Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Echo: A Brush with History
Until May 1
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Martin Ball’s latest exhibition “Echo” is based on the photographic records that George Valentine made of the now destroyed Pink and White Terraces which erupted one hundred and thirty-five years ago on 10 June 1886.
It was reported at the time that on 1 June 1886, a party of tourists claimed to have seen a Māori war canoe appear out of the mists on Lake Tarawera. It was being paddled by Māori in traditional dress and disappeared when the tourist boat got close to it.
A tohunga, Te Wairoa claimed that it was a waka wairua, or spirit canoe, and that it was an omen of a great calamity which would strike the land.
Much of what happened on the fateful day is shrouded in the mists of time and that is one of the aspects of Ball’s depictions. Along with photographer George Valentine several others photographed the area prior to the eruption including the Burton Brothers and a number of artists including Charles Blomfield and J C Hoyte. A year after the eruption Martin Ball’s great-grandfather Thomas Ball also painted the terraces based on the photographs of George Valentine.
In his exhibition Martin Ball has repeated his grandfather use of the Valentine images to recreate the sense of grandeur and mystery of the terraces.
Rather than use the painted versions available Ball has chosen to use the black and white photographs which gives his paintings a slightly surreal quality which is enhanced by the intensity of the white paint which predominates.
The original photographs and painting of the terraces were intended as depictions of the natural wonder but Martin Ball has produced a set of works which are more about the aura and atmospheres of the place. They range from the dark, moody “White Terrace: Coffee Cup” ($17,500) to the ethereal “White Light II” ($22,000).
Ball has always been interested in the role of photography in the art making process and many of his paintings and drawing are hyper realist and he plays with the images and the nature of photography. His work also reveals an interest in light. It is light which is often the subject of his works and it is what gives his work drama and luminescence.
Often in his work Ball’s use of the photograph is not so much as a visual aid to his painting but rather the subject of the paintings. In many of his previous works he reproduces the blemishes and quirks of the photograph itself.
The views Ball has produced relate to the nineteenth century photographs but not copied, rather remembered through a haze of history, trying to capture uncertain images.
In these paintings he seems to have captured the photographic images as if they are still in the developing tray, a few second before the image becomes fixed.
In the large “Pink Terrace- After Valentine” ($32,000) the artist has softened the black enclosing bush and makes the white terraces less crystalline making them more like drapery
With “White Terrace: Coffee Cups” there is an emphasis on the structural nature of the terraces while with “Echo” ($22,000) it is the ethereal quality which dominates.
With some such as “Fountain of the Clouded Sky” ($8500) the underlying pink seems to be leaching into the picture as if to recover the vibrancy of the original terraces.
The exhibition has echoes of the of the images he references as well as echoing the event itself and the notion of the omen or the presence of a taniwha inhabiting the vapours.