Review by TJ McNamara
Arts commentator and critic TJ McNamara reviewed Zarahn Southon’s exhibition at Jonathan Grant Gallery – in the Weekend Herald.
At home with Dutch masters
Despite the prominence of abstract, expressionist and cubist art born last century, representational art – making images of recognisable things – has never gone away. There is always a demand for “realism”. Nevertheless, painting must be more than just illustration. It needs thought and a conceptual element as well as skill.
Zarahn Southon is precociously brilliant in handling paint. When he returned to New Zealand after training in Italy, he came to prominence with remarkable large and startling images of scenes linked to his Maori heritage.
His current paintings, at Jonathan Grant Gallery, are smaller and more homely and linked to another more universal heritage – that of the Golden Age of Dutch painting. Some of the pictures of interiors appear to have works by Vermeer on the wall that actually hang in museums in New York and Amsterdam.
The paintings show tiled floors, tables and chairs, carpets and rugs, jugs and bowls that occur in such paintings. The light source is a window in exactly the manner of the great Dutch masters. The paintings emphasise the stillness and quiet of the interiors. Yet this is transferred to a local setting.
All are done carefully, without flourish, and the manner of working convincingly conveys delicate surfaces while the light that defines then is masterly.
In one, Power Cut, the stillness is the quiet of cold and no electricity. The couple in the picture are both muffled up in thick puffer jackets though the clock on the wall next to a Vermeer indicates it is 11am.
The objects in the room – furniture, books, vessels, old chairs, a rug on the table – are done convincingly in the Dutch manner but are also often modern. A china jug on the table is matched by a bright red electric kettle. All are done carefully, without flourish, and the manner of working convincingly conveys delicate surfaces while the light that defines then is masterly. The splendid technique is also on display in a series of small still-life pictures of apples, skulls and timber doorways.
These are impressive but the paintings of a simple, dedicated way of life – as in the very Dutch Interior with Couple or of the small but lovely Guitar Player – have an extra level of philosophy and thought about life that give them something beyond virtuosity.
Interior with Couple
Oil on linen
74 x 68 cm