T .L. RODNEY WILSON
The Christmas/New Year period seems always to be a quiet one regardless of which centre one finds oneself in: but 1977 has been very slow in getting under way in Christchurch. Even now the pace around the galleries could hardly be described as hectic.
Outside the dealer circuit, two touring shows have each found their way to the city. At the time the Auckland City Art Gallery's Van der Velden exhibition was ending its highly popular Christchurch showing, the John Panting sculpture exhibition, toured by the Arts Councils of Great Britain and New Zealand was installed in the supremely sympathetic spaces of the C.S.A.'s large gallery.
Both of these exhibitions have previously received the attention of national reviews. Not so the retrospective show mounted by the McDougall Art Gallery devoted to the recently deceased Ivy Fife (1905-76). This exhibition showed her to be a modest painter capable of periodic successes, but tending to gravitate from time to time to her stronger contemporaries. The influences of W.A. Sutton and Russell Clark were not difficult to detect.
IVY FIFE The Long Lookout
(Robert McDougall Art Gallery)
Although frequently one comes across the observation that her loosely painted impastoed palette knife paintings of sunflowers are amongst her best, to this writer nothing could be further from the truth. Such severely formal works as the virtually naked rolling headland, The Long Lookout of 1950, although reminiscent of Rita Angus, have a conviction and monumentality of quite surprising intensity, entirely lacking from those later works.
Ivy Fife was known for her portraiture: but again echoes of Sutton's deft plasticity occur (Peter), whilst the short jabbing, predominantly horizontal, brushstrokes of another (Portrait of a young man) recall Russell Clark. Her most original, and also most solidly stated portrait was the one of old Mr Fisher, the well-known Christchurch art dealer and artists' colourman, painted in 1945 and entitled Eighty-seven Years (Waikato Art Museum). This portrait, with its daring and vigorous asymmetry, but above all its warm humanity, and The Long Lookout, both falling in the period from the late forties through to 1950 (the period it would seem of her greatest strength) are worthy testimony to the power Ivy Fife could muster on occasions.
Robert Taylor exhibited a large collection of drawings and paintings at the Brooke/Gifford Gallery in March. The Pop-ish imagery of Paint Box, Cityscape Study and Toward a Hero, lacked the conviction of the abstract works with their forceful, almost brutish, swirling vortex of organic forms and strong colour. The first impression, one of spontaneous vigour, was replaced, or at least modified by, a growing sense of the structure and awareness of the highly disciplined application of paint. Nowhere was the balance between liberated energy and painterly control better achieved than in the almost hypnotic Images become motives with histories.
Two multipanelled works of gigantic proportions (each just over six metres long and thus presumably intended for galleries rather than the suburban bungalows!) continued this imagery. The year in pictures, the second of these, succeeded where the other Terricolere missed - precisely through the greater discipline and thus greater organisational sense of the former. Taylor's show was impressive. It was impressive because of the quality of much of the work shown, but it was also impressive because of the consistency with which Taylor can be seen to go about the business of painting.