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Rachael Dewhirst "Sense of Wonder"

Preview: Tuesday 17th April, 5.30pm - 7.30pm  Exhibition Dates: 18th April - 5th May - View printed catalogue here Poetry renders the ordinary extraordinary, ...

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Preview: Tuesday 17th April, 5.30pm – 7.30pm  Exhibition Dates: 18th April – 5th May – View printed catalogue here

Poetry renders the ordinary extraordinary, seeing the unfamiliar in the familiar. – Norman MacCaig[1]

In her newest series, Sense of Wonder, Auckland -based artist Rachael Dewhirst takes inspiration from the wilder landscapes around New Zealand, and her work titles – Escape, Roam, Sojourn – all allude to an intrepid journey away from the urban city. In a style typical of the series, Pinnacle presents us with a stark blue and white peak that dominates the image, where rivers of white and blue paint meet before running down the length of the canvas. The mountain sits amid sections of energetic colour, bands of rhythmic stripes, brush blobs and crudely shaped yellow grasses. Likely an ode to Mount Taranaki, or another of New Zealand’s great mountains, the abstract image and gestural paint strokes convey the harsh winds and unforgiving terrains in a surreal cut-and-paste environment, perhaps drawn from a coarse memory, or a feeling conjured by the imagination and captured in paint.

Each of the works in this series makes use of the canvas as an area for investigation into paint practice. Translucent washes meet graphic line work, and loose gestural brushstrokes collide with areas of fine and precise detail. A large-scale Pour gives centre-stage to a watery blue pigment, sliding over the canvas to interact with the varied colours on the surface. Dewhirst’s new series is, however, more subdued, muted and muddy in colour, forgoing some of the vibrancy of her work following a trip through France. This palette instead reflects an earthy and isolated colour scheme of lands less touched, reminiscent of Sir Toss Woollaston and the artists of early New Zealand modernism.

Across the series, unexpected rhythmic junctions of colour, line and form come together in a dreamlike vision. In Sojourn, for example, churning reds, blues and yellows hold floating pockets of landscape views and flowerbeds, as though opening up visions into alternate realms. Sitting somewhere between abstraction and representation, Dewhirst’s paintings dance between the real and surreal, imagination and reality. She acknowledges that “a lot happens by chance,” and there is a spirit of playfulness and an excitement in following and interpreting her unique vision of the New Zealand terrain.

In his Surrealist Manifesto, French poet André Breton called for an abandonment of logic in the arts, whereby operating without rules or guides, one could arrive at something entirely new.[2] Similarly, Dewhirst’s series hands control over to a certain automatism, a collaboration of both conscious and unconscious effort. In this way, the components of her image translate as visual metaphors, where a rippling line of paint might indicate a mountain, but also the moment of amazement in beholding its view. Here, Dewhirst’s sweeping, swirling microcosms follow a new visual system, giving autobiographical interpretations to intangible memories, moods, feelings and experiences – a pictorial language expressly optimistic, uncompromisingly personal and wholly poetic.

[1] Tony Curtis, How to Study Modern Poetry (London: MacMillan, 1990).

[2] André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972).

James Anderson, April 2018

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