Saturday, November 24, 2012

gretchen albrecht

In the absence of Christianity, Art would be my religion. It fills much of the criteria - a high regard for the creative spark, the concept of deeper meaning, the notion of the individual placed in beautiful paradox alongside the idea of audience/community, the embracing of mystery, the belief that life is more than calculated science. Of course there are forms of art (as there should be) that critique each of these notions, but art as an encompassing ocean - the world of art - is often inseparable from these elements. Art is a seeking, searching, a questing for meaning, explanation and significance sort of thing that jump-starts and touches on desire. It fiercely flies in the face of the possibility that we are merely primates governed by chemicals and electrical impulses.

Like most of western culture, art has long had a relationship with Christianity. Around the world there is inevitably some reference to religion in the history of art. Because of this history, and because it deals with most of the same existential questions of religion, the terminology and references intermingle. I often experience the snugness of theology and art - and discover experiences of equal weight within the context of a sermon as in an art gallery.

Today I went to church. I went to an art gallery. I don't want to over-sentimentalise this. I don't want to beatify a simple experience of seeing brush strokes on canvas or falsely elevate the ideas of the artist. On Sundays, I go to a church (with a sermon, worship and other Christians) that meets in a rugby clubroom where stale beer is sticky underfoot and provides the dominant aroma. I believe in a spirituality that is at once sacred and rarefied while being simultaneously in touch with body odour and this banal place in which we find ourselves. I am comfortable to say that I came away from the art gallery today with a similar (or perhaps an identical) feeling as I have when I come away from a good sermon, without suggesting that art galleries are set apart as the holy of holies or that the artist is our new priest. But sometimes they certainly function that way.

That's as far as this line of reasoning will go for now. My ardour for that [spiritual/emotional] experience can overwhelm the simplicity of the original experience itself. I don't want to let my desire for meaning to eclipse the event itself. So now let me strip it back.

Gretchen Albrecht is one of New Zealand's foremost abstract artists, and today I went and heard her speak about her paintings. Like most visual artists, she was uncomfortable at first with the idea of standing in front of an audience, but she warmed to it. Eloquent and utterly in touch with her own artistic concept and practice, she was able to speak about the work with the familiarity of the creator but also with the detachment of someone viewing an object that is an entity in its own right. As she spoke, the content, ideas and meaning which you had suspected where woven into the fabric of the painting began to emerge.

By way of a prologue to her talk, she spoke about revelations - large and small - and about the importance of these to her work. Discovering something - wherever that thing may be, in a pohutukawa leaf, in a european cathedral, in heart-rending loss - then bringing it into the art. She isolated this as a defining concept of her practice.

Then she addressed the large piece 'In a Shower of Gold' (two hemispheres of belgian canvas together measuring 2.5m high and 5m wide - a canvas so large that she built a sort of scaffolding over it during the painting process so that she could complete the wide arcs of paint across the centre of the semi-circle). Originally informed by the myth of Zeus coming to Danaƫ as a shower of gold, the divine encroaches on the pink red flesh in a burst of energy. Sexual? Yes. Spiritual? Yes. An artistic revelation? Yes.

She talks about another large piece inspired during a bike ride along Tamaki Drive to St Heliers with her friend, when the pohutukawas were in bloom. The red of the pohutukawa became a circular whirl or dance around the equalising horizontals of grey and green that were the colours of the leaf. Here she referenced two poems - one of which was by TS Eliot (who, by the way, as a side note to what Gretchen said, ultimately identifies the still point around which everything whirls as being the Word, Christ).

The most poignant moment came when she turned our attention to another large rectangular canvas - a large pink rose shape almost obliterated in black - a super black line and a pure white line described horizontally through the middle of her familiar oval motif. "I have to tell you," she says, "that in 2010 our daughter-in-law died very suddenly." Her son returned from a trip to the dairy to find his wife deceased upon their bed. The revelation of this autobiographical context travels up the back of your neck and over the top of your head in a spontaneous identification with the emotion. When Gretchen first heard this news, she had a painting of a pink rose form - a work in progress - on the floor of her studio. It was too bright and cheerful for the situation, she said, so she covered it in black paint, allowing the pink to show through in places, and put the dark black and bright white horizontal lines through the middle. Her meditation on death.

The first privilege is to see the paintings. The second is to encounter the artist. The third is to have the paintings elucidated. The fourth is to not have remained unmoved. And here I'm lifted beyond my own little world once again.



Wednesday, September 12, 2012

a place of its own

That Lower Bar Collective stuff I've been harping on about has a place of its own. On the new website you can see music videos, get updates - that kind of thing. Champion...

Here's the link now:

Don't mention it. Oh, actually yes please do mention it - share the love, leave comments, like our posts - support us in the ways that your fingers, ears, eyes, voices, minds and generous hearts enable you to.

What's creativity without love?

Monday, June 25, 2012

lower bar strikes back - for the first time

Here's the info flier for the current creative project I'm involved with: the Lower Bar Collective... post-rock experimental music melded with visuals. The first performance is on July 13 in Auckland... (click it to see it bigger like)

Saturday, June 02, 2012

lower bar collective

The latest Safe Little World project is creating video visuals as part of the music/creative collective known as the Lower Bar Collective. Other members include Mal Dunn (Colm), Rob Morgan and Matt Findlay. I'm currently cutting footage from an early 1970s kids' nutrition film into something suitable to play behind post-rock experimental music. Performances to be confirmed - first one in july in Auckland.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Station 2

This is the final station I did, Station 2: Jesus is made to carry the cross...

For this one I utilised a style I've been working with for a while now - structuring it as a cluster of small framed prints, and drawing on images from a library of photographs that I've taken over a 15 year period. In fact a couple of the images I used for this piece I also used for the station I did for the Cityside event nine years ago (although that one involved the images being looped on a television set rather than printed and framed).

For the St Luke's event, I used war images photographed off the screen from TV war documentary and news footage. I put the cluster in a slanted / slash shape to reflect the idea of strife and also the forward angle of a person carrying a heavy weight.

This was the most 'obscure' of the three pieces I did, so I included a supporting statement:

When Jesus carried the cross he took on his shoulders one of humankind’s most notorious weapons of execution. Politically, he was carrying the weight of the judgement of the world’s major super-power – the Roman Empire.

Despite Jesus’ actions on the cross, we have continued to devise weapons and tried to conquer each other.

War is where all of humanity’s worst traits come out, so it serves as a fitting metaphor for what was laid on him.

In carrying the cross, Jesus chose to carry our strife, hatred and suffering (past, present and future) and the pain we inflict on each other and inflicted on him.

Here's a mock-up of the piece - each photographic print is 6x4" (click to see it a little larger):

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Station 12

The second station I did (and I'm actually posting these in reverse order) was Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross.

I did this station once before, for the Cityside Stations of the Cross exhibition in 2003 (but with a different piece)... I always feel like this is kind of the climax of the story that the stations tell (seeing as the resurrection isn't part of the traditional stations) so there's probably a bit of pressure on this station from an art perspective. Anyway, I went pretty subtle.

The style of the image is actually one that I'm working on extensively at the moment, so I utilised it for this piece. Essentially the method involves taking a human form, reducing it to lines (sort of a schematics of the exterior of the human body) then 'exploding' it, dragging points and lines out from the schematics to describe the path of particles flying outwards from the body. It has something to do with showing that the body is fragile - made up of particles and bound together by whoknowswhat.

In the figure of Jesus, I hope it demonstrates that he is human, making a sacrifice, the creative energy of the universe (the breath of God) exiting as his life is given up. I also consider the particles to be a representation of humankind's sin that attached itself to him in the sacrifice.

The working method is digital but once it was printed out onto art paper, I wanted to do a non-digital intervention. The original concept was to use wine as my water colour pigment. In the event, it turns out that merlot dries to a kind of violet colour. Quite a nice colour actually, but not very indicative of blood. So I added a red water colour pigment to the wine - which gave me the final result.

I had hoped that the smell of wine would persist on the piece - and it certainly did while it was wet, but after it dried the smell mostly disappeared. So I put the piece behind glass in the end seeing as there wasn't much chance of the wine smell being obvious anyway. The wine is still there in the process though and I think that's important.

When the piece was set up for the stations, it was framed in a light wooden box frame and lit with a votive candle on either side (click to see the image a little larger).

Monday, April 09, 2012

Station 14

This year St Luke's had a Stations of the Cross Easter art event... over the next few days I'll be documenting the three pieces I did for this.

A bit of background: The Stations of the Cross dates back to the pilgrim trail through Jerusalem (probably during the 1400s), in which the faithful would retrace the traditional route that Jesus took on his journey to death. The pilgrims would pause for reflection at significant sites. These 'stations' (usually 14 of them) were transplanted back to Europe and recreated in various forms and places so that the faithful could make the same observances without travelling to Jerusalem.

In Europe (and subsequently other parts of the world), these stations were given artistic representations. Historically, these exist as a fine example of Christian art.

I'm not sure of the contemporary history of utilising the stations globally, but in New Zealand the practice was reinvigorated in 1998 (and in subsequent years) by Mark Pierson at Cityside Baptist Church in Auckland. In this context, the stations became an annual and serious art happening that drew a certain amount of mainstream attention. Artists from the Cityside community were each given a station to interpret as they saw fit. Cityside's exhibition became an impressive and immersive experience, and the concept was picked up by other groups around New Zealand - perhaps most notably by Peter Majendie in Christchurch and Dave White in Hamilton.

On a smaller scale, the concept of the stations of the cross being used as an opportunity for artistic expression at Easter has been picked by Christian communities around the country, and has almost certainly played a part in contemporary Christianity rediscovering and more actively engaging in the visual arts.

Which brings us to a couple of consecutive Sundays in April 2012, and to St Luke's - a little church in Mount Maunganui that meets in rugby clubrooms.

Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb

I've been wanting do some model-making for a while now. It seems like a logical interpretation of my safe little world concept. So I seized the opportunity to do a fairly literal piece for Station 14.

I collected materials from around the place: an unbelievably beautiful stone from the beach at Kaiaua on the Firth of Thames, a square of MDF board from the Seagull Store at the Thames dump, some chicken wire mesh, some two dollar shop poster paints, some newspaper, PVA, some dirt and some special model-making 'grass' from the model shop. The piece was further sparked by a little wooden life drawing posable model that I discovered by accident at AJ's Emporium. When wrapped in crepe bandage, the model became the body.

The final piece was interactive. The viewer was able place the figure into the tomb, feel the weight of the stone and then place it over the mouth of the tomb to seal it up.

Baseboard dimensions: 570 x 510mm

And here are some progress shots...