A review of Helen Langley's works from the recent new work exhibition alongside artist Ben Reid
Lane Gallery, Auckland
8 – 26 September 2009
Inspired by the found objects that are the foundation of her new collection, Helen Langley’s 'New Work' relies on flotsam to become her canvas. Langley has chosen to use fragments and debris that strongly indicate their manmade beginnings, although sea worm, rust and decay have often altered their original forms.
Her interpretations of the materials are simple - using natural materials like kauri leaves, seedpods and shells, and adding few of her own details - allowing the complexities of the flotsam canvas to be exposed. In ‘Plume’, layers of chipped paint are over-painted with Langley’s own NZ plume moths, revealing the object’s evolving history and continuing story. A favorite piece, ‘Rhyssa’ uncovers a record of sea worm infestation, and features the Rhyssa South Island long-tailed wasp motif.
Langley allows the materials to dictate her palette, with variations in colour coming from rust spots and water damage in the wood. Where more vivid colour features, it is again directed by the found object: in 'cabin hatch', bright yellow lichen grows over a rust-red board, which Langley has over painted with white and hand drawn the repeated Rhyssa image.
While ‘Flotsam Head with Kauri Leaf’ allows the object’s irregularities to suggest new forms - a crumbling piece of wood creating a face - other pieces are quite recognizable as their original forms - although featuring a trail of shells, ‘shell crustation’ clearly began as a rusted fence post.
The collection focuses on the curious histories of the flotsam canvas, rather than the singular beauty of natural materials. Langley’s approach seems to be to reveal rather than to reinterpret, placing the focus on the process of creation, both by the artist and by nature. Langley allows a new narrative to be given to these forgotten objects, and proves that these discarded and damaged pieces of wood can become objects of interest and even of beauty.
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Reviewed and written by Jane Apperley
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