Way out West
January 30 – February 21st, 2004
Or the Lure of the Local (with thanks to Lucy Lippard.)
Way out West frames urban views around Christchurch as though they’re old sepia-toned photographs. These are small works in oil paint that is often brushed thin to look like watercolour. Strong horizon lines help the paintings cohere as a group, lending them surprising visual strength. Consequently, and unusually for small work, they look terrific at a distance.
Up close, their touch while dextrous can be almost naïve. Spidery line and fine detail sit alongside areas simply blocked in. Drawn pencil lines remain exposed. Brenda’s first foray into landscape painting is deliberately monochromatic. But within this monochrome there is a thoughtful richness. For it is precisely this range and control of tonal contrast, or Nightingale’s ability to bounce our eye between areas of dark and light, and between areas thinly washed and more broadly brushed, that carries these paintings, that makes them convincing. And at best, there exist decisions about composition, about the curve of concrete, curb and contour, that make some quite wonderfully compelling.
But just where within the long tradition of landscape painting in Canterbury might one place these intimate elliptical paintings, with their panoramic (sometimes fish-eye) sense of view? How does one place little paintings that conjure up the views captured on souvenir teaspoons, that are caught almost between the realms of kitsch and the hobby painter, that hover between past and present, and between the comfort of nostalgia and a much edgier, uninhabited present?
For this artist certainly doffs her hat to many traditions – to the long history of those before her, the topographical painters, then artists like Van der Velden who journeyed (way) out west, to quarry the hills and plains of Canterbury for viewpoint and interesting subject matter.
But she is no Sutton, nor even an Angus or a Lusk. (Indeed, the scale is more Leek than Lusk. For a consideration of another landscape sublime, see Saskia Leek's recent paintings – elsewhere in Lunchbox.)
Brenda Nightingale's re-working of our local heroic landscape tradition takes it clearly back into the home – back to the intimacy of the dinner table and the placemat – to that which is immediately at hand amidst the quiet clutter of home.
All works are oil on canvas from 2004