The blue which pervades Gerda Leenards’ recent work is as much about light as it is a single colour. Light, it could be argued, is the central enquiry of her practice. Following the Blue Ribbon heightens illumination to saturation point, bringing us to a place which feels wet with light. Here the physical combination of light and water must be acknowledged as forming life’s fundamental equation. It is both the painter’s base currency, and the elementary unit of existence.
This exhibition draws on Gerda Leenards’ 2008 research trip to China’s Guanqxi Province. Travelling along the Li and Yulong (a smaller tributary of the Li) River’s, she traced the contours of the craggy karst ranges which line their banks. On her return to New Zealand the artist painted a series of works on canvas and antique screens. In these images the landscape is reflected in the river’s limpid surface, building an atmosphere deeply still.
Depictions of the mountainous landscape along the 100km reach of the Li River (often referred to in poetry as ‘the blue ribbon’) appear throughout Chinese literature and visual art. Figurative descriptions have been attributed to many of the forms, and Gerda recalls the extended conversations which took place around the ‘painted nine horses’ and other shapes identified in the contours. Her works re-present these in an abstracted painted vocabulary, an approach which will be familiar to viewers who know her landscape images of Fiordland.
Qualities of light, atmosphere and water remain central in Gerda’s paintings. These have spanned a range of territories. The China trip has furthered her explorations through the encounter with another very strong and ancient landscape tradition. The much-discussed traits of Dutch light, New Zealand light and the light of China all underpin Gerda’s most recent body of works. Always this light is reflected in and diffused by water, and in Following the Blue Ribbon the water is both the subject, and activates the panoramic installation.
Text by Abby Cunnane, Hirschfeld Gallery Curator, City Gallery Wellington.
Following the Blue Ribbon was first exhibited in the Hirschfeld Gallery at City Gallery Wellington.