title Nelson weathers the storm
publication Art News
description Feature by Dan Chappell
date 01:06:2008

"From her studio above Nelson’s port, Leary produces a range of paintings and mixed media works, including multiple works that capture the subtle changes in light and colour over the water over specific time periods. She also recontextualises photographs of Nelson’s vanishing heritage, and is working on a series using found objects, exploring the interface of manmade versus natural elements."

Nelson weathers the storm

When Nelson lost its most famous event, the World of WearableArt Awards, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Three years later, Art News investigates whether the place has retained its chutzpah.

TThree years ago, when it was announced the WearableArt Awards event was being transferred to Wellington from Nelson, its home for the previous 18 years, the angst among the local art community was palpable. The city has a thriving arts scene and a number of activities were scheduled around the event, including an annual Arts Festival, so the concern was understandable. The reality that several thousand art-loving visitors with credit cards at the ready, who had descended on the city annually, filling the cafes, shops and galleries, were going to spend the weekend in Wellington instead was a bitter pill to swallow.

Add to that the ongoing saga of the upgrade of the local public gallery, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu. This project was never going to be simple – an unwieldy private trust administration, requiring a parliamentary act to restructure, a small, hemmed-in site adjoining Queens Gardens, which limited design options, community dissent over the plans, and until recently, an indifferent local government attitude.

One might expect local artists to have packed their brushes and headed to fresh pastures, and galleries to have pulled down their shutters.

Historically, Nelson has an enviable art heritage. The Suter is the country’s third oldest art gallery and many of the country’s best artists have lived, painted and worked in the area – including Leo Bensemann, Doris Lusk, Rita Angus, Colin McCahon and Laurence Aberhart – many of whom stayed with Toss Woollaston on his Riwaka apple orchard. The fine Nelson clay attracted potter Mirek Smisek and others to the province in the 1950s, and the richness and diversity of the current art scene can be seen in the informative Nelson Guide Book – Art in its own place, soon to have its seventh printing.

Nelson has plenty to attract visitors after the beaches and wineries have been checked out. Gallery signposts sprout at most intersections, and ‘artist’s studio – visitors welcome’ signs seem to outnumber the ‘apples for sale’ ones. There’s definitely art and craft to suit all tastes – and budgets – and all media are represented, not just painting and sculpture. A large number of ceramicists

still practice in the region and a growing number of textile artists and designers are based here, no doubt as a result of the excellent course offered by the local Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology as well as the Wearable Arts legacy.

In 1982 Ola Höglund and Marie Simberg-Höglund set up their art glass studio in nearby Richmond, and now other glass artists include Anthony Genet, of Flamedaisy Glass Design, and recent NMIT graduate Lynette Bensdorp. High end woodworking is well represented, including award-winning studio furniture-maker David Haig, and jewellery too is thriving, including Jens Hansen Gold & Silversmith – the creator of the ‘One Ring’ for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

For any contemporary art lover visiting the region, The Suter is a good place to start. Recently appointed director Julie Catchpole and curator Anna-Marie White are continuing the gallery’s legacy of tightly curated exhibitions, including the biennial Goodman-Suter Contemporary Art Project, and last year’s Pakeha Now!, which bought together Pakeha artists exploring their unique cultural identity. Recovered Memory, The 4th Goodman-Suter, in 2006, was guest curated by Lara

Strongman. The next, The Maui Dynasty, which will be curated by Anna-Marie White, opens in December 2008 and explores New Zealand’s art heritage through the work of Asian and Pacific as well as Maori and Pakeha artists. During winter The Suter will show Cold Comfort – the craft sublime (31 May – 13 July), an exhibition of leading textile and fabric artists, including Andrea

du Chatenier, Megan Hansen-Knarhoi and local artists Deborah Walsh and Jeanette Schäring. Catchpole and her team are keen to challenge

local sensibilities and she comments that during the recent well-received exhibition by leading ceramic artist Martin Poppelwell, “strangely, we had few local ceramicists visiting the show. Perhaps that typical Poppelwellian cheek was too much at odds with Nelson’s traditional ceramic-making values!”

The dealer galleries in Nelson and the surrounding area show a blend of work by local and national artists. In the city, coming into its fifth year, Catchment

Gallery, run by sculptor/jeweller Wallace Sutherland, strongly represents senior artists – recent exhibitions have included works by Dick Frizzell, Michael Smither,

Ralph Hotere and Phillippa Blair – as well as exhibiting promising Nelson artists Nic Foster, Candy Clarke, David Ryan and Nic Moon. While establishing the gallery, Sutherland saw a gap in the market – although there was no shortage of local artists’ handiwork on offer in Nelson’s galleries, there was a lack of art by other established New Zealand artists. As a practising artist, Sutherland has attracted high-calibre artists to exhibit in the gallery. “I’m not trying todisadvantage local artists, in fact we represent over 20 from the Nelson district and they are very good, but a degree of artistic isolation can arise in an area like Nelson, so I feel it’s good for local artists and art buyers to be aware of what’s happening in the rest of the country,” he comments.

Nearby, Red Gallery shows mainly local artists, and upcoming exhibitions over the winter include painter Sally Burton and jeweller Barry Clarke. The gallery also stocks antique Asian furniture and has an adjoining café area.

The locations of the numerous artists’ studios and art and craft galleries throughout the city are all listed in Nelson Art in its own place. It’s well worth visiting Flamedaisy Glass studio, where visitors can view glass artist Anthony Genet blowing molten glass, or if they wish, create their own glass work after

a brief lesson from Genet.

On the outskirts of the city is the World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum. Here visitors can view the weird and wonderful garments that made this event an international showcase, and also visit the Reflections Gallery where manager Marian Wolfs runs a regular exhibition programme. Visiting artists include Tony Delatour, Peter Cleverley and Rob McLeod, and up-and-coming locals include Katie Gold, Dean Raybould and Che Vincent.

For a real potpourri of art and craft a visit to the Nelson Market, held every Saturday in Montgomery Square, is a must. Here locals and tourists can stock up on their weekly fare – all organic, fresh, home-cooked, biodynamic and guaranteed nuclear free! Craft stalls abound, with jewellery, pottery, fabric art and wood carvings all available in abundance.

In the Moutere Hills, a short drive from the city, the recently opened Gallery at Woollaston intends to exhibit top New Zealand artists in a purpose-built gallery area adjoining the Woollaston Estates winery, which is co-owned by Philip Woollaston and American Glenn Schaeffer (see p.130). Woollaston has previously had works by his late father Toss on display, but now, in conjunction with art-patron Schaeffer, the winery and vineyard is fast becoming a showcase of international art. At the winery gates visitors are dwarfed by Marte Szirmay’s giant 40-tonne corten steel sculpture, Yantra for Mahana. Other sculptures by Christine Boswijk, Fred Graham, Andrew Drummond and Tim Wraight are located throughout the vineyard, and works by Bill Culbert, Noel Ivanoff, Neil Dawson and American abstractionist Ed Moses are displayed in the winery cellars and function rooms.

Director of Gallery at Woollaston, Rebecca Hamid, will present a programme of works by many of New Zealand’s leading artists, primarily for sale, though touring exhibitions are also likely to be scheduled. The gallery opened with photographer Laurence Aberhart’s Momento, including many works currently touring in his major retrospective. Artists confirmed for the near future include Chris Charteris, Neil Dawson, Michael Parekowhai and Elizabeth Thomson.

Nearby Mapua is home to a number of artists and the Cool Store Gallery has work from over 120 of the country’s art and craft practitioners in its large display space. As well as ceramics by Christine Boswijk and Darryl Frost, sculpture by

Llew Summers and Darryl Robertson, and paintings by Dean Raybould and Sue Syme, the gallery has an extensive range of arts and crafts available. Resident jeweller Barbara Blowman is on site working in her tiny jewellery studio.

Further along the Tasman Highway towards Motueka is The Sealevel Studio of sculptor Tim Wraight. The gallery displays woodcarvings by Wraight, who now shares this old apple packing shed, on the shores of the Moutere Inlet on Highway 60, with local metal sculptor Che Vincent. The gallery space also exhibits work by local artists, and recent exhibitions have included paintings by Dugal Armour and woven flax works by Sally Austin. In April the gallery held a ta moko symposium with well known artist and ta moko practitioner James Webster.

For any art visitor contemplating a visit, the annual Nelson Arts Festival brings the city’s diverse art genres together in a fortnight of activities. Now freed from the shackles of the WearableArt Awards, the festival has been re-scheduled to late spring and this year is from 16 – 27 October. Director Annabel Norman acknowledges the debt the festival owes to the WearableArts event, though as she explains, “At the three festivals we’ve had since the awards went to Wellington, our attendance figures have gone up hugely – partly because locals have now embraced the event. We’ve also been able to invite international acts, and this year there’ll be a Spanish theme, with a visiting flamenco dance troupe and a circus theatre.”

Contemporary art lovers can visit the annual sculpture symposium, now in its 15th incarnation, which this year has a heritage twist and will celebrate Nelson’s 150 years as a city. But this event won’t be a predictable line-up of lifelike carvings of early city fathers and pioneers. Convenor Tim Wraight has widened the brief to include all media and he expects entries in the symposium will include film and video, movement and interactive installations.

The Nelson region is imbued with a creative attitude that

takes more than the defection of one event to dent. If anything,

the events of the past few years have hardened the resolve of

the local arts community and the future looks bright.

Christine Boswijk

The works of ceramic artist Christine Boswijk exude passion and spirituality – from the smaller ‘kisses and crosses’ she is now producing, to the powerful yet delicately crafted bowls and vessels she is renowned for. Add to that the presence

and dignity of her larger free-standing sculptural forms, and one can sense the contribution she has made to New Zealand art. She now works with her daughter Kirsten from her picturesque studio overlooking the Waimea Estuary. Visit or phone 03 544 2600.

Nic Moon

Shovels, pitsaws, pitchforks – unusual media for an artist drawing her inspiration from the environment. But Nic Moon transmutes these often brutal implements into works of beauty, incising patterns with delicate plasma-cutter strokes. She then ‘paints the works with light’, creating delicate, flowing patterns, expanding on the original idea. Moon recently completed residencies at Connells Bay Sculpture Park and the ARC’s Wenderholm Park, making works in situ, using found and natural objects to underline her environmental message. Her studio is at 32 Mt Pleasant Avenue, Nelson, phone 021 178 9394 to arrange a visit.

Tim Wraight

Woodcarver Tim Wraight’s background is in whakairo (traditional Maori woodcarving) though his recent works show a melding of the traditional patterns with a range of more contemporary design motifs. His current body of work embraces museumology and fictional history, creating ‘artefacts for the future’ which reflect the current ethical and belief systems of the area. Wraight is convenor of Nelson Arts Festival’s Sculpture Symposium, and practises from Sealevel Studio Gallery, on Coastal Highway 60 near Motueka, phone 03 526 6712.

Darryl Frost

Darryl Frost produces his distinctive exuberant anagama fired ceramic works from his studio on the Kina Peninsula, near Ruby Bay. Filling and firing his large wood fired kiln every six months, he produces an eclectic range of sculptures, bowls, platters and smaller works, all featuring the sumptuous wood ash glazes characteristic of the firing style. Frost’s studio, Playing with Fire, is at 147 Kina Beach Road, phone 021 983 808.

Anna Leary

From her studio above Nelson’s port, Leary produces a range of paintings and mixed media works, including multiple works that capture the subtle changes in light and colour over the water over specific time periods. She also recontextualises photographs of Nelson’s vanishing heritage, and is working on a series using found objects, exploring the interface of manmade versus natural elements. Visit or phone 021 542 438 to make an appointment.

From Marfa to Mahana

Nelson’s Moutere Hills are one of the least likely places you’d expect to see signature works by American luminaries like Donald Judd, Judy Chicago or Agnes Martin, but with American art and literary philanthropist Glenn Schaeffer in the picture, you feel anything is possible.

Schaeffer, ex-president of Las Vegas’ Mandalay Resort Group and now CEO of Fontainebleau Resorts, which is currently building a US$2.9 billion hotel-casino-entertainment destination in Las Vegas, is no stranger to New Zealand. He was a regular visitor to Nelson before he met winery owner Philip Woollaston in 2000. He liked what he saw, bought a stake in the winery, Woollaston Estates, and is now on track to create an international art nexus in Mahana where the winery and Schaeffer’s house is located.

The original house, overlooking the Mahana vineyards, was redesigned by Christchurch architect Jason Mill and now includes generous gallery spaces, also displaying works by New Zealand’s best – among them Bambury, Cotton, et al., McCahon, Mrkusich, Parekowhai and Robinson. Outside are sculptures by Christine Boswijk, Andrew Drummond and Fred Graham among others, and the list will continue when a giant planting by John Reynolds erupts from a neighbouring hillside in the near future.

But this won’t be a static, private display area for the great and the good of our art world. Schaeffer’s experience on the board of the Chinati Foundation, set up to administer the legacy of American minimalist Donald Judd in Marfa, located in the dusty plains of West Texas, has given him a vision of what could be.

Standing on the deck of his house, he explains, “Marfa is a museum, a frozen moment, with Judd’s last sharpened pencil and his notebooks, all slowly gathering dust. You marvel at the Flavins at Marfa, but how many do you need to see in one space?”

He points to a nearby knoll adjoining the vineyard. “I’m planning to build a ‘white cube’ down there, a display space, and we’ll bring out American, British and European artists for a residency. The only proviso is that they display what they’ve created in the space.”

He’s already had renowned English artist Richard Long out to visit, gaining a trademark Long mandala-like wall piece comprising Long’s handprints in local Moutere clay on the gallery wall. But the creative direction will not only be one way. Schaeffer is currently negotiating with several prominent New Zealand artists

over the installation of large works in his new Las Vegas resort, and it seems Schaeffer – an unabashed champion of New Zealand art – is initiating a long and interesting relationship with these artists.