35: Microcosms – Saskia Bunce-Rath, Lisa Patterson and Dean Venrooy

5th Sep 2020

Microcosms featuring works by Canterbury artists Saskia Bunce-Rath, Lisa Patterson and Dean Venrooy opens 5.30pm Tuesday 8 September and runs through to the 28th. In this edition of the City Art Reader each artist gives some insight into their artworks.

Saskia Bunce-Rath explores mood and quasi-narratives through her embroidered works. Scenes and animalistic characters tell stories full of surreal myth and mystery crossed with her personal life. Bunce-Rath creates these worlds using bold thread that ripples through each composition like brushstrokes leaping out of their frames.

These works are about personal mythologies, wiccan traditions and the duality of life’s structures.

‘tell me about the glass road that sits in the sky over our heads, I feel calm right to my edges’, embroidery thread on calico fabric, 205x154mm, 2020

The end of everything is the sky and the earth collapsing together again, the sun pushing its burning arms into the body of the ocean. It’s the time of the wild hunt, when every being that existed marches down an endless road in the sky. Marching towards the small spark that we sometimes see from the corner of our eye.

I think you are a hawk made of ice, embroidery thread on calico fabric, 224x174mm, 2020

It’s about catching a falling star in your hand whilst simultaneously realising you are a great old god growing from the earth. It’s the arrival of something you had not quite expected. It’s wandering in burnt pink mountains with a sideways sky above. It’s looking all around you and feeling the freshness of the world evaporate into your body.

in the places where bodies meet, a soul grows tall, taller than long grasses, embroidery thread on calico fabric, 212x164mm, 2020

It’s when the grass on the plains grows for the very first time on this earth, in the time between time when things slipped through from elsewhere. It’s when long legged spirits grew taller than the mountains that didn’t exist yet and when those spirits collapsed into piles of burning ash that birthed the first forests in the north.

I give them all crowns and kiss their hollow cheeks, I tell them it’s brave to be free in the night air, embroidery thread on calico fabric, 224x174mm, 2020

When you see specks of light wander in the forest air and form quiet circles that rotate endlessly through the canopies of frail branches. When the kings come down at night and bless their subjects under the half curve of the moon. If you breathe out, you will breathe fire.

Lyttelton based artist Lisa Patterson’s meticulously handcrafted objects incorporate elemental materials such as wood and lead, investing simple motifs with a sense of mystery and revelation reminiscent of age-old allusions to religious or ritualistic icons and hidden worlds. This sense of secrecy and wonder is supported by the small scale of many of Patterson’s works and the artisanal nature of the shaping and carving involved in their production.

‘Monumental Horse’s Arse’, Lisa Patterson, sandcast lead, painted lead sheet and painted wood, 2020

Initially my work for this show was going to be all about shadows. The first piece I finished was Monumental Horse’s Arse. The long shadow cast by a trophy/statue (depending upon what scale you imagine it at). The trophy/statue was made last year and its shadow was captured quite recently. Around the time many statues were being toppled and their shadows both somewhat reduced and somewhat illuminated.

I had spent quite a bit of time during lockdown enjoying (absolutely loving!) the rare treat of being in my kitchen a lot. Pleasantly, it was also one of the rare times in the year that the sun was also visiting the kitchen. The only visitor to my kitchen.

Given the strangely spectacular stretch of good autumnal weather, I spent much of my time observing the daily passage of the watery sun across the kitchen floor via a daily show of shadows cast onto the floor from objects on the windowsill. Whilst also doing many other very important things.

When I had time, I tried to capture a selection of interesting shadows by drawing around them as a random and quite poorly documented record of the moment.

‘illuminator’, Lisa Patterson, 2020 (radiant stage)

Ordinarily I’m not much of a fan of the sun, or bright lights. I’m a shade dweller and avoid the sun as much as possible. I detest overlit spaces. However I do appreciate that for good shadows, some sort of light source is necessary.

Candlelight is undoubtedly the most desirable. I have no complaints about it whatsoever. It’s much more soothing, and ‘close’, with a lovely potential for danger and inferno.

So, after completing the first work, I found myself drawn away from stark shadows and towards the source of a gentle light.

‘illuminator’, Lisa Patterson, 2020 (glimmer stage)

For years I have occasionally made ‘radiating’ forms. Never with an actual or implied light source near the centre, and in fact often with the centre obscured. I can’t even remember what inspired me to make them in the first place, but they keep coming back.

When they turned up this time, it seemed appropriate to actually position a light source near the centre. Given my aversion to too much light, I thought it would be prudent to provide some sort of intensity controller for all who are also easily overwhelmed. So I put doors on. Which is a return to another form I have used in the past, derived from European altarpieces.

‘illuminator’, Lisa Patterson, 2020 (flicker stage)

If the doors are open, things are quite bright. If it’s too bright, shut the doors for a less intense illumination. If even that is too much, pull the candle stick out, remove the candle and tuck the apparatus inside and close the doors. It appears I have basically made a very involved wood, brass and gold dimmer switch…

Being the size and weight of a decent book, I like the idea that the Illuminators can be picked up and easily carried rapidly to any location where brightening is required.

Almost everyone who has seen these pieces while I have been making them has told me I’m making ‘religious objects’, which given their shape is not that surprising. However, no one has really explained to me what they might actually be. I feel perhaps they are more ritualistic than religious, but I easily could be wrong!

‘illuminator’, Lisa Patterson, 2020 (off stage)

If it’s any help, as far as I can tell, they’re definitely to do with light and dark and in between. 

Shadow, too much shadow
Light, too much light

Canterbury artist Dean Venrooy’s small, crystalline oil paintings are perfectly structured re-enactments of the natural environment of Banks Peninsula. Using the landscape of his home, on the edge of Lyttelton Harbour, as the building blocks for his work, he presents objects – tables, books, ladders, altar-like cloths – and birds corralled within the hills and valleys into small symmetries of colour and form: fragile as daydreams; as real as the landscape out his window.

‘Home Comforts’, Dean Venrooy, oil on stretched canvas, 403x307mm, 2020

I have become hooked on these trees and valleys that I see just by looking out from my studio. A lot of it comes from when I moved from the beach to this studio, from looking across the harbour to being surrounded by trees. It is not really about environment concerns – I think the planet is going to be here a lot longer than humanity – but here the human presence is gone. That precarious nature of everything is the underlying thought for me. I like the remnants and the remains and the social decay of things. But everything in my paintings is in my everyday life. Wood pigeons are such an everyday thing here. When I walk around to Allandale I can see half a dozen, a dozen. There didn’t used to be so many but in the last couple of years they seem to have taken up residence, maybe because there are better trees or more parks or more people moving in on predators.

‘Gateway’, Dean Venrooy, oil on gesso panel, 190x110mm, 2018

The ladder, the books – they are objects that I come up with. The fabric – I have used fabric a lot. I like painting fabric and compositionally it fills a big space. In a painting these things are more about where they are, in terms of colour and form, rather than what they are. It’s almost the same composition over and over again, always trying to get a bit better. So they become quite structured, the composition becomes the symmetry – even if there is not a true symmetry they balance the structure. Where two branches cross to form a triangle – or three cross to form what looks like a pentagram – that is just an accident. People will read things into it but really it is about the composition.

I do like the indoors-outdoors thing, looking out from inside. Again, that is what I see ­– leaves blowing into the studio, pigeons flying into the trees almost as soon as I stand on the doorstep – these are my immediate surroundings.

‘Home Comforts’, Dean Venrooy, oil on gesso panel, 180x100mm, 2020