Kees Bruin - Allusion & Illusion - Christchurch Art Gallery

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Kees Bruin - Allusion & Illusion - Christchurch Art Gallery

Kees BruinChristchurch artist Kees Bruin was born in Roxburgh, Central Otago, in 1954. He studiedsculpture and later painting at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts from 1974,graduating with honours – his teachers included such leading Canterbury artists asWilliam A. Sutton, Rudolf Gopas, Ted Bracey and Doris Lusk. Bruin also holds aDiploma in Teaching and a certificate in film production. He has worked as a professionalartist for almost three decades, participating in solo and group exhibitions throughoutNew Zealand and internationally.KEES BRUINVanitasCover image: Twilight Sumner (detail)Essay: Neil Roberts, Copy editing: Anna Rogers,Design: Katie Wilson, Board of DesignCopyright © 2006 Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o WaiwhetuAll images copyright of the artist. No part of this publication may bereproduced without permission in writing from the publisher.Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o WaiwhetuWorcester Boulevard, PO Box 2626, Christchurch, New ZealandTel (+64 3) 941 7300 Fax (+64 3) 941 7301www.christchurchartgallery.org.nzOpen seven days. Admission free10 February – 7 May 2006


“I like my paintings to give the illusion of being like a big photograph withoutthe major inherent distortions. I try to incorporate an underlying symbolicmessage within the painting, although this does not always happen. When itdoes, I am concerned with expressing it as subtly as possible – as Jesus Christsaid, the Kingdom of God is like buried treasure that one must search for inorder to find (Matthew 13:44).” Kees BruinAfter three decades, Kees Bruin has had time tohone his skills and establish a unique identitywithin the framework of New Zealand realism.On the surface, his paintings seem quite simpleand straightforward, but on closer examinationit becomes apparent that the reverse is in facttrue. Each work is a carefully organised compositeimbued with symbolism, illusion and allusion –a construct of ideas, places, people and imagesfrom the artist’s own invention. These layers ofsymbolism and meaning often relate directly toBruin’s Christian faith, although his paintings alsorefer to other personal interests such asskateboarding and surfing.The works in this exhibition represent a numberof ideas that have recurred in Bruin’s work indifferent guises. One of these is a concern withthe illusion of real space and allusion, oftenmetaphorically, to elements from both time andspace and Christian theology.Bruin’s least esoteric imagery can perhaps befound in his landscape paintings of Sumner, whichreveal his deep knowledge of the area where helives. This knowledge gives his paintings of theSumner foreshore in particular a heightenedreality. Paintings such as Cave Rock at Night andSumner Landscape reveal Bruin’s interest not justin physical nature but also in how atmosphericeffects and light can change a simple, almostmundanely familiar landscape into somethingwith grandeur and presence.Since the mid-1990s, Bruin has explored thepotential of the symbolic figure in astral space.The remarkable ‘Bride’ series epitomises thisparticular concern, alluding to the spiritualsymbolism of the brides of Christ, from the parableof the wise and foolish virgins. In works such asImminent harvest, figures levitate above locallandscapes on their journey within the firmament.Each painting has its own message, sometimessimple and subtle but often more complex, as inChristchurch Bride no. II. In this work, an almostResurrection-like figure leaves the earthly plane,carried aloft out of flames and water, symbols ofpurification, as she is summoned by Christ fromthe turbulent Baroque sky above.interior expanse. In Restored Eve no. IV, for instance,the shallower space gives greater intimacy bothto the viewer and to the figure of Eve turnedaway to confront the metal wall symbolic of thedivision between life and death. This barrier alsoappears in the Hope in the Door triptych, which,with other related paintings, seems to alludesimply to Bruin’s interest in skateboarding but infact has greater significance. The metal door is asymbol of the doorway to Christ, beaten by thehope of those who want to enter it.Since the 1970s, Bruin’s work has regularly dealtwith the ambiguities of reflected spaces, oftencreated through mirrored imagery. One of theearliest is Self Portrait in Armagh Court Windowin which Bruin, then 23, painted his own reflectionas a photographer in the mirror image of awindow. The viewer is placed in the disconcertingposition of seeing what is before and behind thecamera. Aotearoa uses the same device, but withgreater subtlety. Across the barrier of the almostsurreal contents of the antique shop window theartist effectively manipulates the ambiguities ofreflected space to tease and challenge the viewer.In another way, Vanitas explores the effects ofinterior and reflected space juxtaposed in thesame composition: the result is a kind of spatialtour de force, loaded with allegorical symbolismrelated to time and mortality. The memento moriemblems borrowed from 17th century Europeanart allude to the transience of life and are usedto heighten and reinforce the painting’s narrativeelements.In other 2004 and 2005 works, Bruin alludes evenmore directly to 17th century images, several ofthem conceived in such a way as to be almostenigmatic. The powerful and mysterious WitnessCaravaggio is a prime example. Elements of realityand unreality seem to co-exist in an ambiguousstatement of time and space where Caravaggio’sdramatic 16th century masterwork The Taking ofChrist holds a dominant position. The overallmeaning of the painting is no less intriguing thanmany of Bruin’s other works, but one factor isevident and constant: very little that Kees Bruinpaints is not directly linked to his Christian faith.List of WorksAll measurements are height by width.LANDSCAPETwilight Sumner 2001Oil on canvas, 1000 x 1300 mmPrivate CollectionCave Rock at Night 1985Oil on canvas, 900 x 1200 mmPrivate CollectionSumner Landscape 1994Oil on canvas, 450 x 900 mmCollection of Christchurch Art GalleryTe Puna o WaiwhetuImaginary Garden 1990Oil on canvas, 910 x 1220 mmPrivate Collection, TaurangaNorwest Arch, Christchurch 1986Oil on canvas, 500 x 1000 mmPrivate CollectionBaptism of Christ 2005Oil on canvas, 510 x 510 mmPrivate CollectionTHE FIGURE IN SPACETim 1978Oil on canvas, 910 x 1520 mmPrivate CollectionChristchurch Bride no. II 1998Oil on canvas, 800 x 600 mmPrivate CollectionMusterion 2000Oil on canvas, 600 x 1200 mmPrivate CollectionImminent harvest 2003Oil on canvas, 700 x 1200 mmPrivate CollectionAchilles Halo 2004Oil on canvas, 800 x 840 mmPrivate CollectionSurfer and self portrait 1992Oil on canvas, 820 x 1200 mmPrivate CollectionHope in the I Door 1990Oil on canvas, 1400 x 1060 mmCollection of Christchurch Art GalleryTe Puna o WaiwhetuDoor to door 1991Oil on canvas, 1400 x 1400Collection of Christchurch Art GalleryTe Puna o WaiwhetuHope in the Door II 1990Oil on canvas, 1400 x 1060 mmCollection of Christchurch Art GalleryTe Puna o WaiwhetuINTERIOR SPACERestored Eve no. IV 1996Oil on canvas, 800 x 500 mmPrivate CollectionElizabeth & goldfinch 1994Oil on canvas, 650 x 550 mmCollection of Christchurch Art GalleryTe Puna o WaiwhetuREFLECTIONSAotearoa 1994Oil on canvas, 1000 x 1300 mmPrivate CollectionSelf Portrait in Armagh CourtWindow 1977Oil on canvas, 1520 x 1220 mmPrivate CollectionVanitas 2004Oil on canvas, 1005 x 1095 mmPrivate CollectionHISTORICAL ALLUSIONWitness CaravaggioReading 2003Oil on canvas, 610 x 560 mmPrivate CollectionWitness Caravaggio 2004Oil on canvas, 500 x 550 mmCollection of Christchurch Art GalleryTe Puna o WaiwhetuIs that you Caravaggio no. II 2005Oil on canvas, 500 x 700 mmPrivate CollectionThe doom fulfilled and the Light ofthe world 2005Oil on canvas, 510 x 510 mmCollection of the artistHelen and Giorgione 2005Oil on canvas, 360 x 550 mmPrivate CollectionBy contrast, Bruin can also contract the picturespace so that the work operates within a closerNEIL ROBERTSLeft: Imminent harvest (detail)

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