Surveys can be a mixed blessing for artists. Certainly they get the opportunity to overview their work for the first time and usually under good viewing conditions, but there is also a downside. Public museums often feel they are advancing an artist’s career by hosting a survey and forget how much time is taken up in organising, answering questions and cajoling collectors to part with favourite works as well as the emotional impact.
Seeing a one’s work summed up and explained can also be debilitating. When we worked with Michael Smither on a large survey exhibition in 1984 he struggled to paint for two or three years, finding the experience a huge disruption. When your work is neatly packaged the next move can be hard to imagine. This is not an uncommon response and some artists just say no to the opportunity.
And that’s why it was so exciting to see Seraphine Pick’s latest exhibition Pocket full of rainbows at Hamish McKay Gallery. Far from being oppressed by having her early career summed up in her large survey exhibition Tell me more that was organised by the Christchurch Art Gallery, she has obviously drawn new confidence and energy from the experience. Her latest show is a real eye-opener that is both epic and playful. It pushes into new directions with a stylishness that was only suggested in the final paintings of the survey.
When Elvis is depicted leaving the building for the last time it is in the guise of an impersonator. Art is artifice, Pick seems to be saying, but real for all of that.
Image: detail from And be with you from Seraphine Pick's exhibition Pocket full of rainbows on show at the Hamish McKay Gallery in Wellington