. It was there in the early 16th century that Michelangelo created the brilliant religious frescoes on the ceiling telling the stories from Genesis. He also painted The Last Judgement on the altar wall, depicting the Second Coming and the Final Judgement.

While millions of viewers have visited the chapel in Rome each year it is not always the most pleasurable experience with the room  crowded with hundreds of people anda constant babble of voices. Having to crane one’s neck to see the ceiling surrounded by milling people is not the ideal way to see the work.

Now a new photographic exhibition attempts to replicate the experience with large reproduction of the Michelangelo’s ceiling and   The Last Judgement 

The exhibition has used state-of-the-art technology to reproduce photographs taken of the artworks following recent restorations

The printing techniques used have been able to  reproduce the colours, the details and  brushstrokes, even compensating for the curved nature of some of the paintings

The reproduction 4.6 metres by 20 metres –  about half the size of the actual ceiling but up close the images provide a new experience.

The image of the ceiling is laid out on the floor and adjacent to it is a viewing platform which provides a view which in many ways is better than the original. Even if you have seen the original this is a different experience as you can see the detail of the work and appreciate the overall design as well the juxtaposition of figures and colours.

Many of the smaller elements of the work which are hardly visible when standing in the chapel such as the small bronze-coloured medallions but these are clear now and add another level of complexity and  understanding to the work.

For many the work will be a religious experience seeing the stories from the Bible brought to life on a grand scale. For others it will be an admiration of the originality and skill displayed by the artist along with an appreciation of the working conditions he faced in creating the works.

Michelangelo, The Last Judgement

On the Sistine Chapel ceiling he painted his complex telling the story of the Creation according to Genesis, the beginning of the world. Then in the Last Judgment he presents the end of the world when the godly are separated from the ungodly. Here the scene is presided over, not by the old, bearded god of the ceiling but by a youthful dynamic figure. Michelangelo also included a self-portrait – a flayed skin  which is something of a metaphor of the artist who considered himself to have been eviscerated by the whole painterly journey.

The ceiling painting is a stunning example of trompe l’oeil with the painter creating an illusory architecture with marble putti supporting a cornice on whose regularly placed outcrops are stone seats on which, nude figures are seated along with images of major Prophets and Sibyls seated on monumental thrones .

Michelangelo, Delphic Sibyl

Michelangelo had a difficult task in reconciling the ideas of Renaissance Humanism with the theology of 16th century Christianity. This was because the Church emphasized Man as essentially sinful and flawed, while Michelangelo was focused on Man’s beauty and nobility. The  two views were irreconcilable and led to later problems such as the nudes of the Last Judgment having drapery painted over their testicles after the artists death.

For Michelangelo it was the creation  of the  human body which was paramount. In his depiction of the creation of Adam it is not so much the creation of a man but the creation of a body and this awe in the beauty of the human body is repeated in many of the figures both naked and clothed

Prior to the Renaissance images of God were rare and generally symbolic. In the early Renaissance such image depicted a patriarchal God the Father as an old man, usually with a long beard. Michelangelo’s image of God saw him with almost human qualities. In the second scene, the Creator is fully defined and heroic and we even see a rear view of him with his buttocks visible through purple drapery.

Also included in the exhibition are images of   the lower frescoes in the chapel. Often given less prominence these wall paintings by several artists including Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandio and Matteo da Lecce depict the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ. They were all  completed in twenty-five years before Michelangelo began work on the ceiling.

They are impressive  paintings but do not have the same power as those of the Michelangelo works Rather than just tell stories he attempted to create emotional responses through the power of gesture.

Many of these artists were showing off their draughting and painterly skills using the relatively new ideas of perspective with Perugino’s Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter being a fine example. Michelangelo does not use these techniques instead using his knowledge of anatomy to create tactile human figure in three dimensions.

When one compares the naked torsos in The Disputation over Moses’ Body by Matteo da Lecce. with those of Michelangelo’s one can see his consummate understanding of the human figure.

Important to an understanding of the paingtings is the role that the Pope Julius II played in commissioning the works. He was a warrior pope and he chose his papal name not in honour of Pope Julius I but in emulation of Julius Caesar. He was one of the great pre reformation humanists seeing links between the Ancient Greeks and this can be seen in other works he commissioned by Raphael  such as  The School of Athens (also in the Vatican) being painted at the same time as Michelangelo was working on the  Sistine ceiling

Like Julius the individuals faces portrayed are bold and dramatic and filled with energy. Compared to the figures in the lower frescoes these are strong personalities which speak of the need for militant Christians, not the softer versions of the lower frescoes.

Michelangelo’s inventiveness can be seen  in the figures he creates. He has used the faces of ordinary people. He probably used the faces of people he saw in the streets or in the church not the stereotypes normally used. These figures are men and women who walked the streets of the sixteenth century Rome.

Michelangelo’s masterpiece combines the worlds of art, religion, science, and faith in a provocative and awe-inspiring work of art,

Categories
Reviews, News and Commentary

Mary Quant: The designer who changed fashion

Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2021.

Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary

Auckland Art Gallery

Until March 13, 2022

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

British fashion designer Mary Quant was at the centre of the Swinging Sixties, one of the most important eras in fashion history. It was a time of culture change and revolution in fashion, the arts, lifestyles, politics and women’s rights.

The new exhibition  “Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary” which has opened at the Auckland Art Gallery takes the viewer back to those times making them aware of the changes. The show brings together over 120 garments as well as accessories, cosmetics, sketches and photographs.

Mary Quant is credited with democratising fashion. Her distinctive PVC raincoats, alligator printed capes, colourful woollen jerseys and mini-dresses in colours such as “ginger”, “putty” and “bright apple green” brought flair initially to London and then  to the  world. She helped change the way that people felt about clothing from being purely utilitarian to be being expressive. Working women at the time  turned to a much more relaxed and easily accessible way of dressing. As she said  “Fashion is not frivolous. It is part of being alive today”

Quant’s use of colour, innovative fabrics and daring designs became not only her trademark, but also that of the era as well. Her designs played with scale and proportion and she  drew inspiration from previous styles, designing garments that replicated Victorian undergarments, the striped cotton drill of butcher’s aprons and she used the pinstriped materials of men’s traditional fashion and ties to create chic dresses. There are also examples of witty clothing such as the PVC raincoat secured with an outsized safety pin.

Her interest in ideas and cultures can be sensed in photographs of her in her home/studio where she is surrounded by an eclectic mix of classical and contemporary items and in the sequence where we see her drawing, she could be designing a dress, a piece of sculpture or a building.

In this openness to new ideas, she was one of the threads of the changing culture in Britain at the time with the transformation of the music industry led by The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones.

The art of the time was also changing with the work of  Bridget Riley, David Hockney and the sculptor Anthony Caro looking at new techniques, exploring new shapes and playing with colour.

The “Topless”

One of the interesting pictures in the exhibition shows Alison Smithson who bought a Quant “Topless”  dress in  1964. Smithson and her husband Peter were innovative architects of the period who helped democratise  architecture with their social housing projects designed with a utilitarian aesthetic – low cost, and easily available materials featuring geometric shapes, dramatic contrasts and exposed construction elements. The “Topless”  is an ingeniously structured minimalist pinafore made of jute, an appropriate garb for a radical architect which refers to the sculpted designs of the architect Eero Saarinen.

Architects in the twentieth century often used the mantra of form follow function and that is also something that can be applied to Quant’s designs with her clothes expressesing the structural elements as part of their design

Then there was Terence Conran who established British furniture retail chain Habitat in the 1960s, which popularising modern continental European design in the UK, including the first  flatpack furniture.

There are many aspects of Quant’s designs which have links to the designs and architecture of the period. Even Quant’s bobbed hairstyle is structurally simple compared with many other hairstyles of the period.

While she may not have invented the mini skirt she developed and embraced  it making it one of the most important fashion items of the twentieth century. and has remained a constant in fashion in one way or another every decade since.

Quant was not always the great fashion entrepreneur and when she first started, she was working hand to mouth selling her clothes during the day and using the profits to buy materials to make new clothes at night. Her shop Bazaar was also a totally different experience featuring loud music, free drinks and late opening hours. something that attracted many of the ‘Chelsea Set’ during the sixties.

While cloth, texture, colour and contrast were a major part of her designs she also used the body itself so arms, shoulders, necks backs and legs become part of the Quant look.

The exhibition was made possible through having  access to Dame Mary Quant’s Archive, as well as drawing on the Victoria and Albert’s extensive fashion holdings, which include the largest public collection of Quant garments in the world.

 

Categories
Reviews, News and Commentary

Ray Ching’s sumptuous new book of New Zealand bird paintings

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Ray Ching

New Zealand Bird Paintings

Potton & Burton

RRP $79.99

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Ray Ching is one of the world’s outstanding wildlife artists who has been producing paintings, drawings and and publication for over sixty years. While having lived in the UK for many years his work has largely focussed on antipodean birds. These have included exhibitions and publications such as  “Aesop’s Outback Fables” and “Aesop’s Kiwi Fables”. His most successful book was “The Reader’s Digest Book of British Birds”. Published in 1969 it became the world’s most successful and biggest selling book of bird paintings, translated into over ten European languages and appearing in many editions.

Ray Ching in his studio

His latest publication is simply titled  “New Zealand Bird Paintings. This mundane title belies the sumptuous visual record he has produced and his paintings are as important  as the illustrations by J.G. Keulemans in the nineteenth century publication  “Buller’s Birds of New Zealand”.

The book features about seventy different birds all rendered in extraordinary  detail along with preparatory drawings and texts.

His  wide-ranging passages of writing provide both a personal and ornithological approach to each of the birds. The artist writes about his early encounters with the birds, their history, references to other writers and ornithologists which helps give a  greater understanding of the birds and their place in New Zealand history and landscape.

Ching notes that the impact of colonialism, pasteurism and deforestation has had a major impact on the habitats of many of our birds such as the flightless kakapo nearly hunted to extinction by rats, stoats and dogs.

On the other hand, the Kahu or swamp Harrier which is essentially an open marsh, scrub or pastureland bird was aided by the destruction of forests which gave way to grassland and thus extra habitat for the bird.

Writing about the Kiwi he notes that early  illustrators had great difficulty in describing the bird from the  skin of the first birds sent back to England as it did not conform to the structure of other birds and he notes that the bird is still a challenge to depict 

His paintings of each of the birds vary. Some are painted in the almost standard ornithologic manner with strict attention to detail and colouring while with other he provides environmental setting.

Kea

In many of his paintings over the years he has attempted to anthropomorphise his birds and in Dawn Chorus he depicts a group of kakapo surrounding the sheet music of Pokare kare ana signifying their melodious call and Ching provides interesting information about the special way the bird builds  sound reflectors to aid in its mating call.

In the section on the  Tui eight of the birds are illustrated each of them has a different pose and personality

Some of the birds perch as with the Korimako (bellbird) some are animated like the two fighting North Island Kiwi while other are depicted in flight such the Haast’s Eagle and the Pipiwharauroa (Shining Cuckoo).

Huia

His Huia sits with its back to the viewer on an almost abstract branch all the better to show of the bird’s white tail feathers while the two Kea are illustrated in an alpine environment behind them. The Toutouwai (North Island robin) is shown in the forest undergrowth and the Tauhou (Silvereye) almost obscured by the yellow kowhai they are feeding on and the Kaka is shown eying some puriri berries.

Kaka

The paintings in the book are interspersed with studies drawn by the artist showing his ability to capture not only the shape and textures of the birds. The various paintings and drawings done over a number of years also illustrate the artist changing approaches to the depiction of the birds.

The works combine the artist’s extraordinary attention to detail of the birds as well as well astute rendering of foliage and landscape which help give context to the birds and their environments.

Categories
Reviews, News and Commentary

Three big musicals coming to town next year

John Daly-Peoples

Come Away From

Next year will see the  return of live performances including several musicals. Already announced has been Opera  New Zealand’s “Carousel” which will be performed on the water at the Viaduct Harbour. Now there are another three great productions – “Chess” one of the great classic musicals, “Come Away From” an inspirational new musical and “Shrek” which will appeal to the whole family

“Come From Away” by David Hein and Irene Sankoff

The Civic, Auckland.
From 20 April,.

St James Theatre, Wellington.
From 20 May, 2022.

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, when terrorist attacks on Washington and New York closed US airspace for the first time in history. It was then that 38 planes carrying nearly 7,000 people from over 100 countries were diverted to the small island of Gander, known to locals as ‘The Rock’.

The Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical, “Come From Away” tells the remarkable real-life journey of 7,000 air passengers who became grounded in Gander, Newfoundland in Canada in the wake of the September 11 tragedy. The small community that welcomed the ‘come from aways’ into their lives provided hope and compassion to those in need. Award-winning husband and wife duo David Hein and Irene Sankoff (book, music and lyrics), travelled to Newfoundland and interviewed thousands of locals, compiling their stories.

The kindness and spirit of humanity that ensued in the face of crisis; the indelible friendships forged and the anguish of not knowing what had happened to their loved ones, together with a Celtic-inspired soundtrack, make this musical one of the most celebrated to emerge from Broadway in recent history.

Come From Away” has won numerous awards including the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (Christopher Ashley), and four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical, Best Theatre Choreography (Kelly Devine), Best Sound Design and Outstanding Achievement in Music.

The recent Australian season saw more accolades for the production, becoming the most successful musical ever staged at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre, breaking box office records across the country, winning numerous  awards.

The show had a return season this year in Melbourne and the Sydney morning Herald’s  reviewer Cameron Woodhead wrote about the production,

“For expositional brilliance and strength of ensemble performance, there is no musical quite like it. I’ve seen it four times now and am yet to be bored: there isn’t a dead moment.”

“It is marvellous to see an entire town, not to mention the crowd of international visitors stranded there, brought to life, and it’s done with such pace and vigour, such stirring music and movement, such finely judged humour, such poignancy and pathos, such warmth and welcome, that you start to feel like a Newfoundlander yourself.”

Chess – The Musical

Chess – The Musical by  Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and Sir Tim Rice Kiri

Te Kanawa Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland.
From 16 June.

One of the world’s best-loved musicals,  Chess – The Musical  will have a limited season in Auckland.  

This semi-staged production, will feature an array of New Zealand musical theatre talent, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, and a choir of 30 was written in 1984 by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and Sir Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita),  Chess – The Musical features hits including “I Know Him So Well”  – recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest selling UK chart single ever by a female duo – and the upbeat pop favourite “One Night in Bangkok”.

 Chess – The Musical tells the story of a complex love triangle combined with dramatic political intrigue, set against the background of the Cold War in the early 1980s, where Soviet and American forces attempt to manipulate an international chess championship for political gains.

Two of the world’s greatest chess masters, one American, one Russian, are in danger of becoming the pawns of their governments as their battle for the world title gets underway. Simultaneously, their lives are thrown into further confusion by a Hungarian refugee, a remarkable woman who becomes the centre of their emotional triangle. This mirrors the heightened passions of the political struggles that threaten to destroy lives and loves.

The musical originally premiered in London’s West End in 1986 (where it was revived in 2018) starring the Elaine Paige. The season ran for three years, resulting in a BBC listener poll ranking  Chess – The Musical seventh in a list of ‘Number One Essential Musicals’ of all time. 
 
Chess the boardgame, has become the world’s most popular sport, with 605 million fans and now enjoying even more popularity following the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit”, which drew a record audience of 62 million households. In the first three weeks after the TV series’ debut, sales of chess sets in the US went up by 87% and sales of chess books leaped 603%.
 
 Chess – The Musical is produced by the makers of this year’s Jersey Boys and is directed by Jeremy Hinman (Jersey Boys, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). Musical direction is by Penny Dodd (Chicago, Evita, Cats, Anything Goes, 42nd Street and The Phantom of the Opera) and vocal direction is by Jane Horder.  



Shrek, The Musical
Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre,  Auckland   From 19 April
Hamilton – Clarence St Theatre, Hamilton  From26 April
Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch From4 October
St James Theatre, Wellington   From 11 October  

The Broadway’s monster smash-hit production Shrek The Musical based on The Academy Award-winning animated film “Shrek” is the story of everyone’s favourite ogre is a  lavish multi-million-dollar musical  part romance, part twisted fairy-tale and all irreverent fun that brings all the beloved characters from the film to life on stage.   The antisocial Shrek lives alone in a swamp, until pint-sized dictator Lord Farquaad banishes all fairytale creatures from his realm.   Soon Shrek’s home is overrun with refugees, from Pinocchio to The Three Little Pigs, and if he’s to regain his solitude the ogre must embark on a quest for Farquaad, rescuing Princess Fiona from a dragon-guarded tower. Along the way, he reluctantly befriends an annoying Donkey and falls in love with the princess. Just when he thinks he’s too ugly, fearsome and freakish for a happy ending, Shrek discovers Fiona hides her own green secret.

Producer Layton Lillas says ‘All of my productions are designed to be accessible for as many people as possible. I love to see kids being introduced to theatre at a really high level, but I also know being a dad to a 7-year-old that asking them to sit through two and a half hours is just too much.
 
“Our version of Shrek The Musical features a talented professional cast of 14 actors,” he says, “the set alone is worth over $1 million and was used on both the UK and Australian tours, and a dragon that has its own 40 foot shipping container. Believe me everyone who comes will be blown away!”
 
The Limelight review of the production in Sydney this year noted “Shrek is a show that relies fundamentally on two things: humour and heart. The version at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre (produced by John Frost and Glass Half Full Productions … has plenty of the former and loads of the latter.” “This script requires performers who can send it up but also express the emotional truth of the central relationships: Shrek’s outsider status and how he deals with loneliness, the nature of friendship and loyalty, and the truism that beauty is only skin deep. Also, it doesn’t hurt if Tesori’s snappy but often complex music is sung by confident, experienced voices, and played by a band that relishes the traditional Broadway references.”
Shrek
Categories
Reviews, News and Commentary

NZ Trio’s “Cirrus” concert a luminous mix of classical and contemporary works

Reviewede by John Daly-Peoples

NZ Trio

Dramatic Skies 3: Cirrus

Auckland Concert Chamber

December 12

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The final concert of the year for the New Zealand Trio and one of the final classical concerts for Auckland was the last in their Dramatic Skies series. It was presented under Red Level in the Concert Chamber with a socially distanced audience of just  one hundred.

While the concert was titled Cirrus, the overcast skies that evening were more Nimbus but the concert featuring work from the early nineteenth century till the present brought welcome sounds into the hall to an  audience starved of concerts.

It was a typical NZ Trio concert combining classical compositions with more adventurous contemporary works challenging and for the players as well as the audience

Franz Schubert  was only fifteen when he wrote his “Sonatensatz in B flat Major”  and there is a youthful enthusiasm to the work but one can hear the composer searching for more complex structures and layered themes which hint at the greater works that were to follow.

Pianist Somi Kim provided the initial themes which were expanded on with violinist Amelia hall providing a soaring voice and cellist Ashley Brown a more sober and at times sombre accompaniment.

Kim’s playing could be seen as painting a landscape into which Hall and Brown interposed images of fleeting  clouds, and looming  storm clouds

Gillian Whitehead’s newly commissioned work “Ka maranga ngā kapua” follows on the cloudscape theme translating as  ‘the clouds will lift’ and was something of a metaphor coming at a time of hope in the lifting of Covid restrictions.

There are allusions to changing landscape and moods with shimmering sounds conveying various vistas along with whispers of bird song, heralding abating storms, clearing weather and a new day.

The other New Zealand work on the programme was Rachael Clement’s “Shifting States” which consisted of five short pieces  inspired by the processes of glassmaking – freezing, melting, vaporization, condensation and sublimation.

The work was full of tentative crisp  sounds which created a sense of shimmering flecks of light and colour with each of the instruments  conveying concepts of fragility, mystery and fluidity.

Playing the Schubert, the three instrumentalists had been focussed on collaboration, watching each other and responding to the musical connection. With Clement’s work they played their individual components in a more technical manner focussed on precision, assembling the various elements with the audience observing these various elements being dissected and combined.

In the final movement “sommerso (submerged)” Somi Kim leant into the piano to play directly on the strings, complementing the two other players. This movement was an elegant sound portrayal of the wonders of glass, seeing the swirls and flecks  of colour shimmering through solid or blown glass.

Andrzej Panufnik’s “Piano Trio Op. 1” was written when he  was a nineteen-year-old student but he  revised it from memory  in 1944 after it had been destroyed in the Warsaw Uprising. The work is something of a reflection on the tumultuous ten years between the the original and the revised version.

The opening movement was romantic leading to a more haunting second movement tinged with sadness. The final movement featured a manic dance theme with some particularly  insistent playing by Amelia Hall.

Throughout the work the violin and cello were engaged in a musical conversation which ranged from the nostalgic and contemplative to the aggressive and tempestuous.

Much of the time Somi Kim measured out the music with a methodical almost mechanical approach with the accompanying  strings alternatively pleading, terrified, witty and hectic.

The major work on the programme was Rachmaninov’s “Trio elegiaque No 2” written when he was nineteen  in response to the death of  Tchaikovsky. While it honours the composer it also celebrates the great romantic piano tradition with music rich in drama and emotion.

Somi Kim opened the first movement with a mournful exploration, displaying  some virtuoso playing filled with intensity and anguish. Amelia Hall and Ashley Brown wrapped a sympathetic accompaniment of  melancholic voices around her playing providing funereal decoration. The three players generated a raw passion in attempting to convey the sense of despair, wonder the inexpressible.

In the second movement Kim’s playing was initially elegiac but this soon became more frenetic aided by the dazzling performances of violin and cello with some inspired duos of piano and violin and cello and piano.

The finale featured  some  ferocious playing by Kim and some equally intense displays by Brown and Hall as they referenced Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique and offering a glimpse of joy amidst the pathos.

Categories
Reviews, News and Commentary

Three great plays open Auckland Theatre Company’s 2022 season

John Daly-Peoples

Sydney Theatre Company’s production of “Grand Horizons”

ATC 2022 Season

John Daly-Peoples

The first three productions of the Auckland Theatre Company for next year offer a good range of work from overseas and local dramatists with three very accessible works.

“Grand Horizons”  by Bess Wohl
8 Feb – 5 Mar

In the absence of a new Roger Hall play ATC have turned to the American playwright Bess Wohl who mines similar territory to Sir Roger.

In her latest Tony-nominated comedy, “Grand Horizons” we encounter Nancy and Bill who are 50 years into the picture-perfect marriage. Now, as they settle into the beige walls of their new ‘lifestyle village,’ Nancy announces she wants out and Bill seems  to acquiesce.

For their two grown-up sons, it’s a devastating betrayal. Their long-held beliefs about love, family and security are shaken.

The play premiered earlier this year in Sydney where the Sydney Morning Herald said ‘On the surface it is a textbook sitcom from the versatile but undemonstrative kitchen sink set and understated costumes, to the instantly recognisable characters – the grumpy old man, the put-upon wife, the grown-up kids who aren’t sure who’s meant to be the grown-up.

“The revelations, such as they are, are not shocking – at least, not to the audience – and the reactions almost comfortingly predictable. But the power of minute observations builds as the play unfolds.”

“There is a beautiful clarity at the heart of “Grand Horizons”. A big part of this is Wohl’s story, which transforms an everyday family saga into a deftly constructed story arc paced with show-stopping side-tracks and dramatic punchlines.”

The play was so successful in Sydney that it is having another season at the same time as ATC’s

Wohl has become one of the leading playwrights in the US at the moment having written nine plays since 2010 all of which display a wry humour and unerring sense of the way people talk and relate to each.

“Grand Horizons” is directed by Jennifer Ward-Lealand and stars Roy Billing and Annie Whittle.

“Lysander’s Aunty or A Most Rageful Irreverent Comedy Concerning an Offstage Character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Ralph McCubbin Howell
17 Mar – 3 Apr

Jumping from Athens to Aotearoa, with a cast of New Zealand’s finest comic talent, this is an uproarious wild ride of magic, mayhem and mutiny.

In William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, young lovers Lysander and Hermia defy the Duke by eloping to an aunt’s house in the woods. But just who is this anti establishment aunt who is not much more than cypher.

Explaining the plot of the play, McCubbin Howell says, “Reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream” a few years ago, I was struck by the fleeting mention of Lysander’s Aunt. She is introduced as someone who might help the young lovers defy Athens law and elope in the woods, but the plot then takes another turn and she never gets mentioned again. Shakespeare is littered with characters like this, but this one in such a well-known play seemed particularly intriguing. Who is this law-snubbing, free-loving aunty? Why is she in the woods? And what’s she doing helping runaway lovers elope?

The play takes a similar approach as Tom Stoppard did with his “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in imagining some of Shakespeare’s characters beyond the confines of the original play

With quick, witty dialogue and a pacey plot, Lysander’s Aunty or A Most Rageful Irreverent Comedy Concerning an Offstage Character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a brand-new, energetic, large-ensemble production led by award-winning Trick of the Light duo, director Hannah Smith and writer Ralph McCubbin Howell.

“Witi’s Wāhine by Nancy Brunning
10 – 28 May 

“Witi’s  Wāhine” tells of  four Māori women taking their journeys through history and mythology, sharing tears, jokes and waiata along the way. But these are no ordinary women – they’re matriarchs of New Zealand fiction, finally stepping out from the shadows.

In Witi Ihimaera’s books, characters spring from the page, fully formed and opinionated. Here, some of his most memorable characters, from works like The Parihaka Woman, The Matriarch and Pounamu, step onto the stage.

The result is “Witi’s Wāhine”, a love letter or, more accurately, a love song, to the women of Te Tairāwhiti, the East Coast, who inhabit Ihimaera’s writing: the wāhine of his own whānau. Nancy Brunning has crafted a story that fuses loving tribute with powerful commentary, levity with unflinching reality, sensitivity with warm affection.

Reviewer Simon Wilson said of the production that it serves up “the richness of culture and the wonder of people, with all their warts, with all the laughter and the singing and the pain.” Originally devised and directed by the late Nancy Brunning, we proudly present this Hapai Productions performance of words and song, re-directed by Waimihi Hotere and with a special appearance by Ihimaera’s irresistible ngā tuāhine.

“Witi’s Wāhine” is a co-production between Auckland Theatre Company and Hāpai Productions.

Categories
Reviews, News and Commentary

Three great plays open Auckland Theatre Company’s 2022 season

John Daly-Peoples

Sydney Theatre Company’s production of “Grand Horizons”

ATC 2022 Season

John Daly-Peoples

The first three productions of the Auckland Theatre Company for next year offer a good range of work from overseas and local dramatists with three very accessible works.

“Grand Horizons”  by Bess Wohl
8 Feb – 5 Mar

In the absence of a new Roger Hall play ATC have turned to the American playwright Bess Wohl who mines similar territory to Sir Roger.

In her latest Tony-nominated comedy, “Grand Horizons” we encounter Nancy and Bill who are 50 years into the picture-perfect marriage. Now, as they settle into the beige walls of their new ‘lifestyle village,’ Nancy announces she wants out and Bill seems  to acquiesce.

For their two grown-up sons, it’s a devastating betrayal. Their long-held beliefs about love, family and security are shaken.

The play premiered earlier this year in Sydney where the Sydney Morning Herald said ‘On the surface it is a textbook sitcom from the versatile but undemonstrative kitchen sink set and understated costumes, to the instantly recognisable characters – the grumpy old man, the put-upon wife, the grown-up kids who aren’t sure who’s meant to be the grown-up.

“The revelations, such as they are, are not shocking – at least, not to the audience – and the reactions almost comfortingly predictable. But the power of minute observations builds as the play unfolds.”

“There is a beautiful clarity at the heart of “Grand Horizons”. A big part of this is Wohl’s story, which transforms an everyday family saga into a deftly constructed story arc paced with show-stopping side-tracks and dramatic punchlines.”

The play was so successful in Sydney that it is having another season at the same time as ATC’s

Wohl has become one of the leading playwrights in the US at the moment having written nine plays since 2010 all of which display a wry humour and unerring sense of the way people talk and relate to each.

“Grand Horizons” is directed by Jennifer Ward-Lealand and stars Roy Billing and Annie Whittle.

“Lysander’s Aunty or A Most Rageful Irreverent Comedy Concerning an Offstage Character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Ralph McCubbin Howell
17 Mar – 3 Apr

Jumping from Athens to Aotearoa, with a cast of New Zealand’s finest comic talent, this is an uproarious wild ride of magic, mayhem and mutiny.

In William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, young lovers Lysander and Hermia defy the Duke by eloping to an aunt’s house in the woods. But just who is this anti establishment aunt who is not much more than cypher.

Explaining the plot of the play, McCubbin Howell says, “Reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream” a few years ago, I was struck by the fleeting mention of Lysander’s Aunt. She is introduced as someone who might help the young lovers defy Athens law and elope in the woods, but the plot then takes another turn and she never gets mentioned again. Shakespeare is littered with characters like this, but this one in such a well-known play seemed particularly intriguing. Who is this law-snubbing, free-loving aunty? Why is she in the woods? And what’s she doing helping runaway lovers elope?

The play takes a similar approach as Tom Stoppard did with his “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in imagining some of Shakespeare’s characters beyond the confines of the original play

With quick, witty dialogue and a pacey plot, Lysander’s Aunty or A Most Rageful Irreverent Comedy Concerning an Offstage Character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a brand-new, energetic, large-ensemble production led by award-winning Trick of the Light duo, director Hannah Smith and writer Ralph McCubbin Howell.

“Witi’s Wāhine by Nancy Brunning
10 – 28 May 

“Witi’s  Wāhine” tells of  four Māori women taking their journeys through history and mythology, sharing tears, jokes and waiata along the way. But these are no ordinary women – they’re matriarchs of New Zealand fiction, finally stepping out from the shadows.

In Witi Ihimaera’s books, characters spring from the page, fully formed and opinionated. Here, some of his most memorable characters, from works like The Parihaka Woman, The Matriarch and Pounamu, step onto the stage.

The result is “Witi’s Wāhine”, a love letter or, more accurately, a love song, to the women of Te Tairāwhiti, the East Coast, who inhabit Ihimaera’s writing: the wāhine of his own whānau. Nancy Brunning has crafted a story that fuses loving tribute with powerful commentary, levity with unflinching reality, sensitivity with warm affection.

Reviewer Simon Wilson said of the production that it serves up “the richness of culture and the wonder of people, with all their warts, with all the laughter and the singing and the pain.” Originally devised and directed by the late Nancy Brunning, we proudly present this Hapai Productions performance of words and song, re-directed by Waimihi Hotere and with a special appearance by Ihimaera’s irresistible ngā tuāhine.

“Witi’s Wāhine” is a co-production between Auckland Theatre Company and Hāpai Productions.

Categories
Reviews, News and Commentary

Billy Apple and Me

John Daly-Peoples

Billy Apple and Me

John Daly-Peoples

I first wrote about Billy’s exhibition “Good as Gold at the Auckland Art Gallery in 1991 and endeared myself to him by comparing him to Michelangelo. This was not in connection with the Renaissance masters work but the way in which he focused on the everyday in his writings. Here he was interested in the price of common goods, art supplies, food and  wine.

In 2010 in an article which referred to  the deification of Billy Apple I compared him to artists who immortalise themselves with self-portraits such as Michelangelo with his painting of his own  flayed skin in the Sistine Chapel’s “The Last Judgement” or Velazquez including himself in “Las Meninas”. This was in connection to his work with the scientist Craig Hilton. I noted that Billy would be preserving his image in a more novel way, preserving biological cells extracted from his blood with some of his 40 million cells being kept forever.

I wrote an article in 2011 about  Minter Ellison Rudd Watts text painting with black and white lettering on a red background which bears the words “$100,000 Credit Held By Billy Apple For Legal Servicers From Minter Ellison”. This was one of the artist’s major transactional works It was negotiated in 2008 with artist using the credit to employ MERW staff to register his name as a trademark.

In 2012 which was the 50-year anniversary of the Billy Apple® brand he worked with Waiheke winemakers to produce the Billy Apple®: Official Selection which featured premium red wines from the 2010 vintage from the Waiheke vineyards of Kennedy Point, Man O’War, Miro, Obsidian, Peacock Sky and Poderi Crisci.

I noted that the 50 cases were numbered from 1962 through to 2012, the years of his practice and were priced accordingly: $1962 for gallery members and $2012 for non-members. The design of the case, and the layout of the show, will also followed one of his defining traits in using  the Golden Section.

Billy had previously produced his Good as Gold golden rosé  with Robard and Butler which came either as a single 375ml bottle or a case of sixteen.

In 2015 in reviewing  “The Artist has To Live Like Everybody Else” I noted that audiences could get to see the artist “work” without entering the gallery as for the duration of his exhibition the artist had been allocated a parking space on the forecourt of the Auckland Art Gallery. How do you get Auckland Transport and a host of bureaucrats to agree to something like that? It’s all part of the mystery, magic and manipulation of the artist who doesn’t get to live like everybody else.

Altogether I wrote about a dozen reviews of Billy’s work including a review of the film “Being Billy Apple “. This was one of the “one minute” video reviews I did on the NBR film review site

Every time I wrote something about Billy I would get a phone call as he wanted a copy and not just the article itself. He needed to have the full copy of the paper.

I worked with Billy on a few projects for National Business Review. The first of these was a page work around his notion of “The Artists has to live like everybody else”

The work ended up being on what would have been the back page of the paper but was actually two pages in from the back as another project I was engaged at the time with NBR was a wrap-around  for the paper promoting the 1993 exhibition “Rembrandt to Renoir” at the  Auckland Art Gallery.

This wrap-around meant the advertiser who was going to be on the last page of the paper no longer had their prime position and declined to proceed so there was no advert to go on the final page. Discussion with the editor Nevil Gibson, owner Barry Colman, Wystan Curnow and Billy meant I was able to  do a rush job and got the full (back)page for Billy. This “The Artists has to live like everybody else” piece was Billy’s first page work in a financial paper and we also produced a limited edition of over runs printed on clean paper.

Barry Colman was slightly mystified as to why I kept trying to get NBR sponsor / promote Billy and was also curious about another deal we did with Billy, paying for his airfare to Australia to attend on of his exhibitions. In return NBR got Billy’s duplicate Air NZ ticket. This was one of the then current style of tickets with red printing, a colour which worked well for Billy at the time but ultimately faded.

Barry Colman was delighted a few years later when the framed ticket with its acknowledgement of NBR was used as advertising material for an overseas show of New Zealand art.

I also worked with Billy on a poster for a political campaign  when I stood for the ACT Party in the Auckland City Council elections in 1992. This ACT Party was the Auckland Community Team and  used the acronym two years before the present ACT Party was formed in 1994.

Between 2005 and 2012 I worked with Bob McMillan BMW, commissioning artists to paint on the display bonnets of BMW Series 7. Each year these ten works were auctioned for various charities

I was aware that Billy was interested in being asked to work on one of these but I also realised that Billy was always very particular about how he went about  commissioned works and the difficulties that could ensue so didn’t ask. However, he approached Bob McMillan directly (who serviced his Mini) about being involved and Bob agreed.

Normally with the bonnet commissioned I would deliver the unpainted bonnet to the artist and then collect the completed work a couple of months later. This was not how Billy worked.

First, he required that bonnet be spray painted by an official BMW approved spray painter in the specific white he wanted. The painted bonnet was then to have two apple logos painted by his painter, Terry Maitland. The diameter of these apples was to be the same as those of the Series 7 headlights. I told Billy I would measure them. Again, that was not how it was done. He required facsimile of the original design drawings of the car to be sent from Germany which would include the actual dimensions.

At the exhibition of the works Billy was a bit upset that I wouldn’t agree to have his work hung so that the two circular apple logos were not at the height the two “headlights” would have been above the road surface. At the auction Billy’s work sold for over $10,000, one of  the highest prices paid for one of the bonnets

When I was Arts Manager at Manukau City I curated “The Alphabet Show” where artists were sent a single sheet of A4 drawing paper and were asked to draw/paint the first letter of their surname. Billy did a set of lower case “a” for the show.

One commission from that time never came to fruition. One of the Manukau City art galleries, Nathan Homestead had extensive outside areas where sculptural shows were held. One area was the old grass tennis court. Billy was going to use the principles of the Golden Section to turn the area into one of his art works. The project involved placing the net at the point of division based on the Golden Section ratio.  A couple of his requirements were going to pose problems. There would need to be a new tennis net which conformed to his measurements and new stanchions to support it. The other issue concerned the lawnmower which would be used to cut the grass. The grass on one side of the net would be cut at one height and the grass on the other side at another height – again determined by the Golden Section ratio.

What had Billy overly concerned was the fact that the lawnmower adjustments were in inches. This meant that we would have to design a new system of adjustment which would have millimetres in order for the grass to be cut to the right height.

It was at this point I sent Billy a letter saying that I was not proceeding with the project as I would not be able to do justice to it.

Over the years I have collected a few of Billy smaller works including the ACT political poster, some of his prints, as well as his coffee and wine. I also have one of his “The Artist has to live like everybody else”. This is a handwritten note on an envelope which had been sent to him asking me to go over to the North Shore and pay Bernie for the repair  to his car.

Categories
Reviews, News and Commentary

The Art Paper brings new voices to the contemporary art scene

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The Art Paper

Issue 01 TOUCH

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

A new art quarterly, The Art Paper has just hit the shelves bringing another set of voices to local arts writing. A number of the articles are about international shows which provide something of a context for contemporary New Zealand practice.

This first edition features twenty articles, interviews and  art pieces about local and international artists some of them senior, others newly emerging.

In an article and interview by Bronwyn Lloyd  with  Marte Szirmay the artist discusses her involvement with Medal Art New Zealand (MANZ) whose members produce a range of cast, objects which can be one sided, two sided or three dimensional. Szirmay talks about the personal, political and aesthetic influences on her own work. The article also serves as a review of the MANZ annual exhibition  earlier this year.

There are two stimulating articles related to the recent Walters Prize. One by Victoria Wynne-Jones on Sonya Lacey’s “Weekend” and  Natasha Conland’s on Sriwhana Spong’s “The Painter-Tailor.” These two works both have complex backgrounds which are explored in the two articles.

Sriwhana Spong, “The Painter-Tailor.”

Rea Burton is examined by Millie Dow  with work which includes self-portraits as well as her take on other artists such as her reworking of Manet’s “Bar at the Folies Bergère”. Also in the publication are a set of fashion photographs of the artist by  Meg Porteous (including the cover image).

There are articles which focus on fabric arts including a piece about Pip Culbert’s final exhibition at Artspace by Christina Barton and an extensive interview with fabric artist Ron Te Kawa about his tapestry / quilts as well as  one on Te Maari’s “Manu Figures.

Lillian Paige Walton, Vagabond

There are several reviews from abroad with Vivian Lee discussing  Lillian Paige Walton’s “Six Drawings”  at the Kings Leap space in New York. Talia Smith’s reviews  “The entrance to Paradise lies at your mother’s hand” by Lara Chamas at Melbourne’s  Gertrude Contemporary and Khadim Ali’s show “Invisible Borders at  the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane. Chamas in Lebanese and Ali from Afghanistan and there works have a strong political aspect to them.

Editor Becky Hemus  and Art director Felix Henning-Tapley have integrated a few inventive aspects into the publication. As well as  the traditional articles and images  there are text works, handwritten notes, drawings, poetry and advertisements which function as artworks.

Copies of The Art Paper are available from a number of locations nationally

https://www.the-art-paper.com/stockists

Categories
Reviews, News and Commentary

Michael Smither’s “Here & Now” paintings convey mood and spirituality

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Michael Smither, Rain Squalls, Kennedy Bay

Michael Smither

Here & Now

Artis Gallery

November 9 – 29

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

For sixty years Michael Smither has painted his immediate environment – his family, the objects he was surrounded by and the landscapes he inhabited.

These landscapes began in New Plymouth with paintings that often featured the rocky shore and  the  ever-present Mt Egmont/Taranaki  and he later moved to the Coromandel where he continued to paint the local landscapes.

While his early landscapes are crisp with light colour and detail he has progressively abstracted the colours and shape he finds in these landscapes and his latest exhibition sees him further creating simplified expressionist approach.

Where his early works  had an emphasis  on surface and light his later works and particularly the works in his latest exhibition “Here & Now” are focussed on light and colour. These colours are connections to some of his previous works  where music and colour have harmonic relationships.,

These expressionist landscapes convey  mood and spirituality, echoing the desire of artists from medieval times to convey ideas through the wonder of intense colours as was seen in the stained glass of churches – an interest also seen in Colin McCahon’s ecclesiastical projects with James Hackshaw.

“Here & Now” can be seen as a reference to and a recreation of the landscape images which were produced on Cooks first voyage to New Zealand. The reference to those often stacked profile drawings of the coastline can be seen in the large “Coromandel Peninsula Quintet” which as well as depicting the changing landscape forms also capture the changing moods of the area.

Where Cooks images were designed to record the changing landscape forms for future navigators Smither aims to create effects of colour, light and atmosphere with images of emotional power that appeal to the viewers’ senses.

There are impressionist flourishes in some of the works, particularly obvious in  “Rain Squalls, Kennedy Bay” where the bands of rain are more like columns of light.

There are also surreal aspects to some of the work with the bulbous clouds and crumpled landforms in “Haka”

Michael Smither, Kennedy’s Bay

The use of colour to convey the effects of light can be seen in “Kennedy’s Bay” where the shimmering yellow behind the two sentinel-like headlands sharpens their outline.

A couple of the works take an almost abstract approach. In “Towards the End” the blue hills of the landscape appear to merge with the background and in the masterly “Peninsula Rain Squall”  colour and light  infuse the landscape so the forms begins to dissolve.

In this series of works Smither has created landscapes that are part representation and part dreamscapes  where the interplay of bold light and intense colour  convey the aura or mana of the landforms, sea and sky.