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LJ

Unverricht and Harris

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Daniel Unverricht, Center, 2018, oil on linen, 1525 x 1825 mm. Daniel Unverricht, Laze, 2018, oil on linen, 300 x 250 mm. Daniel Unverricht, Pivot, 2018, oil on linen, 300 x 250 mm. Installation of Jeffrey Harris and Daniel Unverricht, New Works, at {Suite} Gallery, November 2018. Jeffrey Harris, Crucifixion I, 2002/18, oil on board, 299 x 223 mm. Left: Jeffrey Harris, Deposition, 1971, pencil on paper, 255 x 205 mm. Right: Jeffrey Harris, Figures with Cross, 1971, pencil on paper, 255 x 205 mm.

The scenes Unverricht painted had a mildly creepy gloominess to them, for they were set at night. However there was always a light. It might be in the subject (a lamppost or a fluorescent light on a building's facade), but this light also came through Unverricht's application of paint. He managed to combine complete depth and illuminated stillness. The subject of the painting was also isolation—we never saw a person.

Wellington

 

Daniel Unverricht and Jeffrey Harris
New Works


6 November - 24 November 2018

A wall with just one work on it is a statement, but it’s a risk for a gallery to give pride of place to one work and one artist. In November, {Suite} gave this position to Daniel Unverricht, a Wellington-based painter. Center (2018) hung in that place, holding the space in the only way possible. Five other artworks made up the exhibition: there were three works in total by Unverricht and three by Jeffrey Harris. For me, it was a somewhat ambiguous pairing, but I’ll let that slide, for now.

The exhibition, simply titled New Works, saw Unverricht take on a new challenge. Usually he paints small-scale works (approximately 300 x 250mm), but this time the artist decided to enlarge his painting with Center, which is 1525 x 1825mm. The transition appeared to be flawless. It was as if he had always painted large, displaying his technical flair and eye for composition in the new work. Yet the bigger work didn’t distract from his smaller ones.

The small works transmitted a beautiful intimacy; they allowed you to get up close and personal, unlike the large work that required a wide-lens approach. Although aesthetically different, their scale harked back to a history of early genre painting such as those by Dutch masters like Vermeer or de Hooch.

Perhaps Unverricht’s works were intended for a more domestic contemporary setting. I imagine people studying them, stuck in the mystery within an abandoned building, construction site or parking lot. What has happened in these spaces, or is about to happen?

The scenes Unverricht painted had a mildly creepy gloominess to them, for they were set at night. However there was always a light. It might be in the subject (a lamppost or a fluorescent light on a building’s facade), but this light also came through Unverricht’s application of paint. He managed to combine complete depth and illuminated stillness. The subject of the painting was also isolation—we never saw a person. There was always a presence in the absence. That very presence was us. The areas of isolation waiting for us to inhabit them. There was such lightness in the dark it seems.

Unverricht’s hometown is Hastings, a place that has been the inspiration of previous works. Hastings at night has a certain atmosphere. But Unverricht’s works are about more than just one place. They may depict Hastings, but they also represent all other places 30 minutes out of the city and into the dark. They’re personal and yet at the same time universal.

Unverricht’s works filled my mind and I wondered if Jeffrey Harris’ work could also hold my attention. They did. The works were well-executed and soulful. In the painting Crucifixion I (2002/18) Harris’ gentle curvature of limbs and body gave a birdlike quality to the figure of Christ. A bird upon the cross was not the lanky rendition we might be used to. Instead the result was a solemn elegance to the event. The bright red orange skyline in the distance set the scene for the time between day and night, and an ever-expanding horizon.

The other two works of Harris’ were drawings. Their pencil lines gave movement to the scene unfolding before us. In Figures with Cross (1971) and Deposition (1971) the hills seemed to roll downwards and out of the frame. They were reminiscent of New Zealand regionalism, but Harris’ figures were a contrast, being quirky and sharp, unlike the softly formed and curved figures of McCahon. Their artifice lay in the juxtaposition within the frame. The characters, although sharp and curious, displayed half hidden emotion.

The works by these artists created a foil: both spoke of darkness, but also light—a spiritual light and the light before the dawn. Although made decades apart they occupied a common ground. An imaginative pairing. I was drawn to Unverricht’s works in the first instance, and while I was unsure about this duplet at first, I left thinking differently. The gamble paid off.

Lucy Jackson

 

 

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