Aotearoa Art Fair Artist Highlights
The most engaging works at this year's fair came from artists Hannah Valentine, Ahnnlee Lee, Claudia Kogachi, Cora-Allan Lafaiki Twiss, and Kulimoe'anga 'Stone' Maka.
Claudia Kogachi, SWEET, SWEET FANTASY BABY, Jhana Millers Gallery, Aotearoa Art Fair, Auckland (2–5 March 2023). Courtesy Jhana Millers Gallery, Wellington. Photo: Emily Hartley-Skudder.
Winking behind sultry lashes and a coyly raised brow, an Andalusian horse fashioned from tufted wool traipses across a sunlit marshland. Her rider turns towards the setting sun, the composition cropped so that the eye is immediately drawn to their pert backside astride the saddle.
Like the rest of her works in SWEET, SWEET FANTASY BABY, Claudia Kogachi's solo presentation with Jhana Millers, Headless horse rider (2023) blends fiction and reality, cartoon, and camp. Immersive in scale, the labour-intensive process of rug tufting stands in stark contrast with the acrylic paintings. The contrast is also textural, as Kogachi invites the visitor to touch and interact with the rug works, celebrating the sense of fun and animation that characterises her practice.
In past works Kogachi's partner Josephine Jelicich has taken a central narrative role, depicted in various fictional guises. In this new series, Jelicich appears not only as subject and muse, but also as the producer of the bespoke walnut frames that complement Kogachi's zany colour palette with zig-zag edges. The two artists' combined synergy encapsulates Kogachi's continued foray into fantasy realms that embrace humour, desire and unrestrained optimism. — Annie Curtis
Hannah Valentine at Page Galleries
Hannah Valentine's three new sculptures at Page Galleries' booth continue her exploration of the human body. Each consists of several cast bronze pieces suspended against the wall with brightly coloured cords, that not only retain the traces of the artists' fingers but also reference the body through their irregular, organic shapes.
Evocative of the forms found in gym equipment or rock climbing fingerboards, Valentine is skilled in working metals in a way that begs the viewer to make physical contact. Those who visit the booth in person may be allowed to do just that—my greatest satisfaction came from holding the golden ball in Anytime (light touch) (2023) in my palm.
In the fair's outdoor sculpture space overlooking Waitematā Harbour, Valentine also presents Knowing hands, yesterday and tomorrow (mother and child) (2023), a large-scale cast bronze and steel structure depicting the abstracted profiles of a child and mother. — Sherry Paik
Kulimoe'anga 'Stone' Maka at Scott Lawrie Gallery
Kulimoe'anga 'Stone' Maka's smokey black paintings at Scott Lawrie's booth tell the story of an artist who started out living in the rubbish dumps of Patangata, Tonga, and now shows at events like the Sydney Biennial.
Maka was called 'rubbish face' and 'rubbish eyes' at school, names he now incorporates in the titles of his works to turn them into something positive.
Hua Veve (2022)—which means rubbish spill—starts on the left with the artist's handprints seemingly trying to scrape a way out of the dump. It ends on the right with blue tapa motifs representing a journey that took Maka to New Zealand, to art school, and to a life as a working artist.
While aligning with the sleek abstraction of 20th-century European modernism, the visual basis of Maka's works lies in sacred Tongan ngatu'uli—or black tapa. Black tapa is transformed from the more commonplace white tapa using smoke, while Maka uses smoke to stain the canvas. —Michael Irwin
Cora-Allan Lafaiki Twiss at Bartley & Company Art
Of particular interest are works by Niuean Māori artist Cora-Allan Lafaiki Twiss, whose hiapo (Niuean barkcloth) paintings contain vignettes of landscape and history embedded on the delicate natural fibre.
Drawing on accounts of Tupaia, the Tahitian navigator aboard the HMS Endeavour for its initial encounter with Aotearoa New Zealand in 1769, Lafaiki Twiss depicts horizons and motifs of this journey using whenua paints made from local clay and pigments, gold leaf, and Kāpia ink.
Each lengthy title unfolds its own stories, locating the works in specific geographic and historic locales. The Resolution at anchor in Pickersgill Harbour (2022) refers to the harbour on the southwest coast of the South Island, where James Cook anchored in 1773. Divided into irregular grids, suggestive of window frames or portholes, Lafaiki Twiss' compositions offer imagined glimpses of encounters past. —Misong Kim
ONE AND J. Gallery from Seoul presents a rare view of Ahnnlee Lee's early works on paper, the oldest of which date back to 2008. The small-scale graphite and gouache drawings feature elegant forms evocative of birds or clouds, rendered in both clear lines and opaque excess.
Lee describes his process as 'almost meditative'; unplanned exercises on paper upon which transpire his amorphous shapes. Interglacial Period (2012), his largest work in the booth, shows an elongated entity with a beak-like head, its body containing soft waves of grey-to-black gradation.
At first glance, Lee's drawings may appear far removed from his latest works, such as the sculptures shown at his recent two-person exhibition, Orange Sleep (2023) at ONE AND J. Taking the object of soap as a central motif, Lee navigated the mutability of form—a concept that continues from the artist's exploration of the various shapes that emerge, or, in the case of soap, dwindle over time. — Sherry Paik —[O]