Painting pictures of life and death

ELENA MCPHEE
Last updated 13:20 05/11/2014
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MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ

Ronnie Martin, left and Catharine Salmon in their separate exhibition spaces at the Refinery Artspace.

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Nelson artists Ronnie Martin and Catharine Salmon paint a picture of life, albeit in completely different ways, with their new exhibitions at the Refinery Gallery.

Martin's Spain - a sense of place and Salmon's Nature Morte - Milk Jug and Waterfowl II, which has an environmental theme, opened on October 28.

The title of Salmon's installation can be translated as "Still Life" or "Dead Nature" and it was designed to convey sadness and disharmony.

It featured disparate elements working together, Salmon said.

"I think about an installation as being similar to a poem. All the elements are chosen for their qualities and resonances."

The installation centred around an oil painting of a milk jug hovering above a tablecloth with "Nitrate" printed on it. The damage caused by dairying was suggested by the way liquid seeped through the cloth, the artist said.

There was also a single pukeko's wing, on a "downward trajectory", a line of milk bottle lids, a tablecloth made from butter paper, and a breadboard made from kahikatea.

Salmon said kahikatea was significant since it was cleared in the wetlands when the first settlers arrived, and eventually used to make boxes for butter.

So far people had responded well, often saying the work had upset them, or left them with the impression something was subtly wrong.

The Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology art teacher said she was inspired by still life paintings in the Netherlands from the 16th and 17th centuries which captured the way people lived, and she wanted to portray something about New Zealand.

Martin's exhibition of paintings, collages and embroidery, by contrast, was designed to take the observer on a personal journey around Spain.

The exhibition began with landscapes, such as Dorado, a painting of a dusty, golden haze, before moving on to the people Martin saw and the villages she travelled through on her trip to Spain in 2012.

The final section featured artwork depicting Spain's spirituality and history.

One picture, Spanish Madonna, was a contemporary take on Mary, but Martin said she wanted to stay away from the "ostentatious" aspects of religion in favour of portraying village life.

The exhibition was a "sensory journey" and featured herbs in different areas of the room.

For instance the scent of bay leaves, thyme and rosemary accompanied the landscape paintings, while the village paintings were accompanied by lavender and geraniums.

The fragrances were created by Shelley Monrad of Aromaflex in Nelson, and music from Nelson guitarist Miles Jackson played in the background.

Martin, who usually works only in textiles, said she was "stepping outside my comfort zone" with the exhibition, which had taken a year to create and was based on her travel journals.

However the response had been "amazing", and a Spanish woman had even said the exhibition made her homesick.

A highlight of her trip around Spain with her partner was visiting the city of Seville, which "absolutely stole my heart", she said.

The "beautiful" country had provided her with plenty of material.

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Both artists hoped the Refinery Gallery would stay open as it was important to have somewhere to showcase community art which was not necessarily commercial.

"We're hoping the council will look favourably on it," Martin said.

- The Nelson Mail

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