Until 17 June, Hastings Community Art Centre, John Boyd-Dunlop, Mary Jesse Sullivan and Kathleen Pickering
Two exhibitions with three varying artistic practices in an impressive gallery space in the historic Harvey’s Building in Hastings. Before looking closely at the work on show, the building itself deserves some credit as an impressive backdrop.
An example of Spanish Mission style, designed by local architect Albert Garnett, the Harvey’s Building was built in 1933 to replace the original structure which had been damaged in the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. Harvey’s was a well-known retail business that operated in the old, and then the new building from 1912 until 1976.
The large interior space with polished wooden floor boards and a grand staircase leading to a mezzanine level has much potential to create an interesting art viewing experience. Rumour has it, the staircase was inspired by one of the brothers’ visits to Parisian department stores during WW1.
The space is flooded with natural light, with windows running the length of the “shop front” on ground level and three large arched central windows on the upper level.
Another feature of note is the large central lay-light. This blends some of the straight lines and symmetry of Art Deco with coloured and textured glass: a purple and yellow geometric design explodes from a dark red circle.
The gallery, run by Arts Inc Heretaunga, showcases work by Hawke’s Bay artists and craftspeople in a rapid-fire exhibition programme of two week shows. The gallery’s utilitarian picture hanging system lends itself to the brisk installation and de-installation of shows.
Showing their work at ground level are mother and daughter artists Mary Jesse Sullivan and Kathleen Pickering, both graduates of EIT’s Visual Arts and Design programme. Despite their very different styles and materials their “Creative Connection”, according to Mary, is a “synergy of strength and peacefulness evident throughout the exhibition”.
Mary’s work Ring of Fire uses encaustic wax and shellac burn on wood. The ancient technique of encaustic painting involves heating organic materials like beeswax, charcoal and oils and adds levels of sensation to the works. Elsewhere, found materials from the scene being represented appear on the canvas: seashells, driftwood and sand collected near Mary’s seaside studio in Haumoana.
In contrast, Kathleen shows crisp and precisely drawn mandalas, using ink on cartridge paper. Mainly monochromatic, there is a glimmer of rich metallic ink here and there, the repetition of the circular motif creating a rhythm across the room.
Moving to the mezzanine floor, Sketch n the Mind is a collection of spontaneous, colourful and exuberant drawings by self-taught artist John Boyd-Dunlop. Variously described as Naïve art, Outsider art, or Art Brut (Brut meaning raw and unsugared in the wine trade), these terms for art production can be contentious, but fit well here.
John’s creative activity only started as he approached the age of 70, and he has evolved a personal mythology that is both eccentric and humorous. There are echoes of Surrealist and Folk art, intricate patterns and animal-human hybrids play in amongst enormous florid blooms. Ladies with bouffant hair clutch roosters, the stylised tail feathers arching to form a portrait oval, screeching with colour. This is an alternative reality where cat creatures with painted toenails and jewellery ride into town on a buffalo, clutching its enormous horns, ready for a Helluva Time. New Zealand has its very own Outsider Art Fair where these characters and yarns could find a wider audience of receptive fans.
What characterises both shows and levels is an overabundance of art: the wall spaces are filled, plinths of varying sizes dot the floor downstairs, holding smaller paintings propped on easels or folders bursting with more works on paper. However, this busy style of display does reflect the building’s roots as a busy mercantile establishment, and after all, art is a business right?