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A Landscape of Dreams

A review of Trish Shirley’s recent exhibition

Forrester Gallery, Oamaru
10 March – 16 April 2009


I have visited Trish Shirley in her studio, which is one end of the large kitchen one finds in old limestone houses here in Oamaru. The house is settled in a garden, which seems to be in control of the land and house. The gardener works with lots of unexpected corners that give delightful visual treats; but it is the garden which controls.

Visiting her latest exhibition ‘A Landscape of Dreams’ at the Forrester Gallery, Oamaru, was rather like visiting the landscape of her house and garden. The works, like her garden, seemed to have a life of their own that took the viewer on differing paths. The garden riot of colour was there, even if Trish herself thought it was much more sombre and dark than usual. Because she had reduced her pallet to the violet and indigo end of the spectrum, it did have a darker feeling, but she still retained her quality of a colourist. The gardener was more in control here, and it worked well. Her exploration of new mediums with house paints gave a strong texture. The paint quality was quite masterful — and lovely.

A strong narrative runs through the works, with a lot of emotive tone. In the three ‘Heartstring’ paintings, she has used gothic arches to frame the hearts that are pulled in all direction by strings of the human condition. Bringing together symbols of linking, the strings suggest things from our past that restrain our true selves. Often these are things that we take for granted, and hold us most bound. Here perhaps is a suggestion that we would do well to not be afraid of the dark, which the cutting of such ties may require. Here though, the many symbols were, like her garden, in control and — for me — needed a gardener to prune them a little.

Altogether an interesting exhibition where one could explore fantasy or the deeper things of life; a garden full of the unexpected.


Reviewed and written by Mary Horn


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