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Nicky Foreman’s elaborate investigations  into the nature of life

Nicky Foreman “Entwine”

Nicky Foreman, Shadow Passes – Light Remains
Artis Gallery, Auckland
Until August 22

Reviewed by John daly-Peoples

In her latest exhibition “Shadow Passes – Light Remains” Nicky Foreman continues to explore the subjects of her previous paintings, combining, mundane objects, landscapes, fabrics and foliage along with images and symbols drawn from art and culture.

The combination provides a dialogue between the contemporary and the past, between notions about New Zealand and about its European heritage.

The links to European art that she depicts in her paintings come from her frequent visits to Europe, notably France and Italy  The multi layered works have a sense of elaborate investigations  into the nature of life, drawing together elements of scientific and botanical observation along with medieval and Renaissance imagery. This is all tied together with a mixture of Christian iconography, alchemical  enquiry and cabalistic philosophies.

With many of the works Foreman revisits her practice of combining a number of smaller units into a larger construction, as in her “Cadence” ($15,000),where numerous images are linked by a ribbon of material – a reference to the DNA strands and the basis of life. There are a range of images both realist and abstract, delicate paintings of foliage, along with swirls of colour and shimmering metals.

The work which is like an elaborate game of Snakes and Ladders provides a sense of narrative and journey. This notion is reinformed by the inclusion of several scallop shells representing the navigation of the Camino Way whose route can be traced through Southern France and Spain. There are also  other landscape features with groves of trees and the image of Mt Taranaki.

Several of the works in the show recall her early depictions of rural  Taranaki such as “Mountain Meditation” ($6300) where the Mt Taranaki is flanked by stands of trees and  crossed palings and “Reorientate” ($7300) where landforms are flanked by floral designs and the Greek symbols of alpha and Omega. The small mountain shapes she uses to depict the landscape recall the conical shapes used by Sienese painters of the fourteenth century.

Mt Taranaki is also present in several other works including the larger work “Entwine” ($11,750). This works bears part of the Latin tag ”Astra inclinant, sed non obligant” – which translate as  “the stars incline us, they do not bind us”. Here also is the ribbon symbol along with the necklace alluding to the  great chain of being with the notion of the hierarchical structure of all matter and life.

Nicky Foreman “Radiance”

In the golden hued “Radiance”  ($13,500) the images include The Holy Grail – a reference to the cup which held the blood of Christ and regarded as  the key to life which has been sought by many through the ages including Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon and  Indiana Jones . She includes other symbols – the arrow, the bees, the scallop and something which could be a Covid 19 shape. Here she includes the Greek letters of alpha, Omega and Chi symbolising the beginning and end as well as the intersection of life forces.

Nicky Foreman “Ardent”

There is also a small five-panelled  screen “Ardent” ($9800) which like the early church screen brings together various images to create a concept . The images include the Latin phrase “Fortis in Arduis” (strength in adversity) along with an image of Mt Taranaki and three white feathers symbolising the peaceful teachings of the prophets Te Whiti of Parihaka.

One work which stands out in being very different from the other is “Foundation Maeght” ($9300), an almost traditional depiction of a group  pines at the famous gallery outside Saint-Paul de Vence. The trees and their almost cartoon-like shadows are set against the artist metallic background which gives the work a sense being a pared back symbol, a distilled and refined version of her other works.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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