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March 26, 2007 | by  | in Visual Arts | [ssba]

Mel Upjohn

Quimzy Gallery 14 Leeds Street March 20-April 10

Mel Upjohn is a graduate of The Learning Connexion at Erskine College in Island Bay and this is her first exhibition. She has managed to showcase an interesting set of works; with her feminine slanted abstract expressionism.

Quimzy Gallery is a recent addition to the Wellington arts scene. It is also a cosy cafe situated on Leeds Street which runs perpendicular to Ghuznee and Dixon Streets. Owned and operated by Jeniffer Lee, it has an intimate atmosphere, with really nice chocolate brownies.

But enough of the good food, coffee and playing Backgammon. On Tuesday March 20 it was about fine wine, cheese, crackers and a relaxed and friendly crowd, there to view some good art.

One of first paintings of Upjohn that I noticed was an ambiguous image called ‘Limbo’, a black and white collage photograph of what appears to be an African girl’s face on a picture frame surrounded by a rough grey background. It appears to be cut and pasted in a way that over-laps part of the young woman’s head to interesting effect.

My immediate thought was of Ethiopia and the surrounding area – it seemed that this person and her country and culture have been left in limbo through centuries of colonisation and globalisation. Or at least that is what I managed to glean from it. Upjohn is intensely private about the deepness of her art and as an expressionist leaves it up to the viewer to work out what they get from her art.

Another more desolate image reminded me of Radiohead’s OK Computer, as it was of a city street complete with cars that had been painted over. It had a bleak feel to it and I think that Upjohn should definitely consider exploring the ideas in it in greater detail in any future paintings she works on.

In Robert Altman’s film Pret-a-Porter during a hectic fashion event in Paris with plenty of egos, a pregnant female fashion designer took things back to basics with each model and herself being naked on the catwalk. It was the real truth of feminity laid bare, with such an honesty that blew the audience away. Upjohn here has one work in particular called ‘Life In The City’ which has what appears to be a vintage lack and white photograph of a nude woman. I didn’t realise exactly what she was trying to communicate here, but the image were definitely powerful. It wasn’t clear whether the woman was a victim of a sexist society, a feminine figure with a lot of strength and dignity or something a bit more deeper and ambiguous.

Upjohn uses a reverse technique while doing her paintings – that is, she has no preconceived idea of what each work is about and just lets her emotion evolve through the images. ‘Life In The City’ and a lot of her other works obviously have a lot of emotion in them, being bold and demanding attention with repeated viewings.

Upjohn had earlier explained to me that her works were of how women are portrayed in today’s world. She didn’t elaborate on what she meant, but this could be left up to the individual viewer’s interpretation.

My favourite piece was ‘Gina’ which was a form of pop art with the actress Gina Gershon stenciled on a rough piece of board. I love paintings that are done on drift wood and old bits of wood and this was no exception: it was coloured in well at the bottom and really faded at the top which was refreshing.

I have to say that I really enjoyed this exhibition, Mel Upjohn is a talented artist and I am looking forward to seeing her works again in the future. Pop down to Quimzy for a coffee and a chat with Jenn and sample some of this good art. Who knows you might even be able to enjoy some chocolate brownies.


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