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Off the beaten gallery track

Eduardo Oses, Wixarika Prayer House (2006), lambda print
Aimee Ratana (Ngai Tūhoe), David and the Whare (2006), lambda print
Cherie Mellsop, Two Green Spots, two toned green sales stickers on card with black ink,64cmx48cm. Cherie Mellsop, White Spots and Silver, white sales stickers with silver pen, 50cmx65cm
Emma Gregory, Zig Zag 4, pencil on card, 21 x 30cm
Gail Witheridge, Animal 2011, mono print on paper, 315-245mm
Jennifer Munro, Donkey, papier mache
Shaun O'Riordan, Pop Culture, 96cmx98cm
Tanya Faiva, Purple Silver, acrylic and dye on canvas, 80cmx75cm
Victor Bright, Priest, 46cmx46cm
Philip Trusttum images, made available from WH Milbank Gallery, Whanganui to Otaki Forks Artspace
Mark Amery on a range of interesting exhibitions popping up in difficult to access places.

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By Mark Amery

In the past year it feels like there’s been a discernible jump in the number of exhibitions popping up in out of the way, difficult to access or hear about spaces.

Certainly the networking platforms of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and email allow for emerging artists to easily bypass the mainstream media altogether in putting up a showing to gain attention.

A July favourite for example was Massey photography graduate Andrew Beck’s installation in the white painted front room of a Mount Victoria villa. At its most successful it interacted sharply and finely with the architecture in its play between light and dark. Fittingly, given the artist’s interest in the punctuation of light, it lasted only a night and a day.

Yet it’s not just young artists trying out different exhibition models off the beaten gallery track. By my count it’s seven years since celebrated senior New Zealand painter Philip Trusttum has had a solo show in the Wellington region - and he pops up now in the cleared out living rooms of Joy Wilkie’s home, across a swing bridge near the end of beautiful Otaki Gorge Road.

The location couldn’t be more different from Beck’s. Wilkie’s residence provides magnificent verdant green framing for a series of large loose canvases, crisscrossing 20 years of Trusttum’s energetic practise. There are many fine examples of Trusttum’s playful, rhythmic compression of imagery into a grand and gritty human abstract musical expression. Well worth a weekend excursion, this is the second interesting exhibition at what Wilkie has dubbed Otaki Forks Artspace (open 11am to 4pm Saturdays and Sundays).

Wellington is a city of foreign embassies with mandates to promote their cultures, but security issues can make them frustrating to access. The Mexican Embassy has created a welcome art project Curated By which encourages exhibition proposals that explore dialogue between Mexico and New Zealand.

First up is Of Colour: Indigenous photography from Aotearoa to Mexico, curated by City Gallery’s Reuben Friend. Friend’s expertise is clear with the New Zealand half – distinctive, politically charged (raw even) personal documentary work by Aimee Ratana and Terry Koloamatangi Klavenes. Images that ask lots of interesting questions. Of Colour is let down however by the Mexican half: in direct contrast, the commercial work of photographers Alejandra Vergara and Eduardo Oses has the glossy, colourful pageantry of a tourist brochure, and none of the New Zealand contribution’s human penetration.

Still, this in itself is an interesting opposition and the exhibition is well worth a look during office hours. 189 Featherston Street was tricky to locate, and we discovered by a process of futile elevator button pushing that you need to phone ahead to gain access to Level Two (phone 472 0555). Embassies could better increase their cultural visibility by making use of other spaces in the inner city.

The Netherlands Embassy held an exhibition of Dutch-New Zealand artists in June, The Dutch Touch in another new art space, this one in Parliament’s Bowen House. Open Wednesdays to Fridays, 10am to 3pm, access upstairs here requires security screening and negotiating front desk.

With Bowen House’s second exhibition the access hurdles are somewhat ironic. Make/Believe brings together a selection of work by outsider artists from ten community art creative spaces around New Zealand. The exhibition is organised by Arts Access Aotearoa who, as their name suggests, are all about access for all to the arts. People in wheelchairs have to deal with the sort of inconveniences I had to put up with getting into Bowen House on a daily basis.

The work in Make/Believe has been selected by curator Stuart Shepherd. Shepherd has been a long-time advocate for New Zealand outsider artists, showing exceptional work in public galleries nationally, and at the New York Outsider Art Fair.

Indeed, what is presented here is fresher than much of what I saw at the Auckland Art Fair this month. Make/ Believe is a treasury of strong, under appreciated contemporary art.

Some mentions, to give you a sense of the strength and variety. Peter Quest’s drawing ‘I have detected your thoughts’ is an extraordinary and electric communion of domestic designs and dreamings, brought together by the crackle of line across a tablecloth-like arrangement. Damon Catchpole knits bags out of plastic shopping bags. With their alluring elegant jellyfish like tentacle trails, they wouldn’t be out of place on a Fashion Week catwalk.

Stephen Borrows brings Jesus to charged domestic life with acrylic washes on paper that play subtly off wallpaper, and ceramics full of fleshy and bony colours and textures. Cherie Mellsop creates shimmering patterns out of circular sales stickers and shifting grids of pencil drawn line. Diane Cadman creates complex, musical conversational shifts out of domestic shapes and figures, with taped scraps of paper. Martin Kerschbaumer’s paintings may at first be reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s abstraction, yet ultimately rather than hovering on the canvas they pull you into dark psychic caves.

Then there’s Juliet Nahy’s glorious Moon Rainbow. A tough splattered ground built out paper Mache has large overlapping rivers of paint grooving gouges across, up and through its surface, slurping like greedy tongues and spurting like galactic flares. It wouldn’t be out of place with the paintings at Hamish McKay Gallery.

Make/Believe, Bowen House Exhibition Space, until 25 August

Touching Trusttum, Otaki Forks Artspace, until 25 September

Of Colour, Curated By Project, Embassy of Mexico, until 28 August

Written by

Mark Amery

18 Aug 2011

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.