Paintings and Drawings – Dean Venrooy
In oil and in pencil, on sea-smoothed stones, small fragments of found glass, panels of worn timber and on paper, Lyttelton artist Dean Venrooy imbues the shrouded hillscape of his home environment with a sense of fragile other-worldliness. Like carefully staged dreams or magical incantations with their arcane symbols and repeated iconographies, these small paintings and drawings present a mysterious parallel to the natural landscape, a series of seemingly portentous images populated by exquisitely depicted birds, animals and geographical features. In the works seen here we find objects – tables, urns, ladders, scales, books, altar-like cloths – carefully placed within a stone-strewn and rubbly site. Dominating, perhaps organising this abandoned environment are the birds: shags, ducks and hawks, poised in emblematic symmetry or depicted in mid-flight, each carrying a ribbon as if in the process of crafting these elegant tableaux.
Running parallel to Venrooy’s painting practice is an ongoing series of drawings, detailed portraits of bird life framed on the paper by the elliptical curve of a cameo brooch or Victorian memento. Within the fabricated confines of these parameters seabirds are presented in the extraordinary moments of survival – wrestling with a dogfish or an eel – or in unmoving documentation akin to the drawings of a scientific text.
Born in 1962 Venrooy has, over the past two decades, compiled a unique vocabulary of flora and fauna, defined by the use of found objects and the small scale of his work to create these magic-realist visions of the natural world. As Wellington art critic Mark Amery writes, “Venrooy revels in creating elegant rhythms, symmetries and visual melodies”. Certainly there is restraint here – the artist barely whispers – but the results are jewel-like in their detail, something to peer into and wonder at like small talismen or portals into an imagined world.