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July 30, 2007 | by  | in Visual Arts | [ssba]

Landscapes and Figures

Janne Land Gallery
Unit 1/13 Jessie Street
17 July – 11 August

It is cold, windy and wet. The sea spray stings your eyes as you look out at the harbour which is shrouded in mist, and you can make out the figure of Ward Island. When looking at Gerda Leenards’ Ward Island you are almost physically transported into the painting. This work is part of a group exhibition titled Landscapes and Figures at Janne Land Gallery on Jessie Street. Standing next to the actual painting was Leenards, who explained how we often put our everyday environment into a personal context.

Just like Brydee Rood’s Chirp exhibition, the environment can have a personal context. Unlike Rood, where she communicates through art the effects we can have on the environment, Leenards here shows the effects the environment can have on us. Influencing our feelings, it can also give us a unique perspective on our own lives. As she elaborated, “rather than landscape in the traditional sense where it’s picturesque and it tells a story, mine is empty of people. So people would often rather connect to their own stories and it’s more inward looking.”

Leenards has a long history doing landscapes using her unique expressionist style. Emigrating to New Zealand in 1956, she first exhibited in Wellington in 1981, and in 1985 she won the Whitcoulls Award for Drawing. As she does here, she has a reputation for bringing out the often overlooked qualities of the land, such as capturing the fluidity of weather conditions.

If you were to look out at Ward Island on a different day, such as in the middle of January due to different seasonal weather conditions, you’d expect that one’s moods would be entirely different than in the middle of June. Ward Island made me think of the days when I used to walk in the rain around the Wellington waterfront over the last few years. These were times in my life when I had a lot on my mind. I would go through every emotion from pride in my accomplishments right through to the general angst and mild depressions that all of us feel from time to time.

But Ward Island wasn’t the only image that caught my attention. In regards to the figures part of the exhibition, Irene Ferguson’s The Sister struck me like a young deformed Gandhi, which jumps out at you as soon as you enter the gallery. As Ferguson remarked on the disproportions, “Yeah, it’s quite distorted. It’s not anatomically correct, shall we say. A lot of people sort of think it’s a bit grim, but I think it’s quite funny. I don’t think of the deformity or coloration as something ghastly.”

Finally, another landscape I happened to really take the time to look over invoked feelings of familiarity. Earlier this year, before the whirlwind of burning the candle at both ends here at Salient, I was staying at a farmhouse near Oamaru. Each morning I would look out the bedroom window over a field with hay bales and a road in the distance. Dick Frizzell around the same time was labouring over a massive (1500x2000mm) oil painting of a similar landscape. Two Signs differs in that it was from the other end of the country, likely reflecting landscapes familiar to Hawkes Bay. What the two landscapes share, the one from my memory and Two Signs are a sense of the idyllic tranquility one feels miles from any town or city, escaping the race of the sewer rats as they hurry to work and the deafening cacophony of cogs and wheels spinning in the production of money. The difference with Two Signs is that there are two isolated signs seeking money, but instead of quashing one’s soul, they advertise the rich bountiful sweetness from the land.

Also on display as part of Landscapes and Figures were works by Fleur Yorston and Gary Waldrom. To view more works from Landscapes and Figures, visit Janne Land Gallery on Jessie Street, which is the lane opposite Briscoes on Taranaki Street. Or you can go to and view the images online.


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