It's unexpected. Its nostalgic. Its like being in a tomb of waxed bodies painted with popping bright colours and the energy of a new born child.
I've got to be honest. I am a bit of a gallery nut. And I was truly excited about the new survey, curated by the very clever Robert Leonard. Robert has already brought us some magic shows, curating New Zealand artists to perfection and pushing the City Gallery beyond where its been before - Yvonne Todd's show across the whole gallery and his Fiona Pardington exhibition blew everyones mind in a collective *poof* *poof* *poof* over the city.
Last week it was Francis Upritchard's exhibition of a 20 year survey of her work 'Jealous Saboteurs' that had Wellington shouting for joy. And what a joy it was to attend the opening at City Gallery!
Matt and I were lucky enough to be invited along last Friday night to the offical opening. I was like a puppy dog, bounding around all that day full of enthusiasm for the evening ahead. Recently, I joined the City Gallery Foundation and am now a proud supporter of their good work (you can find out more about the City Gallery Foundation here). So I was extra chuffed to get to attend my first show opening as a City Gallery Foundation member.
Matt and I looked at the sculptures and I took pictures. Afterwards we went to Arty Bees second hand bookshop. We then had dinner at Cinna on Manners Mall. At 9:15 we went to the Lighthouse Cinema and watched David Farriers excellent movie, Tickled (which is amazing! Go see it).
Not gonna lie. This is where I am at right now as far as big nights out go. I am happy about this. It was the best Friday night out we had had in ages. Bye bye Jager Bomb. Hello well thumbed copy of makeup artists 'Bobby Brown - Pretty Powerful' (if you also saw it in the window, sorry its officially taken).
Anyway - back to the Art Opening.
"Last week it was Francis Upritchard's exhibition, a 20 year survey of her work entitled 'Jealous Saboteurs' that had Wellington shouting for joy. And what a joy it was to attend the opening at City Gallery!"
This is the first major survey exhibition of New Zealand-born sculptor Francis Upritchard. A graduate of Christchurch’s Ilam School of Fine Arts, Upritchard moved to London in 1998, where she became one of our most successful overseas artists. She maintains a close relationship with New Zealand, returning and showing here regularly.
When Upritchard represented New Zealand in the Venice Biennale in 2009, she arranged small figures on large tables of her own design. The tables implied spacious landscapes across which the figures interacted.
She explained: ‘I want to create a visionary landscape, which refers to the hallucinatory works of the medieval painters Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel, and simultaneously draws on the utopian rhetoric of post-sixties counterculture, high modernist futurism and the warped dreams of survivalists, millenarians, and social exiles.’
Whatever the rationale, she's doing OK (to put it mildly) and is pretty well respected internationally. Her work is playful and both serious and fun.
The evening started off with me losing Matt. He went to St Johns Bar to meet me after work. I went straight to the Gallery. Low and behold, we crossed paths. Once we had located one another we were underway. Matt was well nervous. While I studied art history and will frequently plough the gallery path, Matt is a bit of a virgin (so to speak). We went to the Yvonne Todd exhibition together, which we enjoyed, but besides that we gets very nervous he will be cast out as a fraud for not knowing enough art chat.
Luckily for him (and me!) the evening convinced him he had nothing to be afraid of. Matt fell in love with the show, and I practically had to drag him away at the end, pontificating about what Francis might be trying to say about mankind by creating a sculpture of an ape.
To get to the point, 'Jealous Saboteurs' is an exhibition that everyone can enjoy, no matter how much exposure they have had to the arts. It should appeal to children, hard-core arty folk and newbies alike. As a newbie, Matt commented that he found sculpture easy to digest, which is interesting because everyone has a preference for certain types of art, no matter what they see/have been exposed to before.
This sculpture below particularly appealed partly because it looked like Scottish maid from the excellent Lightbox series 'Outlander'.
For me, the pieces were beautifully organised, original and reminded me of a kind of tactile, child-like, stop-motion-animation creation. This made me think of a children's film I watched when I was a kid, that screened one Christmas on the Son of A Gunn Show (KIDS OF THE 90's - REMEMBER THINGY AND JASON!!). At the end of that Christmas episode (I can't remember the year but it must have been around 1995) a wonderful clay-stop-motion film adaptation screened based on a Russian Fairy Tale 'The Flying Ship and the Fool of the World' , narrated by David Suchet(it's a kind of a Russian Aladdin). I LOVED that 1990 TV mini-movie - we taped it on VHS!! (RESPECT!!). Francis Upritchard is, from what I understand, very happy for her audience to take what they want from a work, so for me I felt free to interpret these in this way. Like the film from childhood, Francis Upritchard's work evoked a long lost memory of haunting, delicate, exotic and almost sinisterly beautiful creatures, brought to life by the artist's hands.
As we walked through the show, our familiarity of the work grew. It was easy to feel comfortable, like we were in a space with old friends.
The awkward position the creature hold are powerful and also vulnerable at the same time. They punch out or stretch up, huddling over themselves, like mythical beasts. Coloured fancifully, they are adorned in patterned fabric, bringing to mind at one moment Scottish Tartan and the next African tribal patterns.
The sculptures are complemented by fabric that drapes behind the feature piece. They enhance the sculpture and frame it, focusing they eye in an unobtrusive way.
These pieces of fabric are more than drapes. They remind us of tapestries from a time where a tapestry was far more valuable than a painting. The whole exhibition has strong historical influences. However, it is also loose, non sequitur and gives the viewer the freedom to experience the gallery at his or her own pace.
These pieces strongly feel like they have a story to tell us, of a people, of a time that is no more. We half expect them to come to life right before our eyes. Instead the are silently frozen, like cast under a spell, waiting for the magic wizard to set them free.
"The awkward position the creature hold are powerful and also vulnerable at the same time. They punch out or stretch up, huddling over themselves, like mythical beasts"
Matt and I managed to experience the whole show together. Rober Leonard offers a real overview of Francis's work, from student to the well respected artist she is today. This is the first major survey exhibition of Upritchard. A graduate of Christchurch’s Ilam School of Fine Arts, Upritchard moved to London in 1998, where she became one of our most successful overseas artists. She maintains a close relationship with New Zealand, returning and showing here regularly.
Through the night, the team at Nikau cafe looked after us, including the beautiful Nora Maarleveld. Say hi to Nora next time you are in Nikau for some doughnuts and coffee. She's a great person and is in her first year at Victoria University. I've known her since she was born!
As we moved on, we saw a mix of objects, figurines and furniture.
These mocked up Maori heads (literally, looking like death/me first thing in the morning) are particularly eerie.
Francis's work has truckloads of heart to them. They are both mystical and magic, reminding me of a fairy story. At the same time, they are 100% human, reminding us of our fragility as mortals. We are born, grow and wither with time - unlike these sculptures which will last many lifetimes.
I would encourage any resident of Wellington to visit for a fascinating overview of the work of one of New Zealand's most exciting artists. You can find out more about the show here.
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