Christchurch City Gallery; Canterbury University Press
NZ$80; $60 | Reviewed by Andy Palmer

I CAN’T remember exactly when I became aware of Séraphine Pick’s work, but it was probably around the turn of the new century. What I do remember is that, while I appreciated them as beautifully executed paintings, they didn’t particularly interest me as images – fantastical, surrealist images, which I’ve never been much into as a genre in any medium.

This self-titled volume is the catalogue accompanying the Christchurch Art Gallery survey of Pick’s works from 1995 to present. The show, or a version of it, will be at Wellington’s City Gallery during the 2010 International Arts Festival (and presumably in other parts of the country after that).

In the book’s foreword, CAG director, Jenny Harper remarks: “Memory, fantasy, imagination, identity. Despite several bold shifts in style and subject matter over the past two decades, these have been the constants in Séraphine Pick’s oeuvre.” Pick has explored a number of subjects and styles in her paintings and the fantasy works are but a small part of her canon.

Felicity Milburn’s introductory chapter details Pick’s works, interests, influences, and life. Lara Strongman writes about the use of memory in Pick’s work, and the changes in private/public lives over the past couple of decades (thanks in part to blogs, Twitter, etc.). Strongman suggests Pick’s main subject is the “treatment of the private self” – seemingly autobiographical paintings.

The works are sequenced more or less chronologically, and it is those which appear either side of her ‘fantasy’ works which appeal most to me. Her early ‘white’ works, oddly, remind me of Richard Lewer – not so much in the works themselves, but in the similarity of drawing style. The layering of imagery clearly anticipated the surrealism that was to follow, and while there are strains of this in later works, the settings are less fantastical, everyday even. Her style has also shifted from vaguely realist to a more impressionistic approach (broader, less precise brushstrokes rather than pointillist).

This is a substantial survey of an artist who is clearly still evolving, still playing with the possibilities of paint while retaining a strong link to her over-riding tropes. The numerous texts help to shed light on the art and the artist, and the volume is rounded off with a short story by Elizabeth Knox. It’s well worth the investment.

Séraphine Pick is another fine example of Aaron Beehre’s marvellous book design work. And speaking of Beehre, he not only designed, but also appears in Inner Landscapes: 15 New Zealand Artists with Canterbury Connections (Edited by Sally Blundell). The publicity describes it as a collection of verbal self portraits by artists who share a connection with the University of Canterbury’s School of Fine Arts.

Justin Patton introduces the book, questioning the regional specificity and pits the artist against the rugby player in the game of provincial representation. As the book’s title makes clear, these artists are not literal landscape artists, and there is an emphasis on ‘Canterbury Connections’. I’m not sure of the necessity of the argument, but Patton points out that the people presented to us do not represent Canterbury in any meaning of the word.

From Don Peebles and Barry Cleavin to Joanna Langford and Aaron and Hannah Beehre the book covers a few generations of artists who have either studied or taught (or both) at UC SOFA. Each artist gets six pages – title, portrait, mini photo essay, text, works. The text covers their individual practice and is illuminating. It doesn’t concern itself much with the biography or technique; instead it’s more about the philosophical approach, what drives the artists. As is the nature of democratic publications like this, there is a sense that there are bigger stories to be told.

It difficult to see it as much more than an advertisement of the University of Canterbury’s School of Fine Arts, but the way tertiary education has changed over the past couple of decades means that books like this may become more common as the various SOFAs around the country try to define and differentiate themselves. Inner Landscapes is a nice book, and while I can’t see it as being a significant volume, it ticks all the boxes for what it set out to achieve.