Paint­ing trans­forms it­self un­der ev­ery pass­ing glance

The Press - - Culture -

Land­scapes are a main­stay of New Zealand paint­ing and Christchurch Art Gallery’s new ex­hi­bi­tion In the Vast Empti­ness presents an abun­dance of first-rate lo­cal ex­am­ples; from the ex­pan­sive grandeur of Bill Sut­ton’s Plan­ta­tion Se­ries II to the ex­quis­ite clar­ity of three wa­ter­colours Rita An­gus painted at Wainui in 1943.

Just across the hall, how­ever, in a space show­cas­ing re­cent ad­di­tions to the Gallery’s col­lec­tion, an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent kind of land­scape has me un­der its spell.

Wan­ton Eye, by Auck­land-based painter Bar­bara Tuck, was made fol­low­ing one of the artist’s reg­u­lar re­search trips to the South Is­land’s wildest re­gions; the an­cient land­scapes of the West Coast, Fiord­land and Cen­tral Otago.

Rather than cap­tur­ing a sin­gle view, Tuck presents half-a-dozen at once, in­ter­lac­ing them in an in­tri­cate cas­cade of the real, re­mem­bered and imag­ined. Dizzy­ing aerial views and other un­ex­pected per­spec­tives are com­bined with ex­hil­a­rat­ing shifts in scale and style across a se­ries of ter­raced hori­zons that tum­ble down the paint­ing’s sur­face. Draw­ing on land­scape tra­di­tions from both Western and East­ern art, Wan­ton Eye fluc­tu­ates be­tween ab­strac­tion and rep­re­sen­ta­tion with an elu­sive­ness that re­flects the fluid beauty of a ter­rain in which the land, wa­ter and sky nip at each other’s edges.

Mod­est in scale, Tuck’s work un­folds it­self slowly; glimpse by tan­ta­lis­ing glimpse. Since it went up on the wall in late De­cem­ber, I’ve vis­ited it when­ever I’ve been nearby, and each time an­other tiny, but es­sen­tial, de­tail has seized my at­ten­tion. For me, its most ap­peal­ing as­pect is how Tuck has taken scenes de­picted in pho­to­graphs and paint­ings since colo­nial times and con­vinc­ingly rein­vented them, piec­ing to­gether an en­thralling, con­tin­u­ally evolv­ing land­scape that trans­forms it­self as our eyes pass through it.

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