March 22 - April 13, 2013
In Canterbury there is a wonderful tradition of women and watercolour – think Stoddart, Spencer-Bower, Angus and Lusk. Landscape was often the subject matter, with cheapish materials worked deftly, quickly and intimately from the front room of home.
In Christchurch Hills, a new body of work by Brenda Nightingale, the tradition is maintained alive and well. Nightingale doesn’t yet boast the consummate drawing skills of Angus nor the control of Lusk, but her restricted palette and eye for the abstract and atmospheric lends some work here an unexpected freshness and contemporaneity.
Take the watercolour of rocks exploding out of the hillside. It is a Christchurch earthquake image pared down in Payne’s grey with a touch of violet washed into the sky. But it is also wonderfully fluid and full of energy and movement. The work moves beyond description and becomes something dark and richly compelling.
There is another image of one end of Quail Island, hills behind and water in front, that is dominated by the lightness of updraught, by a whiteness that billows and flowers throughout its mid-ground. Here there is scale to the majesty of landscape, as well as to the counter-intuitive or unexpected.
The remains of Shag Rock (affectionately now Shag Pile) are depicted with a similar density of brushstroke and shimmering flecked white space, whilst in the work hung opposite, a craggy ridgeline dissolves from view, its saw-toothed precision fading into delicate cloud-like washes of light. The eye is bounced along this ragged silhouette as a series of stroked brush tips move from dark to light, from the pictorial to the more abstract. It is in this realm of imaginative play, of balancing the act of painting with rendered fragments of description, that the real pleasure in Nightingale’s watercolours can be found.