Painting transforms itself under every passing glance
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.