15 June 2017, Community Arts Napier
At Community Arts Napier (CAN) until the 22nd of June is the entertaining and varied show of print works, East Side Story. Print groups from Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay (The Hawke’s Bay Inkers) have joined forces in an exhibition which underlines the continued vitality, attractiveness and handmade physicality of print in an art world increasingly preoccupied with more digitally/photographically rendered reproducibles.
And I must say that one of the chief enjoyments of this show was encountering it at CAN. On a sunny Thursday morning, this place is humming with activity. A painting class is in full swing, as are arrangements for the upcoming reboot of the much-missed Hawke’s Bay Review, and talented Napier painter, Louis Morell, is busy on new works on the mezzanine floor, where anybody can walk up and watch him work. A steady trickle of visitors views the East Side Story show, and it strikes me as altogether appropriate that such a democratic, cottage industry art form should be enjoying high visibility in a public access gallery that is all about community involvement, inclusiveness and can-do.
All group shows are mixed bags in terms of quality, and East Side Story is no exception. In a bustling, salon-style hang, most of the artists deal in imagery that is somewhere or another along the spectrum of decorative abstraction. Often the print technique itself will perform that function by its own native qualities and lend them to an otherwise conventionally representational scene, as in Lynne Wilburn’s charming screen-print study of a dinghy in breeze-ruffled water, “Boys Own”. Decorativeness in art, when insightfully observed and sensitively rendered can, of course, expose a beautiful truth about the world which purely functional representation or clichéd abstract spiralling will miss.
Plant forms, organic textures and so on predominate in the show, as if the artists are attempting to register a true essence/spirit of nature via workshop materials and processes that are analogical to those of imprint and fossilisation found in the natural world. Exemplary of this approach is Pam Hastings’ sedimentary laminations of found textures in earthy reds and ochres. To create such a sense of ancient landscape and ‘old’ light from such mundane materials as bubble wrap and string is testament to her imaginative and technical skill. Also highly skilled and evocative, though more purely abstract and with considerable formal compositional intuition, are Kathy Boyle’s print constructions, so beautifully punctuated with thread.
I also enjoyed Norman Maclean’s exquisitely rendered zinc plate etchings, particularly “Winter Comes” and “Olives Argos”. These moodily lit, expressionistic landscapes vibrate with linear energy and elemental forces, while retaining the focus and succinctness of illustration.
More conceptually driven and aware of the digital media-scape is Lisa Feyen’s “Looking for the i”. A tondo sectioned into a bewildering melange of pop-culture, x-ray/anatomical and semi-abstract image fragments. The very traditional print techniques used to produce the images have a strangely naturalising effect, as if this were, as J.G. Ballard might have it, a “Memory of the Space Age”, an anachronistic etching of our post-digital attention deficit disorder.
Print is also the most market-friendly of art forms. All the works here are affordable and most come in framed or unframed options.