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Diverse & Copious Pick

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Serapine Pick, Protective Suits Yellow, oil on canvas,  65 x 45 cm The Woods installed at Hamish McKay Seraphine Pick, Two Monkeys, 2011, oil on linen, 122 X 91 cm Seraphine Pick, Bearded Orange Man, gouache on paper, 76 x 56 cm Seraphine Pick, Haircut 2011, oil on canvas, 65.5cm x 45.5 cm Seaphine Pick, Red Forest,  acrylic and gouache on paper,  28 x 20 cm Seraphine Pick's The Woods at Hamish McKay Seraphine Pick, The Leafblower, oil on canvas, 76 x 56 cml on canvas

Yet, like a Santa stocking, this show is overstocked, full of smaller works, and a number rehash old Pick ideas. It's a show that feels like it's looking to make Christmas sales as well as demonstrate the diversity of Pick's current practice.

Wellington

 

Seraphine Pick
The Woods


3 December - 23 December 2011

The title of this exhibition indicates we are back deep in familiar Pick territory: the foggy thicket of the personal psyche, featuring drivers of the id, envy, lust, paranoia and fear. They are represented by the copy and pasted forms of nudes and popular cultural stars (is that Daniel Craig’s Bond, dashing through the snow and soft drink can decorated branches?) in dark or surreal woodland settings. David Lynch meets Edvard Munch through a woman’s eyes.

Pick’s last exhibition at Hamish McKay’s, Pocket Full of Rainbows built on the last beautiful room in her Christchurch Art Gallery 2009 survey show. The canvases were generally larger, the painting lighter, wittier but also more exploratory; many of the images clearly based on photographs from popular culture. In their baked hazy psychedelia Pick’s play with colour and paint, in contrast, seemed to be becoming more adventurous and vital. I loved the tribal group heat of that last room in the survey show, and the Rainbows show also marked some new directions.

The Woods sees Pick return in part to more familiar crowded ground. Some of the bold expressive painterliness is retained, and this marks out some of the strongest works.

I love the wide adventurous play with background as a place where, just on the edge of vision, realism dissolves into colourful abstraction. Early 20th century expressionism is brought vitally back into the contemporary, the influence of a raft of dark European masters clear. These backgrounds resemble a kind of wallpaper of past imprints on the mind, liquefying, scorched and patina-ed by the residual heat of memory. Take Pick’s adoption of a photograph of James K Baxter, Bearded Orange Man as a strong example.

Yet, like a Santa stocking, this show is overstocked, full of smaller works, and a number rehash old Pick ideas. It’s a show that feels like it’s looking to make Christmas sales as well as demonstrate the diversity of Pick’s current practice. A painting like Two Monkeys feels stiff, lifeless, overly theatrical and old hat (like an overstuffed Pick pastiche). Likewise Levitation, featuring a woman in a white gown rising from the ground at the prompting of a male, and the very hammy Flaming Trio, feel like they could have been straight out of the storeroom. As the survey show demonstrated, Pick’s diversity and a tendency to show quantities of smaller works tend to demonstrate her weaknesses.

Yet there are also stellar works here that suggest Pick continues to find fertile new territory for figurative painting.

I was particularly enamoured by a series that feature men in various anonymous safety gear and protective clothing going about their business in the woods. Hilariously and poignantgly in Red Forest there’s a leaf-blower in a Matisse red soaked wood (shades of the woodcutter in Red Riding Hood). Contrast the beautifully delicate use of gouache here to the oil The Leafblower with its “oh gosh, spot the eyes in the knots of tress and dead naked girl in the reeds” theatrical ploys.

In a quite different oil Protective Suits Yellow we camera spy through the trees on two figures collecting evidence, their faces completely hidden by gas or biochemical protection masks. The openness of the content to our interpretation is key to the work’s success, aided by the watery painterly treatment of documentary realism, as if it might dissolve in the next shower.

Taking this even further successfully is Man on Edge of Woods, a combat costumed figure wielding a rifle or flamethrower, the woods burning up firey crimson and purple, like a radioactive river in Hades behind.

I got into an interesting conversation in the gallery about whether Pick’s paintings are really now more about painterliness than subject. This tack certainly highlights some very fine rich painting here, and is clearly something Pick is enjoying. It stands in contrast to the flatness and stiffness of some recent figurative work. With figures like Baxter and the nude, and the repetition of found imagery here certainly Pick is playing off the emotional resonances of familiar cultural tropes to make us look past them to the painting.

Yet the ‘men in the woods’ paintings show she’s also still very much engaged with creating new folk tale narratives and is capable of igniting subject matter strongly. And right now we need painters who can bring depth to subject matter. In Bearded Orange Man and Man on the Edge of Woods both of these directions come together very well.

Mark Amery

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