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Nordic Fire heralds the APO’s concert season

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Vincent Hardaker

 Nordic Fire

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

February 25

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Finlandia may be a celebration of Finland but it has been used to celebrate many events and landscapes including films such as Die Hard 2 and was briefly the national anthem of Biafra.

It was fitting that it was the opening work for the APO’s Nordic Fire, their first concert of the year.  It was the heralding of a new era just as Finlandia heralded the new nation.

It is a rousing monumental work and in the hands of conductor Vincent Hardaker the drama of the music unfolded  in a precisely controlled manner without bombast. The spring-like section had an eloquence and tenderness, contrasting with the intensity of much of the music.

The nationalism which inspired Finlandia  was also at the core of the major work on the programme, Grieg’s Holberg Suite which celebrated the bicentenary of the late eighteenth-century Norwegian writer Ludwig Holberg. Greig  composed the work for string orchestra (originally for keyboard) in the style of Holberg’s musical contemporaries, the Baroque composers Bach and Handel as well as the Norwegian Johan Berlin .

As with many baroque  ensembles the players  all stood  and rather than  responding to a conductor the players  took their directions from lead violinists, notably Andrew Beer.

The players formed a tight U shape which gave a greater sense of intimacy and the group seemed to be functioning more as an integrated unit.

While the music had its grounding in a classical framework there were traces of folk music which gave the work a special quality. The various movement had  changing emotionally, rich sounds from the joyous and elegant to the  nostalgic and melancholic. In the final dancelike movement several of the players seemed to be inspired by the local hall dance atmosphere and ready to dance themselves.  

Between the two nineteenth century works the orchestra played two contemporary Finnish works. The first by Kalevi Aho was his Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra  featuring Stephen Logan the APO’s Principal Timpanist as soloist. Seated at the front of the stage behind his five drums wearing his red velvet jacket   he looked like. and was received by the audience as a rock star.

Aho’s work continued the dramatic music of Sibelius with the timpani playing the major role. Initially Logan’s drumming was relatively simple, dancing above the shimmering strings of the orchestra. As the work progressed so did the intensity of the drumming along with changes in the orchestra as various instruments accompanied the soloist, weaving a dense landscape of sound as a background. At times he became a frenetic rock band drummer while at other time he took a more measured  approach as though carefully selecting his choice of drum.

It was revealing and instructive to see a timpanist up close and focussed on his instruments. The various sized drums, their tuning, the different drumsticks as well as his use of his hands all contributed to the sonic textures as he explored the full potential of his instruments.

While the work seemed initially to grow out of Finlandia with its changing landscape of sound the work also explored novel sounds including jazz and South American rhythms.

While Logan and the drums were the main focus of the performance,  he was occasionally backed up by two other percussionists playing a range of instruments including snare drums, gongs and big bass drum.

The other Finnish piece on the programme was Magnus Lindberg’s Gran Duo for Woodwinds and Brass where the earthy brass instruments and the more dynamic woodwinds produced  buffeting waves of sounds  which created contrasts as well as well as synergies. The suggestion by Vincent Hardaker that the work might be seen as having the same impact as The Rite of Spring which premiered  100 years ago was possibly overoptimistic  and premature.

An additional highlight to the evening was Nicola Baker, The Principal Horn Player performing a Mozart Horn Concerto as her farewell to the audience after many years of playing with the orchestra.

Forthcoming Concert

March 8 Shoulder to Shoulder

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra celebrates International Women’s Day with a selection of women composers in Shoulder to Shoulder. Three New Zealand composers, Ruby Solly, Dorothy Ker and Rachael Morgan will feature alongside several other international composers including Germaine Tailleferre the only female member of Les Six, the early nineteenth  century group of avant-garde musicians.

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Auckland Art Fair offers works for all pockets

By John Daly-Peoples

The Auckland Art Fair offers art a range of prices from modest prices to works priced at over $1 million.

Under $2500

Bronwynne Conish, Cat Mummy Series ($850each) [Artis]
Work which explores ancient forms, symbols and myths of Egyptian cultures





Mark Wooller, Horotui Bay – Queen St Gully ($1400) [Black Door Galley]
The artist often examines Auckland’s past through symbols and maps.


Under $5000

Susan Te Kahurangi King, untitled hand coloured litghograph ($2800) [Auckland Print Studio] New work from APS at Unitec. The outlines printed from a lithograph stone and then hand coloured
Tanya Martusheff, “of a dilemma” ($4000) Commissioned project for the Art fair consisting of three elements of disconnected indutrial/domestic constructions.

Under $15,000

Andrew Beck, Coalesce, ($11,000) [Visions]

A work in which light, shadow, surface, reflection and time are brought together.

Michael Dell, Untitled landscape at Moutere 9$8500) [Foenander]

His hazy out-of-focus work conflates the notions of traditional landscape painting and pin-hole photography.

Under $50,000

Robert Jahnke tā te whenua kōwhai ($25,000) [Milford Gallery]
Similar to the work he has displayed in the current Toi Tu Toi Ora exhibition of contemporary  Maori art at the Auckland Art Gallery
Jude Rae  SL 437 ($25,000)  [Two Rooms]
Still life works which emphasis a beauty in the industrial object.
Neil Dawson,  Kotare Tail Feather  $25,000  [Jonathan Smart]
The artist has used the feathers in many of his public sculptures . these domestic scaled works reveal the intricacies of the artist’s work and their delicacy gives  the  illusion of weightlessness
Bill Culbert, Strait Manukau ($24,000) [Fox Jensen McCrory]
One of the most significant NZ artists working in Europe for many years who explored light from many perspectives.

Under $100,000

Billy Apple,  Mistral 10    $100,000 [Starkwhite]
The red and green hull of a Mistral class boat along with two framed  designs
Robert McLeod ,  Sisters with Rose Bush   ($72,000) [Ivan Anthony]
A reworking of Pre-Raphaelitism style and theme
Daniel Boyd, Untitled, (TGRTOPIADL)   ($72,500) [Station]
Boyd is of aboriginal ancestry addressing issues of colonialism and the environment with a style combining pointillism and traditional techniques.
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An Investment guide to the Auckland Art Fair

John Daly-Peoples

Yuki Kihara, EFKS Church, Maraenui

ART INVESTMENT GUIDE

By John Daly-Peoples

Everyone knows that art can be a good investment. If you have a large Colin McCahon in the family you know that someone made a brilliant decision at some stage.

The returns on art purchases in NZ can be high. The works of Colin McCahon may be out on their own but they do give an indication of the way that prices can go for New Zealand master painters. McCahons which originally sold for $200-$500 are now readily selling for $100,000-$500,000 and there was a recent sale of $1.7 million. 

So how do you get to be the brave, fearless, serious art collectors going where only the foolhardy seem to venture. There is no absolute way to do it but there can be a few hints.

Overall, it is a matter of developing an idea for quality, for what is new, brave, exciting and confronting. It is also about understanding the processes of how an artist produces and sell arts work. There is also the need for self education about art and artists.

What follows is a check list. Some of points are more important than others. Some are absolutes. Some are interconnected. Some are difficult to use. Use them carefully and you may be successful.

The Galleries

In all the main centres there is a hierarchy of galleries This is determined by their track record, the perception, prestige and manner of the dealer, and their record of reliability.

The dealers of the major galleries are always on the lookout for new talent and their decisions on who can be poached from other dealers and from other cities. Likewise, there are many artists keen to be taken on by these galleries.

The Dealers

Dealers are normally synonymous with their galleries but some gain an importance regardless of the gallery.

Dealers know a lot, unfortunately a lot of what they know they won’t tell. Generally they are interested in promoting artists in their own stable and so their opinions will be biased towards those artists they represent. Some of them by the nature of their business are not able to get out and look at other dealer galleries so are not aware of the other artists exhibiting.

Cultivate one or two dealers. They are useful people to ask questions about art and artists, they are also useful for a second opinion. It is through their knowledge and perceptions that you can get a better understanding of your own approach to art. They are also the people who can ensure that when you do buy art works they are the best for you. The dealer helps set prices for the art and selects work for the exhibitions. They are the ones who will alert special buyers to individual works which come on the market.

Reading

This consists in reading books, magazines and catalogue, following the reviews in the daily newspapers, going to lectures. There are a few books on the history of New Zealand art. Each of them has their weakness so it is best to read them all.

There are a number of catalogues produced by dealer galleries, public galleries and the artists themselves. They are useful for solid information on the background of the artists as well as giving some understanding of their previous work. Sometimes these are a little dense in terms of the writing style but the illustrations are always useful. Catalogues give an indication of the commitment of the dealers, artists and institution to the particular artist.


Writers and Curators

Writers are often good indicators of where things are going and who to watch. They are the people who are following overseas trends, they get to speak to artists and generally have a good overview. Some of the writers are also important curators as well. There are of course the problems of bias both real and perceived. Writers who are close friends of artists, writers who are dealers, writers married to dealers, writers married to artists.

Keep an eye on what the contemporary curators are doing. If anyone is going to be perceptive it’s them even if sometimes they seem to be widely askew in their thinking.

Francis Upritchard, Yvonne

Award and Fellowship Winners

These are useful indicators. The judges are often important writers, curators and collectors. The Walters Prize nominees in 2020 were the collective Mata Aho, Fiona Amundsen, Sonya Lacey andSriwhana Spong..

Winners of the Wallace Awards last year included  Russ Flatt, Darryn George, Glen Hayward and Martin Basher,

High Profile Artists

Artists who appear in the paper, make the new on TV and are generally perceived to have a public profile are an indication that they have either made it or are on the way.

Artists such as Michael Parekowhai generated a lot of publicity over his “The Lighthouse” on Queens Wharf in 2017

Yuki Kihara was to have been New Zealand representative at the Venice Biennale and Francis Upritchard was the representative in 2009.

Arts Council Grants

The grants made by the Arts Council are made by peer panels consisting of artists, curators and arts administrators. They allocate funds on the basis of substantial information as well as references from other notable arts people. The grants are published each year in Arts Council publications. There are regularly new artists appearing on the lists.

Overseas Exhibitions

A number of New Zealand artists are having exhibitions overseas in public galleries and dealer galleries. This will often mean they pick up overseas institutions, corporates and individuals as buyers and their prices can be pushed up.

Overseas Magazines

Buy the occasional overseas art magazine to keep up with what is fashionable and current. Most artists and writers use these magazines for pointers and ideas. Some use them for the main source of ideas.

Sales Records

If an artist has one or two sell-out shows, it should be taken as a sign instant success and/or great talent.

Other artists may not sell all the work through an exhibition, but the work will sell over a six to nine month period after the show. This is where conversations with dealers are useful.


There are some artists though who develop a short-term fashionable period with sell out shows followed by a drop in sales and often in prices. If you are being cautious it is probably best to wait for two or three exhibitions by an artist before making major commitments. This may be a more expensive alternative but there is a greater degree of certainty.

If you find an artist you like but always seems to have sell-out show let the dealer know. Sometimes at a sell-out show the occasional sale does not proceed and the next person on the list may well be able to acquire it.

You can check on prices of artists sales at auction at the web site of the auction houses such as Webb’s, Art + Object and The International Art Centre.

Mathew Allan, Tall Diptych

Rarity

As an artist’s career develops more and more art works go into public galleries, major corporate collections and private collections. When the artist’s works become hard to procure the prices go up. At this point it is possible to buy quite expensive works and sell within the short term. There are probably only around a few hundred McCahon works left which will ever come on to the market. Of these less than one hundred will be significant paintings.

Age

It is always useful to buy artists of your own generation. It is more likely that you will have an empathy with their ideas and concerns and the works will tend to be cheaper. On the other hand it is also useful to buy artists who are much older as the work of senior artists can often grow in value towards the end of their career as they become less productive. The onset of death also adds significantly to the value of the work.

The Photographers

One of the great unrealised investment areas in New Zealand photographers. This applies to our historical photographers as well as the new innovators such as Fiona Pardington and Yvonne Todd. This group of artists offers excellent investment opportunities.

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Richard McWhannel’s discovery of Southern Texas

Reviewed by John DalyPeoples

Richard McWhannell, Christo Rey, Morning

Richard McWhannell, From El Paso to Encinal: The John Wayne Tour

Orexart

Until March 3

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Richard McWhannell’s recent exhibition “From El Paso to Encinal: the John Wayne Tour” is  record of the trip he made through Southern Texas in 2019.

He has titled the exhibition  “The John Wayne Tour” as  the purpose of the trip was to transport a portrait of John Wayne  from El Paso to Encina for friend. This seemingly trivial rationale is not unlike the basis for many of the tales of the wandering cowboy ontheir picaresque  mission.

Accompanying the exhibition is a written account  of his journey which brings together personal notes about the journey, references to the history and culture of the area along with musical and film references.

One  wall of the gallery features more than a dozen small to medium sized works which are like a display of postcards documenting the journey. There is a small portrait of “John Wayne” ($2600), who inspired the trip along with images of the places the artist visited. many of these places have resonances with songs and films associated with the area.

Richard McWhannell, Rosa’s Cantina

There is a  painting of “Rosa’s Cantina” ($2400)  made famous by the Marty Robbins ballad “El Paso” as well as famous buildings such as the Palacio Federal ($4600) in Nueva Laredo and less important places such as the Three Palms Motel, Presidio ($4600) and the  “The Concordia Cemetery, Shafter” ($4200),  the resting place of many names of Texas history including the infamous gunfighter  John Wesley Hardin.

The artist also pays homage to the great  contemporary western “Giant”  with a couple of paintings of the large installation works by the American artist  John Cerney which celebrate the actors and set of the film. One of these “Reata Homestead and Rock Hudson” features the façade of the house used in the film and Rock Hudson in his car. The other, “James Dean” ($4600) is of the actor with a gun slung over his shoulders. The portrait of Elizabeth Taylor which Cerney also installed is not included.

The two large landscape of the dramatic mountain Christo Rey ($12,500) which show it changing from morning till evening feel as though they could be the beginnings of the artists own series of works like Cezanne’s “Mont Sainte-Victoire”.

Images of sites such as  “Christo Rey” and  “Nueva Loredo” also see the artist delving into the contentious history of the area  with Donald Trumps wall just over the horizon in the  Christo Rey paintings and the contested area of Nueva Loredo. There is also his painting” “Rio Grande at Castelon” ($4200) where the narrow river which is the border between the USA and Mexico is no barrier to people wanting to cross.

With his limited palette the artist manages to give a sense of unreality to many of his vistas and views, managing to convey the vastness and ruggedness of the area. He also captures  the desolation and bleakness as well as  the seemingly impermanent nature of the buildings. Taken altogether the works present a surreal vision of the landscape providing a metaphor for the bareness of the political and social framework of the place.

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Auckland Art Fair offers diverse range of art

John Daly-Peoples

Frances Hodgkins, Christmas Tree

Auckland Art Fair

The Cloud, Auckland Waterfront

February 24 – 28

Next week the Auckland Art Fair  will be hosting over forty art galleries from New Zealand and around the Pacific showing  the breadth and diversity of art from the region. 

As well as exhibiting the latest and best in New Zealand contemporary art there are galleries showing major international works, historical works, aboriginal art as well as craft work by significant artists.

GOW LANGSFORD GALLERIES

Gow Langsford Gallery will exhibit a work by British Modernist Henry Moore alongside a key painting by Frances Hodgkins.

Moore’s “Mother and Child: Block Seat” which will have an asking price in excess of $2 million is a rare opportunity to see works by this major British sculptor. The last time an artwork by Henry Moore was exhibited in New Zealand was in 2017, when the Auckland Art Gallery mounted Moore’s life-sized “Fallen Warrior”. Founding Gow Langsford Gallery director John Gow (MNZM) says of the Moore, “this is one of the most significant artworks to ever be exhibited at an Art Fair here in New Zealand, and it is the only work by Henry Moore of this scale in the country.”

Of Hodgkins’ “Christmas Tree” he says  it is “the most major late-1940s oil painting by Hodgkins. It’s a rare occasion that we can offer New Zealand a work of this quality onto the open market. This is one of the very few major works that is not in a public collection.” Alongside these masterworks the Gallery will exhibit works byColin McCahon and Tony Fomison as well as mid-career artists Graham Fletcher and Grace Wright.

Frances Hodgkins Christmas Tree and Henry Moore, Mother and Child: Block Seat

TIM MELVILLE GALLERY

The Tim Melville Gallery be presenting an exhibition of three new stone sculptures by Joe Sheehan alongside an Alberto Garcia-Alvarez triptych dating from 1977, and an installation of Aboriginal artworks.

Joe Sheehan’s new sculptures weigh between 400kg and 700kg and are a major development from his 2019 sell-out exhibition ‘Real Estate’. 

JOE SHEEHAN, Invisible City ($45,000)

The Garcia-Alvarez triptych is painted on canvas gifted to him by Colin McCahon in the 1970s when he had just arrived in NZ from California. He had come to NZ to teach at Elam, just as McCahon was departing the University to paint full-time. He invited the artist and his young family to visit him (and his young family) at Muriwai. Knowing that he would not yet have any materials McCahon offered Alberto a roll of green  canvas to tide him over … from which this triptych was created.

ALBERTO GARCIA-ALVAREZ, Aidoneus Bed  (triptych), 1977 ($65000)

The Aboriginal works being presenting include a new screen-print by celebrated Arnhem Land bark artist Nonggirrnga Marawili, who recently had a major exhibition at  Sydney’s MCA as part of the 2020 Sydney Biennale.

NONGGIRRNGA MARAWILI, Baratjala

SUITE GALLERY

Suite Gallery will be showing Tia Ansell, a Melbourne based New Zealand artist and  New York based artist Douglas Stichbury.

Tia Ansell is a Melbourne based New Zealand artist whose practice combines both painting and weaving.  Woven on a 4 or 6 shaft loom, and using a combination of threads such as cotton, linen, bamboo and silk to give different qualities of colour, texture and feel, woven surfaces provide the substrate for the painted surfaces. 
The woven grids form the basis of Tia’s work, representing the urban landscapes of her neighbourhood in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.  Her painting represents snippets of her immediate surroundings; a shaft of light, a window frame or a shadow.  Ansell’s aluminium frames, based on a museum storage tray, allow the weaving and painting to be reflected, extending the illusion of a repeated pattern

Tia Ansell, Oxford, cotton, wool and silk weaving,  – $2,000

Douglas Stichbury who won the Parkin Drawing Prize in 2014 and is now based in New York will be showing works which  continue to explore his interest in speculative 20th century science fiction.  Using industrial software Stichbury’s images are initially planned digitally through simulations, before being painted in dry brush oil on linen, a process inspired by Joan Miro’s raw linen paintings and brutalist abstract painting of the 1960s.   

The paintings  are based on a concept for a film titled the Glass House by the pioneering Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein which was pitched to Paramount Films in 1930 but never made. The premise for the film, set sometime in the future, was of a completely glass residential building without consistent privacy, a musing on the architecture of surveillance and control.   

Douglas Stitchbury, Glass House, dry brush oil on linen, $12,500


MASTERWORKS GALLERY 

Masterworks Gallery is showing work by Thomas Carroll (Ngāti Maru, Hauraki), Tania Patterson and Mike Crawford (Ngāti Raukawa, Pākehā)

Following the guidelines from experienced practitioners, Thomas Carroll has pursued his interest in Māori music, reconnecting to his own whakapapa and culture and finding his place within Taonga Puoro community. In these works he has used found timbers from a nearby beach, native Beech, Rata and Totara along with a newer addition of sand.

Patterson has created her bird portraits to honour the many threatened indigenous bird species in Aotearoa. Portraiture has historically been used to memorialise an image, recording the subject’s appearance and personality for the future. Tania feels it is important she does this as a means highlight the precarious nature of their future here.

Crawford has built a practice exploring the Māori lineage of his heritage and his interest in sculptural vessels. Research into hue (gourds) and their traditional use as storage for preserving birds has seen the evolution of his practice to forms that combine both bird and vessel characteristics. In his new bird/vessel forms he has captured these forms in flight, their movement expressed through reflective properties of glass. The rich history and the plethora of bird life in Aotearoa provides him with a wealth of inspiration for further investigation with these forms.

Tania Patterson – Kōtare, Kingfisher. Mike Crawford – Tāiko, Chatham Island Petrel (cast black glass, $6,000. Thomas Carroll (Ngāti Maru, Hauraki) – Kōauau, Cross-blown Flute $1,500

ARTIS GALLERY

Artis Gallery will be exhibiting work by ray Ching and Andy Leleisi’uao

They will be showing a major new work by Ray Ching prior to his exhibition opening at ARTIS Gallery later this year. This exhibition will coincide with the launch of his latest limited edition book – ‘Fabled Lands’.

Now living in the UK, during 2010 Ching ventured into the genre of graphic novels, with the first publication titled ‘Aesop’s Kiwi Fables’ in which the tales were told by native birds, who took the place of the original actors.

Raymond Ching is renowned as New Zealand’s leading contemporary bird and figure painter.  Merging realism with fictional compositions, Ching’s oil paintings are incredibly detailed, with an almost photographic quality.

RAY CHING, The Pentinent

Wallace Art Award Winner Leleisi’uao’s is one of the most significant contemporary Pacific artists.  Known for his distinctive visual language that shows alternate universes populated by strange creatures. Immigrant communities and their experiences are central to Leleisi’uao’s works. An “artist of diaspora”, his work is reflective of his experience as a New Zealand born Samoan. He draws inspiration from ancient and modern history, news headlines and personal experiences.

His work is included in the permanent collections of Te Papa Tongarewa Wellington, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Pataka Museum & Art Gallery Lower Hutt, the Chartwell Collection and the Wallace Arts Trust .

ANDY LELEISI’UAO, Usland Village in Kamoa

BARTLEY + COMPANY ART

Roger Mortimer’s magnificent large triptych Pakiri will feature prominently on Bartley & Company Art’s stand. Showing the ongoing development of Mortimer’s distinctive juxtapositioning of contemporary marine maps of Aotearoa New Zealand with medieval imagery, this ‘map’ covers the north Auckland east coast from Tawharenui in the south to Ruakaka in the north and includes Little Barrier and Great Barrier Islands. At a time of huge anxiety in the world, Mortimer’s work speaks to the notion of the moral imagination. How do we collectively construct a vision of right and wrong when so many in the western world no longer believe or trust in the given, in the untrammelled ‘progress’ of capitalism and concepts of heaven and hell that have defined and shaped western thinking and social frameworks?

Roger Mortimer, Pakiri, watercolour, gold dust and acrylic lacquer on canvas,

The gallery will also be showing several dramatic new paintings by Kelcy Taratoa. Exploring the complexity of cultural identity in the 21st century, Taratoa’s vibrantly-coloured super-flat paintings blend references to traditional Maori pattern with geometric modernism and space invader games. Ambiguity is at the heart of all of his work conceptually and materially.

Kelcy Taratoa, The Grey Matter, acrylic on canvas

Helen Calder is concerned with colour, form and how painting operates in space when freed of its traditional support on canvas and stretcher. Her three-dimensional paintings, paint skins’ offer a direct engagement with the materiality of paint, its colour, textural possibilities and weight. Here painting engages with the history of abstraction and pushes at its limits to adopt the terrain of sculpture.

Helen Calder, Orange and Green Red, acrylic paint skin on steel rod

Work by Claudia Jowitt will also be included. Her ‘painting’ allows sculptural force, and the three-dimensional, to pull on the two-dimensional painted surfaces. Conceptually there is also an interaction between an investigation of the feminine in art and the insertion of place into abstraction.

Claudia Jowitt, Baka III, acrylic, spray paint, rayon yarn, Fijian vau, paua shell, kina shell, cowrie shells, moulded acrylic, clay forms, bronze powder on linen
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New paintings inhabit a realm between the abstract and the realist

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Belinda Griffithe, When the birds came back #5

Belinda Griffiths, “Inflection”

Föenander Galleries, Mt Eden

Until March 9

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

In her recent exhibition “Inflection” Belinda Griffiths continues her focus on the figure. In her previous work the figure has often been linked to the landscape, but this exhibition includes many images of birds. These are from a series of daily paintings she made of the blackbirds in her garden undertaken during lockdown.

The artist says of these works, “A daily return to the natural world became more than just a quaint idea, but an essential way for me to spend time and connect with something concrete that extended beyond the challenges of lockdown, a way to connect to something bigger than myself.”

As well as “portraits” of birds there are several which are of figures incorporating birds. In these, she links ideas about birds with humans, drawing on history, mythology and symbolism.

Birds generally  represent freedom because of their ability to roam the earth and are often seen as symbols of  rebirth, intelligence, peace, and love. They can also be  omens of death and films like “The Birds” have given the creatures some sinister qualities.

Griffiths’ works inhabit a realm between the abstract and the realist as she attempts to capture the essence of a figure (or a bird ) with calligraphic gestures, The birds can be seen as harbingers of change as well as expressions of the human condition.

In many cases using a minimum of means, as with “Traced in the Shadow 4” ($950) rather than the depiction of the bird we have the impression of movement and the bird’s feathers are indicated by tentative brush strokes.

A set of six images of birds entitled “When the  birds come back” ($800 each) look as though they could be six separate studies of the same bird capturing different impressions or notions about birds – inquisitive, agitated and disdainful. The most intriguing of the set is “When the  birds come back  #3” where we see only the lower half of the bird as it has just taken flight and it looks like a mistimed photograph of the escaping bird.

Belinda Griffiths, When the black bird flew out of sight #2

The idea that birds represent  aspects of the human heart is conveyed in “When the blackbird flew out of sight 2” ($3000)  while in “Inescapable Rhythms” ($3000) bird and man appear to be as one.

There are two large figurative works which are more detailed than the calligraphic works. “Inflection 1” ($6000) looks as though it is a portrait of one of Antony Gormley’s rusted Corten steel sculptures, the glowing figure seeming to be emerging out of the black background.

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Two Ladies: Sitting in a room talking about sex and power.

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Jennifer Ward-Lealand (Helene) and Anna Julienne (Sophia)

Two  Ladies by Nancy Harris

Auckland Theatre Company

Auckland Waterfront Theatre

Until February 27

With much speculation about the future of Melania Trump, Nancy Harris’ play “Two Ladies” is pertinent. Just what do the. first ladies think about their roles, are they the power behind the throne or merely appendages to the president to indicate power.

The play imagines a private encounter between the two first ladies of France and the United States. The setting is a summit meeting between the two presidents with The United States having suffered a terrorist attack which has killed thousands. America is about to launch a retaliatory  attack and it is up to the French president to restrain him. The men never appear, but their presence looms large off stage and the implications of their decisions is debated by the wives.

The women also keep revealing aspects of their personal lives which brings them to a greater understanding of each other. Their discussion on personal integrity and honesty provides a contrast to what is happening in the high level discussions of the men.

The French president’s wife Helene is English but there are similarities to Bridget Macron.  An older woman who left her husband  to marry one  of her students and who guides him through the political world to eventually become president. But her status as First Lady is now compromised by the fact that the president has had an affair with a Minister in his government. Jennifer Ward Lealand manages to display some of the determination that would come with the role as well as the moral indignation she feels over husbands’ indiscretions and  decisions. Her cool sangfroid keeps being shattered by moments of panic.

Sophie (Anna Julienne) is the  presidents trophy wife  and like Melania she is  a glamourous model from Eastern Europe. Initially appearing to have many of the same vacuous qualities as Melania she slowly reveals a disturbing history, unsettling opinions and a dangerous handbag.

The play is hugely entertaining with some sharp observations,  witty sparring  and painful  revelations but there are also some dull patches, purposeless pregnant pauses and an unsatisfying surreal ending.

The three minor players add further touches of comedy. Rena Owen plays a ferocious  Press Secretary to Sophia, Adam Gardiner the quintessential haughty  French Press Secretary and Ban Abdul is an animated maid.

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John Blackburn’s new paintings provide a personal diary of the plague year

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

John Blackburn, Horizon with Pink

Extended Stay, John Blackburn

Artis Gallery

Until February 18

John Blackburn ‘Extended Stay’ is a body of work that the British artist completed while confined to New Zealand last year because of the Covid 19 Pandemic, The artist who regularly comes to New Zealand to paint and exhibit spent three months, mainly in lockdown producing these works which reflect on his time in isolation.

From the exhibition title, “Extended Stay” and the titles of many of the works the exhibition can be seen as the artists  personal diary of the plague year. Several of the works have specific dates in their titles – “The Mount April 2020,  Level 1 @ 11.50pm, and June 16/17”. Some of the paintings have additional descriptions on the rear of the paintings  such as “Rotorua NZ & @ The Mount 4th  6: 20.  Covid Lockdown 4::3:2”: and “The Balcony Pacific Apt 508, The Mount. N.Z. Covid Level 1”.

Most of these works used the limited structures, shapes and colours of his recent paintings . This lexicon of forms: vessels, geometric shapes, abstract shapes-  are used to create a personal language which provides  sense of dialogue with links between the individual components of the paintings. His vessel shapes are like celestial pots of paint containing the colours of the environment  – the blues of sea and sky, the green and browns of the land, an array of pointillist dots hinting at energy.  Or it could be as though he has extracted the colours from environment and condensed them down.

There is a delicacy and simplicity to the work, obvious in his attempts to refine his experience of the world into its essential components.

The works have an emphasis on structures colours and textures with observation on places and times. The forms and colours allude to the landscapes, the changing patterns of sky and water while the blocks of abstract colour represent various atmospheric conditions   red and yellow suns, the blinding white of summer and the blacks of storm clouds.

So  in  “Horizon with Pink” ($4750) we see a curved line of The Mount, tinged with a pink of sunset along with a vessel of blue and block of intense whit as e. The simple “A Bright Day” ($3500)  consist of  red and yellow circles (Sun and Moon) above a curved hill shape. Other works are almost mundane with “Key Card” ($3650) dominated by the yellow shape of a room key card.

Some works appear to be experiments in colour notations, looking like representation of cellular forms as in “Ovoid Forms (Remembering Roy Parker) No 3” ($4000).

The works bring together the  spontaneity of oriental abstract calligraphy, the keen observation of John Constable’s cloud studies and the drama of gestural and geometric abstraction. The paintings seem to be bringing  order to the chaos and the disorder  of the visible world.

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Highlights of the 2021 Auckland Arts Festival

John Daly-Peoples

Strasbourg 1518

Auckland Arts Festival

March 4 -21

This year’s Auckland Arts Festival will be a substantially different festival from previous years. With no international acts able to travel the emphasis will be on local artists and events.

One of the few international acts will be “The Artist” presented by  international circus sensation Thomas Monckton who managed to slip back into New Zealand last year. In this performance an artist arrives at his paint-spattered studio ready to create a new work. He waits for inspiration. When it finally comes, things don’t proceed quite as he would wish. For this artist, every task is filled with challenges – chaos is unavoidable. 

The Festival has commissioned world premieres of several new works, resuscitated some that were cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  There will be a number of free activities including events on International Women’s Day,  New Zealand Children’s Day, the Festival opening ceremony Te Tīmatanga and the closing sing-a-long Kia ora Tamaki featuring Betty-Anne Monga and members of Ardijah.

Wāhine Toikupu will present  the poetry of American Maya Angelou who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama. Her work which has been translated into te reo will be delivered by graduates of Te  Panekiretanga o Te Reo Institute  o Maori language Excellence. Taku Tau Kahurangi: An Aotearoa Love Story performed by the Ria Hall features a collection of classic New Zealand love songs,

The Civic Club is a brand new concept for the Festival that will see audiences seated onstage at The Civic with a line-up of top music acts, including Reb Fountain, Dixon Nacey, Delaney Davidson with Shayne Carter – and Hine!, a showcase of four breakthrough wāhine toa performers.

The Tom Sainsbury Love Hour will be a comedy talk show with  celebrity guests including Hilary Barry and Chlöe Swarbrick discussing their best break-ups, make-ups and obsessions. The Club will also host Heavenly Bodies, a cabaret event with New Zealand’s finest circus superstars, urban acrobats and outrageous curiosities.

Other Festival highlights include the 20th anniversary celebration of Che-Fu’s seminal album Navigator, which the artist will perform with his band The Kratez, headlining the Festival’s Polynesian Panthers 50th Anniversary programming. The Panthers were an activist group known for their protests against the notorious dawn raids of the 1970s, and 2021 marks 50 years since their formation. AAF will feature exhibitions, talks, play readings and the creation of a mural honouring the Panthers’ legacy, as well as a performance in the Festival Garden by Che-Fu’s father, Panthers activist and reggae musician Tigilau Ness, with special guests.

Among the major theatre, music and dance performances will  be Strasbourg 1518 which premiered at last year’s Wellington Arts festival to great acclaim. is a powerful tribute to the dancing plague of 1518, directed and choreographed by Lucy Marinkovich, composed by Lucien Johnson and featuring Michael Parmenter.

Vela Manusaute’s The Factory, the first Pacific Island musical was one of the highlights of the 2014 festival. This year his  Tropical Love Birds brings audiences the tortured love tussle between electrifying beast of a league star Sani and his island queen Sheena to life. Jack and the Beanstalk will a hilarious romp through this classic tale with a kiwi twist, written, directed and starring the actor Michael Hurst.

Six of the finest pianists from Aotearoa, including Michael Houston, will be performing John Psathas’ immersive world premiere of Voices at the End. The work was inspired by the film Planetary  and expands on various themes around ecological and organic systems and the need to move form an industrial growth society to a life sustaining society.

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra celebrates International Women’s Day with a selection of women composers in Shoulder to Shoulder. Three New Zealand composers, Ruby Solly, Dorothy Ker and Rachael Morgan will feature alongside several other international composers including Germaine Tailleferre the only female member of Les Six, the early nineteenth  century group of avant garde musicians.

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra will also be bringing audiences a big screen experience performing the Australasian premiere of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in Concert, complete with John Williams’ Academy Award®-winning score.

The dance programme for this year’s festival consists of classical, kapa haka and contemporary dance. While not part of the festival  The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Tutus on Tour will be on in Manukau for one night and BalletCollective Aotearoa will premiere a trio of new work titled Subtle Dances, with the  NZTrio playing live. Pūmanawa will feature four leading kapa haka groups while K-pop Party will feature performance curated by Rina Chae who has worked with Beyonce and Justin Bieber. There will also be two outdoor dance performances one The Air Between Us by Rodney Bell and Chloe Loftus and another a Figure Exhales by Zahra Killeen-Chance.

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Highlights of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s 2021 season

John Daly-Peoples

Igor Stravinsky Photo: Arnold Newman

NZSO Season 2021

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Igor Stravinsky and it will also be sixty years since the composer himself conducted the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in Wellington and Auckland

It is fitting then that the NZSO opens its 2021 season with a nine centre touring concert featuring the composers “The Soldier’s Tale” in association with the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

The work, based on a Russian folk tale was written “to be read, played and danced”, tells the story of a man who makes a Faustian pact with the Devil: co-created with Swiss writer C.F. Ramuz, the work include a range  of musical  influences – tango, waltz, ragtime, klezmer, church chorales, and the paso doble.

Over the rest of the year the orchestra will play music from three other dance works by the composer – Petrushka (March), The Firebird (April)  and The Rite of Spring (July).

In March the orchestra has a four centre South  Island tour presenting “Town and Country”, a concert which will provide contrasts between the rural and the urban. The six pieces present this duality with music by English, American and New Zealand composers. The two English works both depict the countryside with Frederick Delius’ Walk to the Paradise Garden, from his opera A Village Romeo and Juliet and Malcolm Arnold’s “English Dances” which is a collection  the best of English country folk dances.

The two American pieces draw inspiration from both the small town life and the city with Aaron Copland’s film score for Our Town is a nostalgic view of small town life in Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire. While  Leonard Bernstein’s Three Dance Episodes come from the musical On The Town, depicting 1940s New York with its  jazz melodies, bebop rhythms and irresistible swing.

The two New Zealand pieces also contrast the rural and the urban with. Douglas Lilburn’s Drysdale Overture evoking the pastoral landscape of his family’s farm in the Turakina Valley and Maria Grenfell jubilant Fanfare for a City.

This year the orchestra is only performing a couple of major symphonic works including the National Youth orchestra playing Shostakovich’s Symphony No 7 (The Leningrad).

In September, but only in Wellington they will be playing Beethoven’s Symphony No 9. For this concert the NZSO will invite young performers from across the country to join in singing the chorus, with a new translation in te reo Māori. Then, in  November the orchestra will perform the composers magnificent “Missa Solemnis” with some of the country’s best singers  – Madeleine Pierard, Kristin Darragh Simon O’Neill and Paul Whelan

In July, but only in Auckland for Matariki the orchestra will premiere a new commission by Gareth Farr. His large scale “Ngā Hihi O Matariki celebrates the appearance of the Matariki constellation (the Pleiades or Seven Sisters) which traditionally signalled to Māori that it was time to plant crops. Matariki heralds both the constellation and the beginning of a new year symbolising new beginnings and humanity’s hopes for the future.

During April, the orchestra will be presenting a regional tour to Palmerston North, Napier and  Tauranga performing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” which will  feature NZSO violinists Anna van der Zee, Malavika Gopal, Simeon Broom and Alan Molina playing a ‘season’ each of the work.

Also on the programme will be Astor Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (also known as The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) which transports the listener to the steamy streets of Argentina, cleverly combining Vivaldi’s most recognisable tunes with the sensual tango sounds which characterised Piazzolla’s style.