Recently I visited the Beloved Exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. It is a wonderful and varied collection of works obtained by the DPAG over its 125 year history.
The show is largely filled by paintings and drawings, but there also sculptures, installations and photographs.
‘Self Portrait’ by Robert Nettleton Field, 1932
A self portrait, part of the artists face is cropped. It seems to be divided in two; two thirds is the actual portrait, while the first third looks to be another painting with a painting within that, or is more likely a mirror that the artist is using to paint himself, with the missing part of him reflected.
The strokes are not complete as there are parts of canvas showing through. The tonal work of the face could suggest two light sources. The whole painting is in ‘cooler’ colours, mainly blues, green and yellows. The background seems to be wallpapered shapes that are blue and green, or is a wall painting as there are irregular shapes. The face doesn’t dominate the painting, but instead fits and blends well, eventually drawing your eye back to the face. He seems neither happy nor sad and more studious if anything. It feels as though he doesn’t see himself in it, but another subject to paint.
‘The Fool’ by Ben Cauchi, 2005 (ambrotype on paper)
AN image of a person in male clothing, upright in front of a black/grey backdrop with pointed hood on which covers the face completely.
There are four main shades: black, dark grey, light grey and white (latter being the undershirt).
There’s an obvious feeling of anonymity. The hood is a possible religious reference. The figure gives two feelings: he is menacing and wants to remain hidden, to have power over what we see – but the opposite could also be true, that he is captive and on display, unable to see who is viewing him.
Triangles are a recurring shape in this image. The hood, the shirt, the background and the divided jacket all form triangles.
‘Construction on Red’ by Milan Mrkusich, 1982 (acrylic on board)
A large red board hung on an angle, there is one continuous and curved line running across the top which is black and shadowed by lines of different colours.
There is one triangular shape that is whole, with another line leading off its point, which then itself curves. It looks as though it makes up part of an oval. The line shadows have gaps. One of the triangles lines is white while the other is teal. On closer inspection, the lines give an impression of being chalk-like in texture. This brings up the roughness of the boards surface. It was either a dark colour or painted black before the layer of red, as dark and textured patterns show through. The paintwork itself is seamless, with no discernable brushwork. Circles and triangles seems to be a recurring theme.
‘The Plait’ by Eric Gill, 1922 (wood engraving on paper)
This work has two tones – black and white (or off white, possibly faded over time).It is a portrait of a girls head, completely side on i.e. a profile. She has plaited hair running down the side of her head. The hair seems parted on this side (her left – she is facing to the left of the frame). Her eyes are narrow or squinted. Her features are marked by simple, subtle lines. Her eyebrow, for instance, is a straight line.
She has a bow in her plait, which is the only visible accessory. The engravings of the hair strands are the most detailed, which are dense and gives an impression of volume and shape.
At a guess I’d say she is quite young, in her early teens perhaps. She looks sad, ready to tear up, or maybe in deep concentration.
‘Port de Saint Tropez’ by Paul Signac, 1892 (watercolour over pencil on paper)
A harbour in the foreground, there are ships moored alongside a small dock. They are blue as are their reflections. To the right, in the mid-ground, are the city or sea-front buildings. They are all red, reflected as red and orange in the water. There is a small boat with two people in it, in the reflection of those buildings.
Extending to the left appears to be more of the city and buildings, going into the distance. There are more boats with sails in front of this area. Further back are green hills with purple-red structures snaking up it. These are also reflected in the water.
The water also reflects yellow which is probably sunlight, which fills the top left.
The details are pencil and not always ‘completed’. Most things are simply outlined, like the fore buildings which are mainly vertical lines.
The water colour strokes are expressive, highlighting the shapes of the drawings. They appear to be singular, relying on the water medium to place strong colour and to fade.
The boats are the most detailed, giving the eye a starting point which is then drawn to the buildings to the right, then back to the left to the sails and then right again to the hill and buildings, creating a zig-zag.
‘Old Heffel The Fiddler’ by Walter Sickert, 1916 (oil on canvas)
A man, seated, holding a violin in his left hand while his right is poised as though ready to play – yet he doesn’t appear to be holding anything in it?
There is a cupboard behind him to his left. A hat sits upon it. Behind him to his right is a table. He is looking down at the violin. He is balding, with a white beard. He is also wearing a large, brown, coat. Only one of the chairs legs is showing. The style is impressionist, strong and contrasting with little tone. Shadows and highlights are distinct. The colour strokes of the man are dramatic and more vibrant than the room’s detail. Most strokes seem downward in motion.
The head and the violin (or fiddle) are the focal points, a feeling that emphasises the man and his role: is a he a musician? A composer? An amateur who likes to play, perhaps just to entertain himself or friends?