Kirsten Fitzwell - Almost
15th Oct- end of January 18a Gallery
Response by Luke Heal
There’s a place on North Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, California called the Movie Colony Hotel. It’s a place of “vintage Hollywood glamour…a fashionable oasis in the Sonoran Desert… a study in modernism and minimalist architecture… a celebration of vintage style and forward-thinking hospitality”.
I know this because, backing on to the Warehouse, behind Mag and Turbo, over the way from Spike’s Mechanical Nelson, you can find the 18a Gallery and inside is Kirsten Fitzwell’s first solo exhibition Almost, which includes a painting of the Movie Hotel.
The gallery is a small white room behind oxidised aluminium shop doors at the top of a concrete ramp. Fourteen small oil and acrylic paintings currently hang there, each one a recreation of an online marketing photo selling a holiday dream. Paintings of pristine swimming pools attended to by regiments of crisply upholstered deckchairs, whitewashed stucco walls, palms, banana trees and groomed lawns. One presents rows of curtains hanging in a decorative roofless pagoda, the folds of each one paired down in an identical knot, lifted slightly here and there by air unfelt by human skin.
When seeing all the works at once in the gallery, it registers that there is no one in any of the pictures. Seeing one work alone, the impression might be a literal intent by the artist to represent a nice villa or hotel. But seen together in the gallery, arranged with considered misalignment, a sense of unease creeps in.
Fitzwell’s swimming pools recall the paintings of David Hockney - both are cast in inertial sunlight as if in resin. But Hockney’s pools are punctuated by splashes, and sometimes inhabited by swimmers or onlookers - there is life and movement. It is difficult to imagine anyone swimming in the finely observed, cut-glass pools of Almost. Difficult even to imagine a human being could exist in this crystalized holiday dimension. The pools are well dosed with chlorine before every tourist season. The eye yearns for a forgotten glass, a ball or toy, a magazine or book, a bird or insect. There are no children running across these lawns, no people snoozing in the deckchairs, the laughter of sun-stung holiday makers does not drift through the tipsy evenings here.
The works have hot pink reverse sides that cause a diffuse reflection on the white gallery wall, cleverly framing each work with a slight aura. Rosy tones predominate, like the blush of future memories, a nostalgic longing for experiences we have not had - yet.
The gentle brush strokes are so different from the emitted light of a pixel screen, the squinty shoulder-knotting experience of a cell phone. The treatment is imperfect, human. One work is almost impressionistic in its approximation. Another has the scratchy sepia feel of an old photo or lithograph.
These mansions and hotels are beautiful, the grounds immaculate. It reminds me of a time when friends rented a villa in Tuscany and came back with tales of eating pine nuts straight from the garden. I didn’t really identify with that particular dream, but I was jealous. I wanted to be there in that special place, if only for a few days. It would create a hefty memory and a worthwhile anecdote that would punctuate the timeline of life (“I went to Tuscany and stayed in this beautiful old villa, they had real pine nut trees, it was amaaazing”). Never mind the stress of travel, soon forgotten.
Booking.com, Airbnb, Tripadvisor, Expedia, Trivago and others clamour on the screen, should we enter a key word or two that lets on our predilection. Holiday experiences are so commodified that the same night in the same bed can be sold at slightly different margins by dozens of automated systems. I tried doing a reverse image search using an image of one of the paintings. The results were striking: a collage of every configuration of modernist white box, liquid blue trapezoid, all with the terracotta/stucco glow, fluffy clouds - and regiments of deck chairs, always the deck chairs.
Such online possibilities raise tickling questions about the artistic process. If the viewer can go online and see the source material, is that problematic? Perhaps an exhibition that responds to something could even include what that something is - in this case, the source images, or links to them. I wonder how landscape painters feel now that viewers can access every scene they paint from satellite, street view, or an almost infinite mosaic of selfies. Wharariki beach in Golden bay is photographed nearly every day, and has ended up as the lock screen for computers all around the world, yet people still paint it.
Going online, you could see the 388 images of the Movie Colony Hotel. You could see for yourself how the gently painted works of Almost differ to their online source material. You could decide if the artist is making a subtle protest that asks questions of the global trade in holiday dreams, or commenting on how we tell ourselves that we can be fulfilled by fleeting visits to desirable residences in exotic locations. Hell, you could even book a holiday at the Hollywood Colony - it’s surprisingly reasonable and has great reviews. I wouldn’t turn down a weekend there if I had the choice. Besides that pool I could be happy, living my best life. Almost.
18a Project Space
18a Vanguard St
Open Fri 11-4
Kirsten Fitzwell (Fitzsimons) (@kirstenfitzwell) • Instagram photos and videos
18a Project Space
Response by Andrew Robertson
There are few things that I love more than descending enthused and willfully uninformed upon an exhibition that I know nothing about. It was in just such a state of mind that I found myself visiting the Quiet Dog Gallery, caffeinated and care-free, on an uncrowded lunch-break – however, my usual excitable curiosity was somewhat complicated this time when a friend reached out with the rather novel suggestion of writing a review of my experience afterwards.
The following account is my rather unpracticed attempt at documenting my entirely subjective experience, with the hope perhaps that you, the unwitting reader may feel compelled to visit the Quiet Dog Gallery yourself for an experience uniquely and expressly your own.
‘Slap!’, I knew, was the exhibition’s title, and Ann Braunsteiner - Nelson’s resident creative dynamo - the artist. Of all else, I was willfully and premeditatedly ignorant, in order to preserve one of my favourite experiences; ‘The Cold Read’. This is a style of looking at art wherein I savour my unfolding reactions and interpretations of the chosen body of work, filtered solely though my own preconceptions, rather than pre-informed opinion. And so I invite you, the unknown reader to join me, reveling in my re-lived ignorance as I step once more through the thresh-hold...
Colour! Movement! Texture! Eyes darting to and fro, each hanging rectangle exuding playful exuberance; a near-tangible tangle of line and text, luridly layered splatters of bold, hyper-active colour. This is … a lot of stimulation to take in all at once. “Slow down, Andy, focus on one thing at a time – and most, most definitely, that third coffee was one too many. And breathe...”
This is no sedate collection of sleepy, sea-side vistas intended to lull the viewer into comfortable somnolence. No, these are far more akin to a synesthesiast’s ecstatic attack upon torpid ease and sleepy complacency. To call Braunsteiner’s works simply ‘paintings’ is to rob them of the sheer frenetic sense of movement; of dynamic, layered complexity barely held in check by the bounds of two-dimensional canvas. Rather than seascape, these feel like a tempestuous riot caught mid-surge - and whilst the target of this intensity may momentarily elude us, the object of ire escaping off-frame, uncaught, the mystery urges us to investigate, whilst the energy and the passion remain, calling us to as-yet-unnamed action.
We’re mere seconds inside the gallery now, and this is already an unexpectedly intriguing experience, my attention jolted and seized at a distance, my feet pulled forward to explore further. So let us step closer and see if we can’t resolve some of this restless, barely-contained vigor...
Directly opposite the front entrance, the words ‘For Sale’ are both the first thing to leap out at me from the canvas, as well as, appropriately, the title of the work. A cacophonous collage with long-time collaborator Lee Woodman, the whole piece heaves with a layered glut of symbol, text and decontextualized anatomy, slathered and scraped with hyperactive hues poised seemingly equidistantly between the processes of addition and removal. What we’re left with is not so much a sense of something finished, as a glimpse of primordial process, a window into a pocket dimension where all is, and can only ever be in flux. Separating signal from noise, searching for a coherent meaning and narrative, my mind simply slides off the sides of this dimensional window, like a spider finding no purchase in a wet bathtub. Far from finding this frustrating, this instead feels like the promise of future unfolding, of a richness of context and imagery to be absorbed and digested at leisure, rather than understood and moved on from like some schoolroom pop-quiz.
My primary (and indeed, still enduring) sense of this is work pure Passion and Expression - whatever obscure subject or object moved the creators of this piece, move them it most certainly did. There’s a visceral sense of motion arrested mid-splatter, of a drive undiminished in the freezing of timeframes. Still reaching for a frame of reference for this piece, I’m minded of one of the founding fathers of Abstract Expressionism, Robert Rauschenberg (for what is this piece, if not fiercely and expressively abstract?) whose own assemblages of paint, collage and found material so upturned the staid traditions of the American yesteryear. Braunsteiner and Woodman’s collage feels like a 21st century channeling of Rauschenberg’s suggestive thrust, filtered and amplified through the intervening decades of discontent and hyper-capitalized urban decay. Fifty years after the original Abstract Expressionist made his mark, his works remain mostly opaque to my understanding, but not in their primal, insensate reaching – so too, I feel that these works will continue to give of themselves, revealing of and reveling in their layered, provocative complexities for years yet to come.
Pulling out of these complexly abstracted realms, we find ourselves once again grounded in the comforting, industrial reality of the Quiet Dog gallery space. Upon the walls we find further arrangements and explorations, from the cascading colours of Lachen’s geometries, to Wat willst Du?’s swooping, spray-painted lines and cryptic exhortations in Braunsteiner’s native Austrian tongue (my ignorance a little less willfull this time). Ranging in scale, colour, balance and complexity, these further works feel united in the sense of looking through, and in doing so, catching a glimpse of some cosmic-grafitto frozen mid-convulsion. I feel an eerie sense of viewing two equally substantive realities co-existing in superposition, both within the other – inner space and outer space meeting, opposites without opposition.
...and breathe. I step outdoors, momentarily disoriented as I fumble for my phone to record my thoughts for future reference - ramblings that are still largely unintelligible one week later. Putting all of this into words may be a lot harder than I had originally expected. But please, don’t let my words convince you of the merits of this particular experience – as with most worthwhile things in this life, seeing really is believing.
L top - Wat willst Du?
R top - Lachan
In text - For Sale
Ann CT Braunsteiner (@annctbraunsteiner) • Instagram photos and videos
Ann Braunsteiner (quietdoggallery.co.nz)
Emma Marie - Spaciousness
July 16 – August 13 2022 ATELIER Studio|Gallery
Saturday 16 July 2022, Nelson
ATELIER Studio|Gallery is one of Nelson’s cultural jewels, sitting back from the road at the eastern side of Piki Mai (also known as Church Hill), the site of Nelson’s Cathedral. It is currently hosting the exhibition ‘Spaciousness’ by local artist and NMIT alumnus, Emma Marie. It feels like a particularly appropriate time for the gallery to be presenting an exhibition of this nature, with the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope now being widely circulated, revealing unprecedented views of galaxies beyond our own. And like the first image shown from this historic expedition, Webb’s First Deep Field*; the works in this current exhibition present compositions of colours and marks for our own contemplation of space and our position in that. Unlike the Webb Telescope, however, the artist is not compiling images from physical reality but from the emotional realm.
In her statement, Emma Marie explains that intuitive prompts have driven the formation of these paintings, without preconceived ideas of concept. And yet, there is a strong concept of space – both external and internal - underpinning these works, and not just in the exhibition title. Space is there in the relationships between objects and abstract markings. It is there in the graphic and figurative renderings of objects that occupy intergalactic space – planets, nebulae, comets, spaceships – and in our own atmosphere, paper planes. And it is there in the loops, parallel lines, and other markings that create intimations of three-dimensional movement within the spatial boundaries of the frame.
Mark-making is an immediately apparent a feature of these compositions. Looped lines repeated in different iterations bring to mind fragments of Cy Twombly’s non-figurative scribblings in his well-documented explorations of history and time. Other marks and layering of colour are reminiscent of the ‘Ten Largest’ - vibrantly colourful works by the spiritualist and pioneering abstract artist, Hilma af Klint. They were recently seen as part of the Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings exhibition in New Zealand at Wellington’s City Gallery. Af Klint wrote in her notebooks about having a ‘spirit guide’ in the production of this series, just as Emma Marie writes of the intuitive prompts that underpin the current approach to her practice.
There are a wide variety of marks to be seen, made with graphite and pastel or crayon, or by scraping and scoring through wet paint, and in the process, revealing lines of colour from the layers below. There are also mathematical formulae, fine ruled lines, groups of parallel or misaligned strokes falling like rain, or a long exposure photograph, tumbling across the surface. Other marks are drawn within the boundaries of small, repeated circles.
Emma Marie has a deft touch with colour, as might be expected from someone with a background in textile and graphic design. This palette is grounded in deep charcoal and white combining to make a variety of greys. They sit alongside earthen umber, ochre and sienna, enlivened by large swathes of pink, with turquoise, teal, red, orange and a startling citrus yellow. There is use of overlapping clouds of harmonic colour that occupy the middle and back ground, and iterative blocks appearing in many of the works that present to this viewer as a kind of sampling. At times they lie along the edge of a piece, as might be seen on a printer’s proof sheet, at other times applied in a group of thumbprint-sized blobs, as though the artist is letting us into the considerations behind her palette choices. Colour is applied as highly textured impasto, wiped off and built up, or applied in translucent layers. Colour blocks are arranged in loose rectangles with relatively contained boundaries, in others, more fluid applications of colour are allowed to run their gravitational course.
Gravity, orbit and flight appear to be an area of exploration for the artist. This is particularly evident in the figurative objects occupying their abstract realms. The arrow-like paper planes, are an ongoing motif for Marie and works such as Plane of Existence 3.8, are rendered in crisp detail, with flight trajectories suggested through ebullient, organic loops. These recall memories of simple toy-making, and depending on the quality of construction, folded paper constructions gliding through the air in unrepeatable trajectories of flight. These shapes are also being used as an omnipresent iconography throughout social channels to indicate delivery, direction, and location – giving this viewer further impetus to thoughts of the spatial and our occupation of or in a given place.
The planets and other celestial elements appear as objects within these compositions that seem to describe both the order and the chaos to be found in our sphere of existence, in what was, until quite recently in human history, only imagined. Two works, Expansion 3.6 and Expansion 3.9, present images of nebulae that verge on the floral in appearance, with a rich, deep crimson palette employed against brighter, loosely applied areas of colour. As you are directed to the centre, details of the clouds of nascent stars become almost photo-realistic.
As Bridget Riley observed in The Eye’s Mind: Collected Writings, 1965-1999, ‘Modern painting is about building a way of looking – it has less to do with what exactly you are seeing than with how you are made to look at it**. Emma Marie has presented a series of harmonious works that reward close, extended attention, and invite fresh consideration of ourselves not only as occupiers of space, but as being occupied by space.
Emma Marie, Spaciousness
July 16 – August 13 2022
329 Trafalgar Square, Nelson
** Bridget Riley. “Painting Now”, in Bridget Riley: The Eye's Mind: Collected Writings, 1965-1999. Edited by Robert Kudielka. (London: Thames & Hudson, 1999). 204.