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A night of passion and betrayal showcases NZ opera talent

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Amitai Pati and Natasha Wilson

APO at the Opera, Tales of Passion and Betrayal

The Trusts Community Foundation Opera in Concert

Auckland Town Hall

October 9

One of the upsides to the Covid crisis is that many of our world class singers are marooned in New Zealand at the moment. Simon O’Neill is normally performing at the big opera houses of Europe as are several other singers who have developing international careers such as Amitai Pati who had his European debut last year singing at the Philharmonie de Paris. So, mounting an evening of opera meant that some great talent was available and the Auckland Philharmonia took  advantage of that to mount the ambitious concert “Tales of Passion and Betrayal”.

A concert which goes under the title of Passion and Betrayal manages to include virtually every opera of the nineteenth century as falling in love and then encountering some form of betrayal often followed by death are at the centre of those operas.

This concert which took the romantic highlights from several operas presented the ways that various composers and librettists went about conveying notions of love through music and poetry.

Simon O’Neill hosted the concert noting that the evening was not just about celebrating the best of opera . It was also a chance to showcase New Zealand artists who have international careers as well as an opportunity to hear the APO and its talented  musicians.

O Neill was resplendent in his multi coloured smoking jacket designed by Liz Mitchell, one of a number produced by the gifted local designer for all the singers.

The Covid crisis also meant that Holly Mathieson who has just been appointed the music director of Symphony Nova Scotia was also in the country and able to conduct the APO.

She was a nimble guide, conducting with a mix of precision and flamboyance and at time she seemed on the verge of dancing across the podium inspired by the music. Throughout the concert she was attentive to the singers ensuring that the orchestra never dominated.

The evening began with Mathieson conducting the orchestra in the overture to Bellini’s opera “Norma” leading them with balance and care providing an electrifying opening to the concert.

The first aria on the programme was from Bellini’s “I Puritani” with Oliver Sewell looking like a 19th century Parisian flaneur singing the role of Arturo. He dealt with the  floating lines and full-bodied lyricism with great poise,  bringing an authenticity to the role. Then it was Natasha Wilson in the role of Julietta from Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette”  singing aria “The rapture of youth lasts but a day”. She captured the sense of a young ingénue delightfully, inhabiting the stage comfortably. She was then jointed  by Amitai Pati with his expressive warm voice. Together, singing the balcony scene with their tentative gestures and expressive faces they provided a thoughtful and sensitive depiction of young love.

This scene of the birth of love was  explored later in the evening with Anna Leese and Amitai Pati in the roles of Mimi and Rodolfo from Puccini’s “La Boheme”. The sequence, close to fifteen minutes gave enough time for the two singers to really explore the roles. Anna Leese’s voice moved her Mimi from the reticent and modest to the mature and voluptuous, from child to woman in the course of their brief interchange. Pati provided a towering, unaffected voice along with a genuine comic approach in his hiding of a lost key.

There were a couple of other extended sequences which allowed for an almost potted version of the opera with four scenes  from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliette and three from Verdi’s Rigoletto. This was a much better approach than the usual best hits approach to such concerts.

Simon O’Neill had one solo piece as Otello, railing against the world over his belief that his wife, Desdemona had betrayed him. Here he showed off the quality  of his vocal talent with a voice filled with rage as though crying out from a personal pit of despair. In a previous scene he sang with Anna Leese (Desdemona)  after he has sent everyone away so he can be alone with her. The two sang the sensuous duet, “Già nella notte densa” — “Now as the dark deepen” in which they speak of a pure and secure love which provides a contrast to later scenes.

Natasha Wilson had another solo aria with “Caro nome” from “Rigoletto” giving an exquisite reading with a voice which captures the various aspects of love, the ecstasy the brooding contemplation and helplessness.

The finale of the night  saw the five singers joined by Kristin Darragh to sing one of the highlights of “Rigoletto” with a torrent of sound which had the audience  on its feet for a sustained ovation.

Future APO Concert

Thursday October 22

Auckland Town Hall

Conductor Giordano Bellincampi
Oboe Bede Hanley

Debussy, Prélude à L’Après-midi d’une faune
Gary Kulesha, Oboe Concerto (world premiere)
Prokofiev, Symphony No.7

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David McCracken & Darryn George show new exalted work

Review. John Daly-Peoples

David McCracken, Exalt in Transmission

David McCracken, Exalt  in Transmission

Gow Langsford Gallery (Lorne St)

Until October 24

David McCracken’s latest exhibition features five large metal sculptures which look at first sight like rusted, large, toothed constructions, remnants of the industrial age.

The toothed wheel or belt is central to the development of mechanical technology and is the often unseen component of everyday objects which use gears. McCracken’s sculptures are representations as well as monuments to the industrial revolution.

However even though these reconstructions look impressive the way the artist has designed the twisted constructions means they are impracticable. Rather than reproduce the normal  toothed belt he has made it in the form of a Mobius Strip with the toothed belt flipping on itself. This is most obvious in “”I’m going to be arrogant when I grow up” ($55,000)

The simplest of the works is “Meat puppets made me this way” ($45,000) a circular work  which is also the one work in the exhibition which conceiveably could be part of a working machine.

The most dramatic piece is “Just get me off” ($45,000) where a looped form like a zipper is suspended between two pillars in the gallery with the notions of flexibility and rigidity in conflict.

The works are a variation on the idea of the found object or the readymade being identified as art object and these works look as though they could have all come from a defunct industrial plant. This approach which in some ways similar to that of Glen Hayward draws attention to the common object focussing on the notions of design, texture, colour which can be overlooked or under-appreciated.

The size and precision of these works is impressive especially when considering that these are not manufactured for industrial scale purposes. The artist’s design expertise and engineering skills are exceptional and alongside those parctical aspects he brings insight and  understanding into the way in which objects interact with their environment.

The artist says of the sculptures, they are  “an enquiry into the beauty and complexity of machined mechanical gears. The physics of mechanical gears have a rigorous mathematical precision to them so that the surfaces of meshing teeth never lose contact with each other when they’re under load. It is something I have come to see as a metaphor for communication, the need being to maintain contact.”

Darryn George, A River Flowing out of Eden

Gow Langsford (Kitchener St)

Until October 24

Darryn George who recently recieved the  Second Award in the Wallace Awards has produced a new body of semi abstract works in which the  rigid geometry of past paintings has morphed into more recognisable natural and architectural elements.

Under the title of  “A River Flowing out of Eden” he has created a flamboyant set of works which owe much to folk art with its use of bold colours, and  elementary structures and designs. They also have links to Primitivism  and  Naïve artists like Henri Rousseau and Séraphine Louis.

A River Flowing out of Eden #4”  ($24,000) is a large mural-like work which features a crowd of coloured abstracted figures standing before a series of abstract circles topped with architectural features including onion domed roofs. Above this is a landscape with a forest or orchard (Eden). Centrally places is a column of multi-coloured stripe reminiscent of the artists’  previous abstracts.

Mara #25 ($9800) has more of an emphasis on botanic design with a nod to the floral works of Frida Kahlo while “Garden of Eden – 17.1.2020” ($3000) has something of  an art nouveau feel to it.

“Cloud 2” ($9800) with its scribbled clouds and looming sun is like a child’s view of the sky, the artist seeming to aim for a symbolist approach to his work.

Where in his previous work he combined aspects of traditional Maori art and contemporary abstract painting the artists visioin has expanded so that underlying these new  works was is connections to a Maori world view along with his Christian beliefs. So these new works are like a refinement and reworking of traditional  Christian stained glass windows with their biblical stories which have often had parallels with Maori spirituality.

The artist writes: (My) series of artworks around the topic of ‘Innocence’… grew out of watching the news and having a sinking feeling about the brokenness and hurt that is an everyday reality. The vehicle or subject that came to mind was the Garden of Eden, a place of purity before the Fall and to convey this innocence, I decided to draw the garden in a childlike manner.

Darryn George, A River flowing out of Eden #4
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Jersey Boys is back in town

Jersey Boys
The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Auckland, The Civic
17 April – 9 May 2021

 
Wellington, Opera House
21 May – 6 June 2021

Jersey Boys which is one of the great musicals of the 21st century is having a return season to Auckland next year. The show  tells the story of how four blue collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks became one of the biggest American pop sensations of all time The show was on in Auckland back in 2012 and next year will tour to both Wellington and Auckland.


Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi joined forces in the 1960’s to become The Four Seasons, writing their own hits and developing their unique sound, going on to sell over 175 million records before they were 30!
 
They were just four guys from New Jersey, until they sang their very first note. They had a sound nobody had heard before and one that radio stations just couldn’t get enough of. But while their harmonies were perfect on stage, off stage it was a very different story — a story that has made them an international sensation all over again.


Having smashed New Zealand box office records when it first visited in 2012, the show has been the. winner of fifty-seven major awards worldwide, including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical, their story was so good it was turned into a Hollywood blockbuster produced and directed by Clint Eastwood and grossing $67 million at the box office.
 
When it showed at Auckland ‘s Civic Theatre in 2012 I gave it a five star review which I include here in full.
 

“Not many people have heard of Francis Stephen Castelluccio so it’s just as well he changed it to Frankie Valli (that’s with an “i” and not a “y”, because all Italian words end in “i”).

His name is synonymous with the Four Seasons, the group which along with the Beach Boys changed the American music scene in the 1960’s.

They inserted themselves in the universal consciousness like the Beatles so that everyone knows the words of their songs even if they can’t remember the name of the group. The string of hits they had included “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” “Walk Like a Man” and “Oh What A Night”, making them one of the great bands of the 20th century.

Now with the international success of the musical “Jersey Boys”, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, including Bob Gaudio, Tommy de Vito and Nick Massi, are once again becoming household names and they will live on forever because the show will be one of the great musicals of the 21st century.

Back in the 1960s, Bob Gaudio (and the rarely mentioned Bob Crew) wrote a string of songs which went into the top 10 slots for weeks on end.

These songs were bittersweet reflections on life and love and they expressed many of the feeling of society’s youth of the day.

One of the problems with many musicals is that songs even that are great often don’t really relate to the story.

The disconnection between the two means that there is a lack of drama with the songs not enhancing the story.

With “Jersey Boys” the songs are an integral part of the musical. The narrative follows the lives of the members of the band and so the high points of their careers are their major hits.

While the songs were not written about the lives of the band members, in this carefully constructed musical they become reflections on their interconnected lives.

The story is largely centered on Frankie Valli but each of the band members gives their own take on the success of the band.

There is the slightly mad Tommy de Vito who manages the group but is always in trouble with the mob, and the bass player, Nick Massi who is always keen to leave and set up his own group.

Then there is the incredibly intense Bob Gaudio, who understood how to write songs which were just so right.

While this combination of a great voice, great song writer, hard-headed manager and a great solid bass player is what made the group, it is the extraordinary falsetto voice of Frankie Valli which gives the show the incredible vibrancy which makes for an extraordinary performance.

The whole story is threaded through with their personal problems, marriages, divorces internal wrangles, the run in with the mob and the band’s breakup.

The show at times feels like a documentary showing how the band evolved.

We get a sense of how bands get to be successful with the various components of song writer, singer, manager and musicians all having to contribute and fame comes when all those people with their skills line up to create a hit.

It’s a fast-paced show with multiple mini set changes, great visuals, great dialogue, great jokes and a string of crowd-pleasing songs which had the audience applauding every number.

The singing is fabulous and their act is quite possibly slicker than the original band.”

For tickets register at www.JerseyBoys.co.nz
 

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Garry Currin’s Dramatic Landscapes

Garry Currin,This Earth I

Garry Currin, This Earth

Whitespace Gallery

Until October 8

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Gary Currin’s  landscapes can be seen as a continuation of the apocalyptic paintings of the nineteenth century artist such as J.M.W. Turner and John Martin. Their approach saw the  landscape depicted in a theatrical fashion  with an emphasis on dramatic events and panoramas depicting both the actual and the imaginary. They were often allegories or metaphors for social and political ideas or reflections on the artists concerns.

While his paintings are descriptions of the landscape they are also attempts to understand the land and the forces which have created it. They suggest that we are at the mercy of Nature and the elements

Currin creates landscapes which are in a state of turmoil, the earth  agitated by internal forces . In “The Weight“ the land seems to be on fire  and in “Weight III”  with its great ball of fire we seem to be witnessing a cataclysmic event. In “This Earth” this upheaval looks as much like roiling sea as scoured  earth

Other works are less dramatic as with “The Earth I” where the central detail of the painting is of the land is ripped with an almost photographic depiction of soil slump. This is like the instances in some of the great classical paintings where a minor incident within the painting references larger concerns.

Central to his work is light which heightens the drama in his landscapes. There is the light which illuminates his scenes but also light which issues from the land itself. It is used intensely in some cases and delicately in others, in some cases revealing textures and details in the landscape at other times veiling them. Many of the images feel as though they are conjured from memory, through a haze of history and fiction.

The surfaces of his paintings are alive with  subtle nuances of colour which help create spectacular atmospheres sometimes claustrophobic as with the smaller “This Earth II” or panoramic as with the larger “This Earth II”. Depending on the viewers distance from the  surface, the works morph between realistic depiction and abstract fields of colour and shape. It is this balance that the artist achieves that make the works so startling and rewarding.

Garry Currin, Weight III
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Wallace Art Awards Winners

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Russ Flatt, Kōruru (knucklebones)

29th Annual Wallace Art Awards 2020

The Wallace Arts Centre, Pah Homestead, Auckland

15 September – 15 November

The Wallace Arts Trust Paramount Award was last night awarded to Russ Flatt, for his photographic work Kōruru (knucklebones). The black and white image reference numerous images of  a mother and child from the  traditional Pieta to the works of Diane Arbus. The judges noted that: the work is “Haunting emotionality, an image which returns scrutiny of it with an increasing sense of tension… (the) mysterious narrative… draws in much collective meaning – a worthy winner. The artist said: “Kōruru / Knucklebones was pre-Nintendo Nintendo… centred around the joy of friendship and the connections you could make as young people playing games together… a way of finding your tribe through play”.

As winner of the Paramount Award Flatt received  $52,000

Wallace Art Awards which are New Zealand’s richest annual art awards and this year had 634 entries: from which 74 artworks were selected by the judges who then select eight works to be granted Awards. With Covid 19 affecting travel this year the Arts Trust took the unprecedented step of offering cash equivalents for each of the residential awards.

Darryn George, Mara #26,

The other award winners were:

The Second Award Winner Darryn George, Mara #26, ($22,000) a semi abstract work in which the  rigid geometry of past works has morphed into more recognisable natural and architectural elements.

The judges note: A brave shift in this mid-career artist’s practice, this work is fresh and speaks strongly of ‘our time’. It is a work that grows in complexity the more you look at it, which is its strength. The artist writes: (My) series of artworks around the topic of ‘Innocence’… grew out of watching the news and having a sinking feeling about the brokenness and hurt that is an everyday reality. The vehicle or subject that came to mind was the Garden of Eden, a place of purity before the Fall and to convey this innocence, I decided to draw the garden in a childlike manner.

Glen Hayward, At night at the museum,

The Third Award Winner is  Glen Hayward, At night at the museum, ($20,000), Paint on timber. The artist here continues his practice of creating facsimiles by carving and painting. Here he has made a copy of the golden coloured drinking fountain in the Guggenheim Museum. It is a technical masterpiece with even the drops of water being carefully replicated. The artist has also made obvious his intervention by not applying the same level of authenticity to the numerous cigarette butts stubbed out on the metal surface.

The judges note: A tour de force in illusionism where ‘carving’ and painting collude in a statement of fidelity that is made even more potent by the transposition of the ‘golden’ Guggenheim fountain defaced with cigarette butts. Glen Hayward is long overdue for an acknowledgement of his practice and his consummate craftsman hip. The artist writes: If I had the keys (to the Guggenheim) I would hang out at night and if I still drank and smoked, I would drink and smoke with the artworks. Blow smoke across their surfaces, breath my smoky breath in their faces. Bombast and lambast them for their failures and in the end clean out my butts and leave vowing to never not return again. It is a category of object that may hold out some hope; Art – for a lasting dissatisfaction. Aesthetics as resistance.

Martin Basher, Untitled

The Wallace Arts Trust Fourth Award Winner Martin Basher,($16,000) The untitled work is one of his trademark dramatically patterned, striped works.

The judges note: This is a painting with a striking presence. It harks back to geometric and neo-geo painting but dissolves the picture surface in a new and surprising way. The artist writes: I am starting to see this new work as way to draw an increasingly explicit environmental critique into the explorations of commodity fetishism and desire in retail display spaces that have long been a bedrock of my practice.

Sam Harrison, Self Portrait Torso,

The Wallace Arts Trust Fifth Award Winner Sam Harrison, Self Portrait Torso, ($8000) The steel and ply structure is sculpted in plaster as well as blood. The life size works references sculptures , Rodin as well as more recent contemporary sculptors. Like Marc Quinn.

The judges note: This is a powerful work – the artist shows extreme skill and competence working with the human form. Skills not often seen in New Zealand artists. It shows traditional and anatomical finesse yet moves the work beyond skill into a potent self-portrait. The artist writes: For me, the deconstruction of the figure and the covering of blood are both approaches of breaking my formal approach to the figure.

Virginia Leonard, Cripple,

First Runner-up Award Winner Virginia Leonard, Cripple, ($2500) This is a ceramic  explosion  an intense physicality obvious in the making as well as references to organic forms.

The artist writes: These works are self-portraits, large scale ceramic sculptures that stand in representations of the body. The forms are hand-built, precarious, threatening to fall over at any given moment, an intentional gesture that evokes the fragility of the body becoming undone.

Maryrose Crook, Herxing,

Second Runner-up Award Winner Maryrose Crook, Herxing, ($2500). The artist writes: The concept of the sky and other aspects of each canvas flipping from negative to positive and the fact that the teetering top heavy dark world in the canvas above is a representation of the world below flipped over and still containing some aspects of the kingdom below but in distorted form, or in the case of Te Tarata almost engulfed by the sea of the unconscious, plays into the concept of the shadow world, which in Plato’s ‘Republic’ compares the human condition to that of prisoners in a cave, chained in such a way as to only see a blank wall on which the shadows of the outside world are cast.

Wanda Gillespie, A Counting Frame for Future Beings,

Jury Award Winner Wanda Gillespie, A Counting Frame for Future Beings,($1000) The artist writes: The abacus has been a recurring theme in my work to date, and although in previous works it began as more of a mystical artefact (counting the immeasurable qualities of the spirit world), in the wake of Covid-19, my thoughts are drawn more on the economic systems we find ourselves inextricably a part of, their potential collapse and need for restructure as we re-think our direction for being an environmentally sustainable race with a social conscience.

The People’s Choice Award The award of $750 is announced at the end of the Award Winners and Travelling Finalists exhibition.

For the first time this year the Award judges were all prior Wallace Award Paramount Award winners: Sara Hughes (Paramount Award 2005), Bob Jahnke (Paramount Award 2019), Gregor Kregar (Paramount Award 2000), Jae Hoon Lee (Paramount Award 2013) and Judy Millar (Paramount Award 2002).

Exhibition dates The Award Winners and Travelling Finalists exhibition will be exhibited at: The Wallace Arts Centre, Pah Homestead Auckland 15 September – 15 November Pātaka Art+Museum Wellington 29 November 2020 – 28 February 2021 Wallace Gallery.

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Emma Pearson to sing Strauss’ Four last Songs with the NZSO

Emma Pearson

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

In Association with Ryman Healthcare

Monumental

Wellington (October 9), Auckland (October 10)

Metamorphosis

Dunedin (October 13,  Christchurch (October 14)

Renowned soprano Emma Pearson is to tour with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, performing in Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch in October. singing Richard Strauss’ elegiac song cycle “Four Last Songs”.

The Australian-born singer, who made her professional operatic debut with New Zealand Opera, has performed in New Zealand on several occasions and this year she is to sing the title role in NZ Opera’s Semele.

Strauss’s Four Last Songs rank among the most haunting music ever written possibly a self-conscious farewell to existence, given expression by an idealised soprano voice. The texts for Spring, September, and When I Go to Sleep are settings of poems by the Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse. At Sunset is by Jose Eichendorff.

“As a young singer in Wiesbaden, Germany, I saw how this beautiful, deceptively hard piece,

functions as a rite of passage for soprani,” says Pearson.

“It requires a deep understanding of Strauss’ vision, and also life experience, to bring the necessary

gravitas and connection to the text, while still letting the voice soar as high as the great Elisabeth

Schumann’s would have done.

“Now in the 16 th year of my career, I have spent 10 of those years performing Strauss’ operas all over

the world, so I’m very grateful that NZSO is entrusting me to bring his music and the exquisite poetry

of Hermann Hesse and Josef von Eichendorff to life, with Maestro Hamish McKeich at the helm.”

Pearson’s extraordinary career has included principal artist at Germany’s prestigious Hessisches

Staatstheater Wiesbaden from 2005 to 2014, where she performed more than 30 roles for the

company. On her departure, the State of Hessen awarded Pearson the honorary title of

“Kammersängerin”. She is the youngest opera singer to have ever received the German honour for a

distinguished singer of classical music and opera.

Pearson regularly works with opera companies and orchestras in Australasia, Europe and America,

including the roles of the Queen of the Night (The Magic Flute), and Sophie in the Limelight Award-

winning production of Der Rosenkavalier for Opera Australia, as well as Beethoven Symphony No.

9 with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. For Southern Opera New Zealand, she has sung

Queen of the Night, and for New Zealand Opera, Susanna, opposite her husband, Wade Kernot, as

Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, Gilda in Rigoletto and Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte.

The various poems at first glance seem to be straightforward with Hesse’s Fruhling a description of the arrival of Spring where the poet describes the natural world emerging out of Winter. The poem also has a deeper emotional resonance which is really only revealed by the singer.

Strauss’ music and the tone of the singer give the work a richer, psychological dimension which probably relates to his feelings about Europe’s release from the horrors of World War II and is linked thematically to his symphonic work “Metamorphosen” which is something of a requiem for Germany’s destruction during the war.

In dusky vaults

I dreamt for a long time

of your trees and blue airs,

of your smell and songs of the birds.

Now you lie, finally accessible,

glittering, adorned,

flooded with light,

like a miracle in front of me.

You recognise me,

you lure me sweetly,

my limbs shiver

because of your blessed presence.

For the “Monumental” concert the major work symphonic work will be Tchaikovsky’s timeless Symphony No. 5. A work

which baffled audiences on its premiere, and since won a place in every concert-goer’s heart for its

colourful orchestration, emotional qualities, and brooding, soul-stirring melodies.

For the “Metamorphosis” concert, the NZSO will perform Beethoven’s revolutionary Symphony No. 3 Eroica,

which changed perceptions of what could be achieved with the symphony.

Monumental

HAMISH MCKEICH Conductor

EMMA PEARSON Soprano

R STRAUSS Metamorphosen

R STRAUSS Four Last Songs

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5

WELLINGTON  Michael Fowler Centre, Friday 9 October  Concert will be online at live.nzso.co.nz

AUCKLAND  Town Hall, Saturday 10 October

Metamorphosis

HAMISH MCKEICH Conductor

EMMA PEARSON Soprano

R STRAUSS Metamorphosen

R STRAUSS Four Last Songs

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 Eroica

DUNEDIN  Town Hall, Tuesday 13 October

CHRISTCHURCH  Town Hall, Wednesday 14 October|

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Georgie Hill and Hannah Valentine explore the natural and abstract realms

Georgie Hill, Spectral Signature – 4

Georgie Hill, Concave Iridescence

Hannah Valentine, Interference

Visions Gallery, Lorne St, Auckland

Until September 26

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

In two shows at Visions Gallery Georgie Hill and Hannah Valentine explore means  of investigation and assessment in both the natural and abstract realms.

Georgie Hill’s set of watercolours “Concave Iridescence” bring together several aspects of exploration but central to them is the notion of chaos being controlled, of our desire to impose an order on what can seem to be random.

In a separate show of the artists small works there are examples of  experimenting with shapes and colours. These are shorthand painterly notes for possible larger works with a mixture of juxtaposition and contrasts of colour as well as elements of collage. They are investigations into colour field, graffiti, diagrams and the  emotional / spiritual impact of colour.

These works become the basis of her larger pieces where the underlying colour fields in many cases resemble man made or natural camouflage patterns which can be read as cosmological, ecological or topological. Over these colour fields the artist imposes elements which create something of a sense of order, turning the loose abstractions into something more defined. She uses what look like like contour lines or the isobars on a weather map as well as straight lines resembling the range poles used by surveyors. These geometric lines as in “Spectral Signature – 4” ($3300) provide, structure and order to the abstract landscape.

Hannah Valentine’s exhibition “Interference” is also concerned with notions of measurement being focussed on the natural environment with a set of bronze sculptures replicating Argo floats  (Argo #4  -$3200) which are robots that float at different depths in the sea collecting data about temperature and salinity which is sent to a satellite.

These found  or commodity sculptures which follow in the tradition of facsimiles produced by Jeff Koons and Michael Parekowhai are an acknowledgement of the interface between the natural world, scientific investigation and climate change.

She also has a number of smaller bronzes works which are based on sea life and the  measurement of the oceans characteristics. There are some small lumps of coral such as “As the Ocean Goes #4” ($600) and tendrils of seaweed “As the Ocean Goes #6” ($600) while “Eddy #4” ($600) is an abstract depiction of currents and “Steps #1” ($1500) a diagram of wave or sand patterns.

See images and catalogues at

visions.art

Hannah Valentine, Eddy #4 and Argos #4
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48 Nights on Hope St. Covid Tales and and Fables

Ravi Gurunathan in 48 Hours on Hope St (Photo Sacha Stejko)

48 Nights on Hope St

Auckland Theatre Company

ASB Auckland Waterfront Theatre

Until September 20

48 Nights on Hope St imagines five young people quarantined in a Hope Street apartment during lockdown and is loosely based on Bocaccio’s Decameron written six hundred years ago during the Great Plague.

For this production, the audience was socially distanced  on the stage  at the Auckland  Waterfront Theatre with the five actors presenting nine tales using half a dozen small stages scattered throughout the audience.

In the Decameron ten people move to the country to escape the plague and tell tales to each other. These tales cover a range of topics in various forms. Some are fables some are contemplations  some political. Almost all the stories were about love and lust, the important message being that the virtues and vices can overwhelm reason and common sense; it transforms people sometimes for good sometimes for evil.

The idea of a series of tales which explore the dynamics, fears and aspirations in this Covid environment was great but the realisation of the project was disappointing.

Some of the tales are only a slight reworking of the original as in the case of  Boccaccio’s Ciapelletto story which becomes the story of Mr Wee Hat. The original was an evisceration of the Catholic clergy, but this contemporary take doesn’t have the same savagery going for ribaldry instead. With many of the tales there was a lack of tension and no real sense of the stories coming out of the drama around us at the present time.

The Decameron was often banned partly because of the  obscene and erotic passages but also because of Bocaccios criticism of the church, its management and its practices. This aspect of questioning the powers and responsibilities of the authorities is not really addressed in 48 Hours so while the pieces are entertaining enough they are ultimately unsatisfying. Too much of the time we were faced with actors rather than story tellers. They were more stand-up comedians with succinct one-liners than raconteurs creating relevant tales.

Much of the time the actors relied on thespianic enthusiasm in their delivery which undercut their message and weakened  the performances. The one stand out performer was Ravi Gurunathan with his measured delivery and sensitive take on racism

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Mervyn Williams new exhibition of paintings and sculptures

Mervyn Williams, Gold Ascendant

Late Harvest, Mervyn Williams

Paintings and Sculptures Since 2014

Artis Gallery

Until October 5

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Mervyn Williams’s latest exhibition is a bit of a retrospective as well as an exhibition of new work. The paintings in the show are from the period 2014 to 2018 along with a new group of sculptures which span the period 2011 till the present.

His paintings often had something of a mechanistic element, the surfaces of the work so impeccable and precise they appeared to have been produced by a commercial printing process.

In many of these paintings there is an interest in figure-ground movement, using contrasting colours that produce illusionistic three-dimensional space and visual effects on the eye such that they seem to vibrate  and oscillate.

Mervyn Williams, Mayday

Some of the paintings in the exhibition seem to owe much to the work of Bridget Riley such as Mayday  while others are clever inventions of Williams such as Whiplash – Red ($18,000) with its cinematic-like creation of depth. There are also some of his impressive works from the 1990’s such as the glorious Gold Ascendant ($30,000) along with some early wooden construction such as Navigator (18,000) which show an interest in the patterning of wood grain, the use of the found object and construction techniques.

Mervyn Williamsd, Pinchgut

The most interesting part of the exhibition are the sculptures that he has been working on for the last decade. They all look like sculptures for the mechanical age with many of them appearing to have been made using lathes, employing metal fabrication techniques  and laser welding. However as with his paintings the techniques he uses are not apparent or revealed.

While these sculptures are all abstract forms, they subtly reference a range of influences or connections – art historical, natural and man-made. Several of the shapes the artist employs are like mechanical components such as vehicle cam shafts, air conditioning tubing, turbines and ship’s air vents. In all these cases he has taken utilitarian or found objects and transformed them into intriguing and complex creations.

Hot Shot ($7500), a painted fibreboard work looks like a set of discarded sewer pipes joined together while metal coated fibreboard work Sandman seemingly made from metal tubing seems to be modelled on natural forms such as elongated, segmented fingers and thumb and Pinchgut ($10,000) seems to be modelled on a tree truck with its limbs hacked off.

The ghost of Brancusi can be seen in several of the stacked pieces while Diadem ($8000) could be a nod to Christo and the maquette, Seraphim ($4000) one to Naum Gabo.

There are the occasional example of the paintings and sculptures connecting with the knobs on Interloper ($10,500) like the illusionistic buttons in the painting White Out ($26,000).

One of the constants throughout the works both paintings and sculptures is the emphasis on a geometry and structures, both obvious and hidden, an underlying order which the artist brings to his ideas and creations.

Mervyn Williams, Sandman
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Reviews, News and Commentary

Roger Mortimer’s medieval colonisation of New Zealand

Roger Mortimer, Onepoto

Roger Mortimer

Houhora

Foenander Gallery, Mt Eden

Until September 25

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

In the middle of last century the poet A R D Fairburn wrote about New Zealand ‘There is no golden mist, no Merlins in our woods”. This was an acknowledgement that the myths and narratives of Europe had no  place in the New Zealand. At that time we had created a new set of notions about the country which was a mixture of Maori and Pakeha concepts about of the natural world and an almost common history.

There were taniwha throughout the land and the ghosts of the departed seen in the graveyards which dotted the countryside along with monuments to the past. It was thought that Europe had no place here.

Roger Mortimer has changed that. In the series of paintings he has produced over the last few years he has transposed and integrated something of a parallel history of mankind and religion creating a new fantastic history where nineteenth century New Zealand has been colonised by medieval Europe.

In his latest exhibition “Houhora” he uses cartographic maps of New Zealand which look  as though they are from another time. He has populated these maps with images and narratives derived  from the Bible and Dante’s Inferno / Divine Comedy. The figures are in the style of medieval artists and the artists of the Trecento with several of the scenes worthy of the creations of Hieronymus Bosch.

He has produced something of a parallel universe which sees numerous spirits inhabiting the land, precursors or ancestors of taniwha with the paintings that acknowledge  settlements mainly in the upper part of the North Island such as  Te Awanga, Onepoto and Ahipara

He also includes large mandala like compass indicators which owe as much to traditional nautical design as to Maori kowhaiwhai. The painting also contain random numbers indicating depth or distance and in Ahipara (($14,000) a line of marks indicate the course of an old sailing ship.

The works are filled with individuals and angels or spirits which look as though they have come from art works of the Trecento, simple figures engaged in enigmatic or puzzling activities as in Onepoto ($11,000) where men are involved in a Herculean task transporting large rocks or  Te Awanga ($14,000) where a woman cuts down a bleeding sapling and a man fishes for a monster. In Ahipara ($14,000) the two figures gliding heavenward looks as though they could have come from a Chagall painting.

Most of the paintings have setting in Northland but Kirirua ($14,000) is set around an island on the Southland coast. The work is populated with a mixture of figures including a classical soldier, a centaur, a griffin along with a couple of brutal deaths observed by angles. Omapere ($14,000) includes a Bosch-like scene of a centaur threatening  a group of lost souls.

The most impressive work in the show is the large tapestry Houhora ($26,000), which is appropriate inclusion as some of the most impressive art works of the medieval period are tapestries which were filled with  ancient tales and figures.

The paintings are all watercolours, the figures and vegetation carefully described along with washes of colours as well as  gold for highlight. This use of the gold is reminiscent of the way in which medieval scribes used gold to adorn sacred books. It is also a nod to Fairburn’s “golden mists”

The mixture of Christian iconography, mythical creatures, angels and demons seems appropriate and relevant at this time of global unease over Covid 19. It parallels the insecurity which  affected the medieval view of life where the dangers of war, plague and famine were constant reminder of a dangerous and unsafe  world.

The imagined worlds of Mortimer’s art works conflate various aspects of New Zealand –  the mythic view of a country populated by medieval figures before the arrival of the Maori, the use of Maori place names along with the events activities of angels and demons.

Another reading of Mortimer’s works could be along the lines of Jungian psychology in which alchemical philosophy forms a natural continuity in the shift from religion to science and where the psychological aspects of metaphysical symbols can be seen as  counterweights to the literal truths of science.