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July 20, 2009 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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ROAR! At Thistle Hall Gallery

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Ah winter, the season of staying inside, watching excessive amounts of trashy weekday tele and generally avoiding anything involving the words ‘out’ and ‘side’ put together. So why was it that on a cold, rainy Wellington afternoon I found myself bucking the trend of usual winter behaviour and braving the not-so-friendly southerly? It was time to check out this week’s gallery offerings.

First stop ROAR! Gallery, whose aggressive punctuation had, until now, prevented me from doing any more than wonder what arty delights it held inside. My nerves weren’t helped by the website’s talk of ghosts, monsters and nightmares; I was seriously reconsidering my decision of going solo.

Their current exhibition, Boo!, is the combined effort of five Wellington artists, who together explore the intriguing topic of childhood fear in all its irrational, fantastical glory. Expecting five variations on Goya’s Romanticism, I was pleasantly surprised at the range of works on show. Dr Fil’s large rectangular canvases present gory monsters with looming shadows in a sketchy style and Film Noir colour palate, whilst Lavinia Knight’s work examines more mundane childhood “monsters”, like a cheeky looking bowl of brussel sprouts in a cheerful cartoon style.

Meanwhile, the wide-eyed little girl repeated throughout Aimee Hammond’s canvases speaks of childhood innocence in the face of text-book white sheeted ghosts and black crows. Around the corner, Used Bandaid and Jenna Karl provide a darker version of the theme. Both artists incorporate more adult fears into their work; violence, drug use and female sexuality, among others. Karl’s acidic canvases are a strong point of the exhibition. The detailed paintings of sad, young faces would be ‘emo’
if they weren’t so fluorescently coloured.

Coat buttoned up and scarf pulled tight, next stop was Thistle Hall, the light and (usually) sunny gallery at the top of Cuba. However, today the sunlight was on the inside rather than out. Fiona Hayworth’s Look on the Brightside, was, as the blurb promised, a “delight” for my eyes; an ambush of bright colours, intricate patterns and vibrant designs. The exhibition is easily separated into four parts: large canvases, smaller black then white framed works and finally a series of mysterious, translucent, hanging objects.
The first and most dominant section, seven large works on canvas, is characterised by intense colour and geometric shapes that echo through later works. At first glance the designs have a childlike feel. However, the careful layering of works such as Yesterday’s Hippies are Today’s Advertising Executives, suggests depth in the composition and in the thoughts behind it. In fact, the more I looked at the works the more I was hooked. Although some feel slightly sparse, their visual energy and over-the-top happiness is ultimately addictive.

However, the collection is not quite as cheerful as it appears. The artist cites darker motives for her vibrant works, saying that they are in fact the ironic product of an unhappy time; the happy mask over a gloomy interior. The theme is something I think we can all relate to. Every day we put on many different masks, each with its own requirements and challenges, trying to live up to the expectations of others. Fiona’s work asks us to question which of these is our real face and which is the mask.

The collection, we are told, is about the transition from art student to artist, but it also speaks of other journeys—from child to adult, melancholy to joy, and provides an interesting parallel with the similar contrasts explored in ROAR!. Both exhibitions provided a thought-provoking afternoon and, once inside, a welcome break from the harsh winter weather. So if you can tear yourself away from Tyra’s tantrums or Chris’s latest escapades on Shorty St, they’re definitely worth a look.

OTHER EXHIBITIONS THIS WEEK:
Page Blackie—Israel Birch explores the art of capturing sound visually from July 23.
Pixel Ink—Opening July 22 is Eye Value, Suni Gibson’s latest jewellery collection, which examines jewellery’s relevance and its role in popular culture.
Toi Poneke—New this week is James Voller’s photographic exhibition Forgotten Space Remembered, an engaging collection of works influenced by recent temporary art initiatives such as the One Day Sculpture series.

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