GUEST POST: From Florence to Auckland
Guest Post by Dr. Angela Mackie
Two artists launching exhibitions this week offer Aucklanders an opportunity seldom found: to see in the flesh artists upholding Renaissance traditions and using them as a springboard into new territory.
Having studied in both Florence and Paris, it is not surprising that Jasmine Kamante’s work evokes that of late Renaissance artists such as Rosso Fiorentino yet, at the same time, suggest the works of Degas or Rodin or even Brancusi. In utilizing her thorough knowledge acquired through classical training to spring into another, seemingly non-classical, mode of expression, she follows the lead set by such as Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Matisse, and Magritte.
Jasmine Kamante and her husband Jesper Sundwall met whilst receiving their classical training at the Angel Academy in Florence. Jasmine also spent a year at an atelier in Paris drawing and painting the nude. These two talented artists form part of the late 20th century movement of classical realism—proponents of which wed traditional training methodologies with individual skill to produce representational work of great beauty combined with the necessary ingredient of imagination.
How fortunate we are that Jesper and Jasmine have decided to make New Zealand their home. In this exhibition Florence to Auckland we can enjoy the fruits of this journey. Jasmine’s figure work such as her Seated Nude I has the tactile quality of an Ingres bather enlivened by subtle patches of colour and twists of the upper torso, shoulders, and head. The angularity of her Female Nude Reclining and her Magdalena Poster Study recall not so much Cubism but the sharp angles of Rosso Fiorentino’s forms in his Descent from the Cross and Degas’s Carmelina.
Jasmine’s story is one of an artist in revolt. Of Persian heritage, she fled a restrictive upbringing in which she was forbidden to draw, to paint, to make representative marks of any kind. We see this epitomized in her twenty small autobiographical works. In the Mask series, females hide their personality (or do they?) In another two paintings the subjects push against unseen restrictions. NO! a painterly Brancusi head, with overtones of Magritte, covers his ears with his hands but does not utter a Munch scream. No expression of the senses in a restrictive world is possible.
Two works of cell-like rooms in primary colours, one blue, the other red, are both empty and claustrophobic and more sinister than Graham Sydney’s Killing House. The only opening in these two works is that towards the viewer and, of course, the artist. Both are unseen but their mind is implied. Is this where we find true freedom?
It is to the still-life that Jasmine’s husband Jesper Sundwall turns his attention. His carefully composed and skillfully rendered paintings transport the viewer. In true classical tradition, the light in these works comes from the left-hand side. The shadows fall, as fall they must, but these shadows are alive, acting as alter-ego to the object depicted. The glossary of the Tate Museum defines the subject of a still life as "anything that does not move or is dead." Well, yes, all but one of the subjects of the pieces by Jesper Sundwall fit that description—the subjects are dead, but as paintings they are alive. These paintings live and breathe the same air as the viewer!
Walnuts spill out in Jesper’s Walnuts and Pot (below). Collectively it is a waterfall of walnuts yet each walnut has a character adding to the total image: little helmeted faces jostle for position.
Shearer, a word so familiar to the New Zealand public, is an image so intense in its simple depiction that it conjures up a narrative of round woolly sheep and black singleted, swarthy men. Bottles gains life from the shadows and from the cracked wooden shelf on which the bottles stand—the shadow of the drapery in the top right-hand corner creating a spear for the male figure shadowed in the blue bottle. Vitality in the yellow bottle comes from the reflected light and strange shapes, while the absence of the lid for the brown bottle raises a question about its contents! No-one would have guessed that the upturned bird shadow had its origin in the bunch of keys of Metal Rings.
The duck-like quality of Resin Containers comes largely from the colour, but the pairing of the two containers evokes male and female, a drake and a duck complete with suggestive aperture. We are reminded of how these modern day objects can pollute the very creatures from which they take their design. There is potential life here, but it is vulnerable. The opposite could be said of the Memento Mori 1, where the aggressive bite of the skull into the table-cloth is almost in denial of its usual description as the ultimate “memento mori.” And, lest you forget, put oil into the lamp!
Life is to be had in all of Jesper’s paintings, summed up in his award-winning self-portrait Sven and I, featuring an honorary tuatara if ever I saw one!
For all those who appreciate art that speaks to you, but can seldom find any worthy of the name, this is an exhibition that must not to be missed. Welding classical techniques to modern imagination, and with a rich knowledge of artistic history, these are two young artists to watch.
Florence to Auckland runs from Opening Night, Friday 13 July at 6.00 pm, to 1 August at the Railway Studio, Railway St, Newmarket, Monday to Saturday, 10.00 am to 2.00 pm.
And don’t miss their public ‘Artists’s Talk’ at the same venue this Sunday, 15 July, 4pm—bookings for which are essential!
Dr. Angela Mackie
Dr Angela Mackie is an art historian, a lecturer in art history, and an enthusiastic promoter of Renaissance art.
Her Cathedral Lectures, featuring both full-sized and bite-sized art history classes, are legendary. Enrol now.