Design Review: Volume 4, Issue 5 (October-November 1952)
The Association of New Zealand Art Societies recently organised a show of fifty pictures, five from each of ten artists, in a room of the upper floor at the D.I.C. in Wellington. Worthy as the purpose of such an exhibition may be it did not seem to attract much notice as on two occasions of a visit I had the place to myself for a considerable period. Was there not enough publicity given to it? The room is small and the pictures were well spaced out and on eye level so that it was possible to make a close acquaintance with them. At the same time perhaps the temporary nature of the set up gave the whole show somewhat of the air of a house during a period of removal.
The catalogue informed us that ‘visitors to our exhibitions are too often confronted with the bewildering spectacle of hundreds of pictures crowded, frame to frame, on the limited wall space of our galleries’. With this we are in hearty agreement and it was a pleasure to pay a couple of visits of an hour or so to a collection of pictures with which one had the chance to get acquainted.
There is no doubt difficulty in organising a show of this kind. It would be fair to say that none of the ten artists represented were showing their best work. But is their best work handy when the invitation arrives, or is it a case for making do with what is available at the moment?
Outstanding among the artists is the work of Eric Lee-Johnson. His picture entitled ‘The Kindling’ shows the world he depicts so well. It is a world of movement and of decay. The old woman, the cottage, the tree stumps, take on a new and different form of existence. The tree trunk is no longer a growing tree cut down, but has assumed a new, different and sinister character, which, though physically dead, has a new and significant mystery of life.
Louise Henderson has come to life again with a new style of painting. She has abandoned her rather decorative mode for one strongly influenced by Cubism. Although the paintings she showed, of which the best was ‘Arum Lilies’, were stronger than her former works, she remains mainly interested in design of a soft and sweetly feminine style.
Edward Murphy's ‘Ugly Duchess’ requires a footnote. It appears to be inspired by the Quentin Matsys portrait of Margaret of Tyrol, which in its turn was the starting point for Tenmiel's drawing of the ugly duchess. But Murphy's picture, enhanced by its hot colouring, is so far removed from humanity that it fails to give the horrific effect of the Matsys painting.
Evelyn Page's pictures show her busy bustling world in hurried movement. The pictures she showed, perhaps with the exception of an exquisite study named ‘Head’, did not by any means give adequate evidence of her capabilities as a painter.
Russell Clark has a chameleon-like ability to change his style. Most of his pictures, painted in dark and sombre colouring-accented with a rather disagreeable yellow, were of Maori life. In three of them appears the figure, of a tall thin angular Maori. One cannot help feeling that his Maoris have lost their own native culture and assumed that of the cities. The Guitarist of Vinegar Hill is surely playing swing from Chicago rather than a native ditty.
The pictures on view by Stewart Maclennan certainly did not do him justice as an artist. The picture of a sleeping woman, in a style of painting of fifty years ago, although interesting in itself, seemed incongruous in the company round it.
As a choice for a picture to hang in a room, my pick would be ‘Dead Fronds’ by William Sutton. It is a most interesting composition, lively in colour with plenty of intriguing texture.