Monday 1 March 2010

Of nymphs and nereids

On Saturday I dropped into Hamish McKay's to see Seraphine Pick's latest show, 'Pocket Full of Rainbows'.

As Over the Net have already observed, Pick's major survey show (created by Christchurch Art Gallery, now on show at City Gallery Wellington) doesn't seem to have thrown the painter into a state of existential crisis (as can happen when an artist sees their career tidied up into chronological slices and didactic wall panels). Instead, 'Pocket Full of Rainbows' suggests that Pick has sailed through the experience, and burst out the other side.

Musical themes and tropes - from heaving crowds to Elvis leaving the building - flow through the show. A trip to America in the past two years - which, if I recall correctly, included a long roadtrip - appears to have informed the imagery*. In this sense the work at Hamish McKay's develop the subject matter that emerged in the most recent paintings included in Pick's survey show (see the right-most image on this page), but with a different lightness and beauty.

I've always been most attracted to Pick's less intricate, less heavily built-up paintings, and to her delicate and suggestive watercolours. The paintings in 'Pocket Full of Rainbows', each accompanied by a large watercolour sketch displayed in the gallery's wood-panelled 'den', are in this style, full developed but still full of light and air.

The title work of the show (above) captured me in particular. A pale-skinned, bare-breasted woman is held up, triumphant, by a blurred crowd at an outdoor concert - it's an utterly contemporary work which, seen from a distance, melts into waves of Lalique-like blues and greens.

It might be shades of A.S. Byatt's 'The Children's Book' coming over me, but Pick's joyous nude had me thinking of Pre-Raphelite paintings of girlish nymphs - until you get up close and see the smeared faces of the crowd.

The painting has a green pin on it. I hope it's there while one of our public institutions is getting the acquisition papers signed off. Pick's show is on until 11 March - don't miss it.

*The pink nudie suits are the odd ones out here. I don't know how to stretch my metaphor to include them.


Seraphine Pick, Pocket Full of Rainbows, 2010. Image from the Hamish McKay Gallery website.

J.W. Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, 1896. Manchester Art Gallery.

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