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August 13, 2007 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Backspace Comes to Wellington

Fishers Fine Arts
154 Featherston Street
August 2-17

Backspace Gallery, one of the three excellent Fishers Fine Arts galleries, is located in Christchurch and was established in 2006 by the 6th generation of the Fisher family, Simon and Michael Fisher. Already well established in Auckland and of course at 154 Featherston Street, Wellington, Fishers Fine Arts brings Backspace to Wellington, which is a rare opportunity to view some of the talent that the cousins down South at Backspace Gallery have to offer.

On a hectic production night at Salient I took a breather by popping into Fishers where three of the six artists from Backspace Comes to Wellington really stood out. As I entered and started unbuttoning my coat I noticed on the far wall past the cheese and paté tray some highly abstracted and brightly coloured images, which lead me to…

Andy Tolhurst

Wandering down lonely, dusty streets, drains clogged with discarded advertising icons that have given some their quick fix, Andy bends down to pick up a chocolate wrapper. Blurry eyed due to the constant overexposure to advertising, the wrapper stands out from behind the green landscape and appears to be orange and slightly familiar. Looking in his cupboard the next morning, he sees only an empty red and yellow jar smeared dark brown with not enough contents to save it from its destined trip to the tip. Beneath golden arches cardboard food is churned out like it’s from a Dr Seuss factory…

This is a stylised version of what pop artist Andy Tolhurst may have been thinking when he came up with a colourful series of works which are intended to inform viewers about what he feels is the “need to address rubbish disposal with the same emphasis we place on emissions and global warming.”

Unfortunately, Andy was not present on the night and is currently enjoying the bright colours of balmy Samoa. He did however have the foresight to find an internet café, because a useful email was passed along to me explaining some of the more concrete philosophy and values behind his works.

“In regard to my works being overwhelming in colour – this is my intention. These artworks are contrived from rubbish. They are discarded brands I find in our streets, parks, gutters and on our beaches… These big brands are as much a pollutant as heavy industry and fossil fuel burning…”

Taking these often forgotten and discarded brands, wrappers and packaging off the streets he strives to make them beautiful again. They are ‘competing with each other not only on the shelves before they are purchased but also in our environment against the natural beauty they haphazardly come to rest in…”

Some are instantly recognisable; Tip Top Tub should be easily recognised by every one who has made the archetypal Kiwi trip to the corner dairy over the years; whereas Deliciously Ugly requires looking at the title for a clue, which you might get if you happen to be susceptible to the slogans that bombard us daily through the airwaves.

Beautiful due to the perfect symmetry that advertising has evolved from, Tolhurst’s abstraction of consumable icons are designed to be provocative and a direct challenge to the originators of the made to throw away culture we have grown accustomed to. “I would love for Coke or McD’s or any of the brands I have abstracted to challenge me in court on issues of ownership. It would fuel a discussion on what they do about educating their consumers on discarding rubbish…”

Lex Benson-Cooper

There’s this girl named Courtney, she has blonde hair and appears to suffer from low self esteem. Staring blankly from the canvas you can look right into her soul and you can almost hear her tale. But this tale isn’t even rooted in reality as this honest image of a nondescript woman was expertly bought to life by Lex Benson-Cooper. He came up with the title Courtney on the spot once the painting was completed. That is Benson-Cooper’s style, an intuitive and experimental artist whose works often end up taking him to places he doesn’t initially expect. It is for these reasons that his paintings retain a feel of such immediate freshness long after they are completed.

With Courtney, I was fooled into thinking that it was from an actual portrait of a real girl called, you guessed it, Courtney. Even before talking to him I had already built up a possible back story in my head about Courtney. Like many expressive artists do from time to time Benson-Cooper sometimes begins to discard works that seem to be going nowhere, but comes back later and produces what turn out to be absolute stunners. Life Cycle is a case in point; there’s a cream circle on a black heavily layered background with ambiguous circular images inside of it, one of which is, surprise surprise, a woman, this time with red hair. It may be real or not, it would be just like Benson-Cooper to put in a real woman’s image, as the context within his works can switch between playful and serious, sometimes within the same painting…

Nic Phillipson

Nic Phillipson, based in Christchurch is also like Andy Tolhurst in the sense that he explores the genre of pop art, but differs in the sense that he is more interested in the graphical nature of bill board advertising and the resulting paradoxes that are inherent within the modern advertising industry. Tolhurst’s works at Backspace Comes to Wellington specifically deal with the environmental outcomes of branding, whereas Phillipson here deals with the psychological effects of the actual advertisements that seek to convince us to purchase the throw away consumables in the first place.

Made up of numerous painted aluminium squares in a grid, they each show a tiny section of differing bill poster advertisements. I must walk around oblivious to a lot of advertising as I could only recognise a slice of the Real Groovy and the Crusaders Rugby Super 14 logos while looking at Incitation and Persuasion IV. The lack of comprehension detected by the viewer is deliberate on Phillipson’s part. A sum of several squares, with each protruding from their base, a form of mass conscious abstraction is created. These works felt more invasive to me than the original posters might have intended to be.

Pleasant to the eye you will want to keep looking at them, because there is information there that will be familiar but somehow quite out of reach of understanding. Impulsively you will keep returning your gaze to these numerous seductive snippets of pop branding…

Backspace Comes to Wellington runs until August 17, also exhibiting are stunning works by Marc Blake, Amberleigh McConnell and Graham Snowden. Their works and other Fishers artists can be viewed on the gallery website: www.fishersfinearts.co.nz

Jane Santos

Quimzy Gallerry
14 Leeds Street
August 7-25

I must confess that at times I wish there were more than two pages of Visual Arts to fill in Salient every week. This happens to be one of those weeks… Despite being over stimulated by all of the excellent local art at the moment I still managed to make a flying visit down to Quimzy Gallery on Leeds Street last week. What prompted me primarily to make the trip was the invitation flyer that sported beautiful mosaics. I love mosaics as does Jane Santos, far from making a flying visit, she moved to New Zealand in 2002 to concentrate on her art work.

With every word here crammed in like every tiny piece of porcelain and glass used, I regret that there is not more room to provide more than just a brief description about Jane and her latest series of mosaics…

She started off doing creative embroidery in 1980 with the natural themes of trees, fungi and landscapes. Around 11 years ago she started making mosaics as she was fascinated by the use of restricted colour that they use. Employing a wide range of media her works contain every thing from tiles, vitreous glass, unglazed and glazed ceramics, gold leaf, mirror and French porcelain.

Like most crafts based artists she has no formal qualifications in mosaics and learnt a lot through trial and error. Established at Waikanae she’s surrounded by the native flora and fauna that provides most of her inspiration. As such I have selected Beach Pickings as a good example of her latest series of works. Using ceramic, porcelain and glass tiles it is of pied stilts feeding on a typical kiwi beach.

Quimzy Gallery is also a café called LaLa, the coffees are good value and the cafe provides a welcome respite from all the usual hustle and bustle. What better way to view some more of Jane’s mosaics than by heading down Eva Street off Dixon, down the Lane and to the left, where you will be greeted by the friendly smile of the owner Jennifer.

Jane also has numerous websites which showcase her work: www.janes-mosaics.co.nz and www.janesantos.vc.net.nz. Her works can also be found at www.artfind.co.nz, www.naturecoast.co.nz and www.artaid.org.nz.

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