Peter Dornauf – 13 November, 2013
A Lifetime of Printmaking and Drawing.
1 November - 2 December 2013, 2013
Retrospectives can sum up a life’s work in the space of a small room. A recent example is an exhibition of work by Ruth Davey, veteran Hamilton printmaker, who has been practicing and exhibiting her art for over forty years. The summation of her creative career is currently on show at Artspost, Hamilton (next to the Museum), with a representative selection of works that exemplify the range of her expertise in a multitude of printmaking methods.
Born in Dannevirke in 1923, Ruth Davey graduated with a BA in Education and Social Science from Victoria University in 1942, an early female graduate in a world where higher education was often an exclusive male preserve denied to women. In the early fifties she was in London, studying at the University College, London where she received an Academic Diploma in Town Planning. It wasn’t until the 1960’s back in New Zealand that she became seriously interested in art under the tutorship of print makers Campbell Smith, Kees Hos and Stanley Palmer. By the 1970’s she was exhibiting and teaching with a stint in 1978 at a Lowick House printmaking workshop in Cumbria which lead her to import her own etching press from New York and set up a permanent studio in Hamilton.
She has had two survey exhibitions at the Waikato Museum, one in 1988 called Signs and Symbols and a second in 1996 entitled Signs of Life which reflect the stature of her work among the community of artists in the area.
To celebrate a lifetime achievement, a book has been published, Ruth Davey, Artist and Printmaker in which Dr Ann McEwan, art and architectural historian, has contributed an opening introduction. In the essay, McEwan refers to Janet Paul and the famous Paul’s Book Arcade that became a kind of cultural hub in Hamilton in the sixties and seventies which were the years Davey was mixing and mingling with the art set and developing her own art practice. These were the cultural golden years for the city.
On exhibit in the show are examples of every printing technique from intaglio, etching, aquatint, dry point, mezzotint, lithograph, screen print and others.
Some of the others include deep-bite etching with viscosity roll-up, exemplified in a work called, Off shore, 2005. This abstract print reminds one of the best of the fauvist paintings of seascapes from people like Derain or Vlaminck. Davey speaks of being excited by the effect of “colour fizzing off the surface”. Stencil monotone and woodcut is used in Back Flow, 2000, where a landscape image is abstracted into geometric forms, the cloud configurations being particularly striking. Reading by the Sea, an early work from 1994 uses hand-coloured etching with chine colle technique and captures the facility with line that Davey is known for, realized in all her figurative work, a flair reminiscent of the staccato forms Toss Woollaston achieved.
Landscape, seascape and people in those places are some of the subjects she traverses but she has also canvased political issues, Subversive, 1985, being an exemplar and another inspired by David Lange’s Oxford Union debate, called Peace Might Break Out, 1988. A favourite, not in the show but recently on exhibit at the Waikato Museum is a large triptych, Through Vatican Windows, 1988, which pictures poor believers crowded beneath arched balcony windows while priestly officials gaze with indifference or ignore the populace beneath. Davey describes in the book what prompted the image. “When we were in Rome, a Brazilian priest, Father Leonardo Boff, had been called before the Vatican Committee to explain his ideas on ‘Liberation theology’. Before he met with the committee, he had made a public statement in which he queried the ability of the establishment to see ‘from Vatican windows’ the true plight of his own people in South America.” The print perfectly depicts the essence of the matter with a few deft lines and compositional acuteness.
Music is a further theme that interests Davey and in Fugue, 2006, using soft-ground and hard-ground etching and aquatint, she has boldly attempted to represent the sound of music itself visually, simply with agitated lines and biomorphic forms.
The exhibition, curated by Dr Carole Shepheard, is a testament to Ruth Davey’s innovative and creative skills in the medium she has chosen to exclusively work in with a body of material that will become a benchmark for others to emulate. In an accompanying essay Shepheard describes Davey as “someone deeply significant to the canon of New Zealand art, specifically print.” This is a show well worth a look especially for those who work in the same field which also includes video documentation of her preparatory drawings and sketches demonstrating her drafting skills.
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