Shameless Self Promotion: “Metropolis” exhibition in Wellington

So, my blog is due this week! The evening is getting late as I am sitting here in my rural cottage in Featherston, with the log fire going. Spring has come early this year in New Zealand, but the evenings are still quite chill, and I am glad of the wood fire’s cozy, homely smelling warmth. Rather looking forward to chilling on the sofa in front of it, too, and watch a DVD, once I am done with this blog!

It has been a tiring, but exhilarating day. I went into town today – a one hour drive across the windy Rimutaka Hill Road – because we’ve been setting up our group exhibition “Metropolis” at Matchbox Studios on Wellington’s Cuba Street. Cuba Street is where all the little galleries are – and the tattoo parlours, and off-beat music venues, and second hand book stores, and multicultural cafés, and the world famous Bucket Fountain.

The formal gallery opening will be tomorrow night, which means, of course, another trip into town, and another late night. Not that I mind, mind! It’s the first time I’ve been asked to take part in a group exhibition in Wellington, and I am stoked about it. The other artists are an eclectic bunch of “expressive representational artists”, which includes everything from colourful Wellington street scenes, to portraiture, to unicorns and phoenixes. Yes, that would be me.

For being such an eclectic bunch of people, the exhibition seems surprizingly congruent, and everyone’s work looks pretty fab. I would love to give the others a plug here on this blog, but none of their work can be successfully construed as fantasy, science fiction, or other manner of geekery – and to be honest, I haven’t got much energy or brain left to go hunting for new art on the internet, and write about it. So, this time, with your permission, I will write a few words about my own work, and introduce the pieces I have in the show.

Hawaiki, by Astrid Nielsch

Hawaiki is a piece I started a little while ago, with a view to entering it in an online art challenge on the topic of mythical islands. In hindsight, I would never have made the deadline, even if I hadn’t suddenly had to go to hospital and get my gallbladder removed! It’s a piece I have taken my sweet time over, but then oil colours lend themselves to working slowly: I like to layer them up gradually, which requires letting them sit and dry for several days in between each painting session. I guess it is a way of working I got used to when I was still mostly busy with music, and would sometimes work on a painting over the course of several years. Now it’s down to months, but there is a limit to the speed one can achieve when working in oils!

The title refers to the mythical homeland of the Maori people of New Zealand – which may or may not be identical with the geographical island where they started their migration. I used to be fond of painting underwater pictures with lots of fish and coral reefs when I was a child, so this plugs into a very old obsession. Meanwhile, I have had the opportunity to see a coral reef with mine own eyes when I went snorkeling in Malaysia one year! So that helps. And as to the giant turtle: well, as we all know since we’ve read “A Brief History of Time”, the world rests on the back of a giant turtle. You know, it’s turtles all the way down.

Lost Unicorn, by Astrid Nielsch

The two pieces above and below were painted specifically for this exhibition, in reaction to the title of the show. I had another unicorn piece in mind – something whimsical involving a moonlit forest – but then I began to ask myself, where do unicorns actually live? What is their natural habitat? And I came to the conclusion that these days, it would probably be a grungy, run-down dead-end city street, full of potholes. The barbed wire is a motif that has recently cropped up in a few of my paintings: I will always associate it with the Berlin Wall and the death strip behind it, the no-go zone that shaped my entire childhood. Or you might see it as a pun on the famous tapestry “The unicorn in captivity” – an updated version of the thorny enclosure that confined a unicorn in the Middle Ages.

The next piece is the most recent painting, and to be honest, I ran out of time on it a bit. It could have used another couple of weeks of adjustments and careful layering! But I did like the concept, and the colours, and in the end I judged that it was finished enough to have in the show. Sometimes it is nice to just riff, and not over-think things. Though admittedly, taking the trouble to draw some proper perspective lines, is usually worth the effort! Let it be a lesson to me for the future.

The language of the signs is Ukrainian (before you ask) – and no, I don’t speak any, but fortunately there is Google translate! I have a great-grandmother who came from Odessa, though (and is buried in Hollywood cemetery) – so that was one reason I chose this language. The main reason being that I figured few people who’d come to see the show would read Ukrainian, and I didn’t want the meaning of the words to distract from enjoying the picture as a picture. It is a play on the Russian fairy tale of the Firebird, who steals the golden apples from the garden of the evil sorcerer Koschei, so (if you must know) the neon signs are all characters from that tale.

Neon Firebird, by Astrid Nielsch

The clockwork came up from somewhere in the back of my head, where I have been mulling over ways to pictorially represent the concept of time. This preoccupation, in its turn, was a direct result of getting severely hooked on Doctor Who a couple of years back. The image is also proof that I am not immune to the lures of steampunk!

In all these images, I have been experimenting with integrating gold and silver leaf. It is a nod to medieval art – of the which I am a big fan. I must say that I am enormously pleased with how this little series of images has turned out – and they look quite well hanging next to each other on a gallery wall.

Clockwork, by Astrid Nielsch

“Metropolis” exhibition at Matchbox Studios: Brendan Grant, Dave Boyle, Maiken Calkoen, Michael Edge-Perkins, Melissa McDougall, Astrid Nielsch, Christie Wright.

A group exhibition by seven up and coming Wellington artists, sharing their unique perspectives on the City – among other facets of modern life. Their fresh, vibrantly colourful artwork betrays influences of the great European artists of the turn of the last century, along with American pop art, comic strips, and computer-generated images.

3-15 September 2013. 166 Cuba Street, Wellington, New Zealand.

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