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April 23, 2007 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Simon Edwards

Janne Land Gallery
150 Vivian Street
April 17-April 12


If you are looking for some paintings of high quality that will move you as soon as you walk into the door, then you can’t go past Simon Edwards’s latest exhibition of drawings and paintings at Janne Land Gallery, currently on until 12 May.

Janne Land Gallery is a truly classy gallery that’s tucked away on Jessie Street (located in the block between Vivian and Taranaki Streets). Even though it can be difficult to find and is away from all the usual suspects in the gallery scene (i.e. the clusters around Cuba Street), it’s well worth the effort to visit it if you happen to be in the area.

Simon Edwards, a celebrated landscape painter and drawer from Canterbury, returns to Wellington with a powerful exhibition showcasing a unique interpretation of the streets of Christchurch. Edwards spent his childhood on a farm at Hororata, a margin of land that is beginning to climb away from the coast towards the foothills of the high country. Falling in love with the countryside, landscapes have been his artistic preoccupation. This time around he was stuck at home with his pregnant wife and two year old son and couldn’t get out into the countryside to do his drawings. Instead, he wandered the streets of Christchurch and interpreted the city with his unique ethereal style.

Being an architecture geek, I knew that it was Christchurch as soon as I recognised the high rise building in ‘Growth’ which happened to be shrouded in a ghostly mist. What wasn’t familiar was the stark and bold tree in the foreground. Maybe in broad daylight you don’t notice trees, but in this state of expression it was like another dimension where the tree had a more intense life and vitality.

Done in oil on canvas, “Growth” definitely has a supernatural feel to it. I was unable to discuss with Edwards what spiritual or philosophical dimensions these works have as his wife had just given birth to their latest child. But I did soak up the works on display and noticed that the paintings and drawings of Simon Edwards are less landscapes, though, than atmospheric and ethereal states of being. More Grail-quester or metaphysical topographer than painter Edwards, he internalises the region that surrounds him and makes it his own. It is as though he is a seer who travels the lands, enlightening us to the real truths of the actual forms and energies behind the landscapes.

A lot of the trees in these pictures looked Japanese and I almost expected to see armies of Samurai warriors wandering out of the mist. These paintings could have been from Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Throne of Blood, where the trees came to life.

But it wasn’t all about trees; Edwards managed to get out into the streets of some the Christchurch suburbs. For those of you who don’t know Christchurch very well it is flat and full of the same looking leafy streets lined with canopies of trees. It felt like I had been down some of the streets, but maybe it just reminded me of the times when I used to walk along some of them around the corner from my 90 year old grandmother’s place in Papanui.

This was definitely an exhibition that taps into the zeitgeist of Christchurch – very rarely does an artist actually manage to tap into the subtleties of the area they are covering.

Edwards’s paintings are suffused with an inner glow which is a result of the patient and skillful application of layer after layer of subject matter. Of his current works ‘Origin’ was my favourite, featuring a lone tree sitting on a dark landscape with the grey skyline sitting directly above it. It is hard to believe that these are drawings and paintings; it is as though a lot of them are photographs that have had effects added through different forms of exposure.

This is one of the best exhibitions I have been to for a long time. Speaking frankly, out of every hundred exhibitions there are rarely more than a handful that will genuinely blow you away. This is one of those few sets of works that are pure class. As soon as I walked into the room, I felt a nice feeling about the place and what was on offer. It is so darn hard to pin down and define exactly what it is about Edwards’s pictures but they definitely have this certain vibe. If you were to bite the bullet and finally decide to go out and check out some visual art, then this is the one you must see!

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