New Zealand artist Anoushka Akel commonly works with oil paint and pastel, using techniques such as layering, smudging, dry brushing and rubbing with cloth and sandpaper to reduce paint to traces. As a result, her paintings are replete with visible marks and varying subdued tonalities that document the artist's interactions with the canvas. One work from her 'Three Handed Paintings' series (2012), for example, comprises a minimal brown surface that has been painted and sanded back to appear grainy. Unlike the curiously transparent quality of the canvas surface, the brushstrokes in the foreground are short and form clusters of colour, suggesting a spontaneous application of paint.Read More
Akel's interest in recording manual traces derives from her desire to create paintings that demand sustained attention. She said to the curator of the C Art Trust Award, which she won in 2018, that she wants 'the works to burn slowly, to release their ideas over a longer period of time, as a counterbalance to the rapid consumption we have become so accustomed to in the age of the internet'. It is perhaps for this reason that Akel's earlier paintings are quite small, seldom exceeding 45 cm in width, as such a scale demands that the viewer stands close to the works.
When she does paint on larger surfaces, Akel appears to use the space to explore ideas of constraint and elasticity. In these larger paintings, which range between 80 and 100 cm wide, the artist evokes a human body that is both contained within and pushing against the picture's borders. In the painting Back Front Brain (2016)—from a series of the same title—for example, a body or guitar-like shape consisting of rough, broken lines almost touches the edges of the canvas. It is largely covered with a white rectangle, over which Akel has marked an irregular pattern of green lines. The biomorphic shape also appears in the painting Bending blue (2015)—also from a series of the same title—where it has been filled in with triangular and other geometric forms of blue, purple, and light and dark grey.
Blue and purple are common in Akel's usually subdued palette. For example, as the title suggests, Purple Prose (2017) is painted predominantly in purple with a light wash of blue layered over the upper-left quadrant. While the work is representative of Akel's dramatic surfaces filled in with brush-marks and textures, other paintings such as Imprint (2018)—an oil painting on canvas in navy blue with a purple undertone—shows an almost uninterrupted surface.
Akel received an MFA from Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland, in 2011, where she has been a teaching fellow since 2009. Her work has been exhibited in galleries in New Zealand, Australia and Europe. Selected solo shows include Back, Front, Brain, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington (2016), and A Better Surface Held Back, RM, Auckland (2015); she has also participated in group exhibitions such as Biographies of Transition: Too Busy to Think, ARTSPACE, Auckland (2017); Chain of Mountains, TCB art inc, Melbourne (2016); and Necessary Distraction: A Painting Show, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (2016).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2018