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O Maramu. Ahuriri Augellus Unfurnished Eye About Fleeing Pour and melt of Distances Soul's Neural Tekapo

Tuck obviously delights in mark making, and there is a strong sense of obsessive process where the aim is not a refined, compositionally perfect product but an outpouring of restless energy and felt response to the environs.


Barbara Tuck
Habits of Paradise

7 April - 8 May 2010

The six recent Barbara Tuck oil paintings displayed here were made during a trip to the South Island’s McKenzie Country, that sparsely populated, high altitude basin that straddles the border between Canterbury and Otago.

These paintings are quite impressionistic - in the sense of mental impressions, not qualities of light on surfaces. They contain collage-like fragments of landscape or clumps of terrain, botany or sky, usually aligned within horizontal strata. Earlier shows of hers have been more vertical or diagonal with their organisation of vista portions - as if looking up through or down into treetop canopies. These compositions have a sense of looking across austere grass-covered landforms towards dominant mountain ranges. There is a sense of loosely stacking multiple views on top of each other that is vaguely related to a  famous Cental Otago Rita Angus painting, where the sky at the top is replaced with a new imposed landscape foreground - like a club sandwich. Or like McCahon’s Six Days in Nelson and Canterbury which is like a sequence of film story-boards made by a cycling traveller.

Tuck’s organic images however have a wild spontaneity that is totally different from Angus or McCahon. She seems to enjoy riffing with certain repeated brush lines that often reference landforms, foliage or patterns on chinaware. Her oil paint is thin and runny, providing an oozy, bubbly sensuality that lets the underpainted gessoed board shine through.

Tuck obviously delights in mark making, and there is a strong sense of obsessive process where the aim is not a refined, compositionally perfect product but an outpouring of restless energy and felt response to the environs. This is strangely related to Alan Pearson’s squiggly improvisations painted while listening to Italian opera, Bill Hammond‘s early suburban interiors made while grooving to rock music, or Phil Clairmont’s excitement with Hendrix: an intoxicatingly bodily drive that results in experiments with shape and line. Except Tuck’s ‘music’ is the McKenzie Basin location itself and the wonder of its particular geology, climate, flora and fauna.

Sometimes she has pale blobby forms floating in front of the picture plane, flat curved shapes hovering in a space all their own and painted with thin blue twitchy lines. These slightly foetal decorative forms disrupt the image like a floating Brent Wong architrave and their oddness undermines even the discordant collaged feel of painted fragmentation - as if symbolic in intention and slightly at odds with the surrounding space. However such shapes, like the rest of her spontaneously arranged textures, patterns and rendered vistas, are kick-started by an intuitive response to an unusual location. Their unpredictable properties, dwelling on interiority and spiritual preoccupations (as indicated by her titles) reinforce the subjectivity of her method.

The paintings, in descending order, are: O Maramu. Ahuriri Augellus; Unfurnished Eye; About Fleeing; Pour and melt of Distances; Soul’s Neural Tekapo.

John Hurrell


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