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16 July 2004

Christchurch’s urban landscape has inspired local artist Ross Gray in his epic painting installation at the the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.

Soundings, the culmination of a long-term creative project for Gray, will open at the Gallery on July 23. The project is still based on his long term appreciation of local buildings, but reveals the artist’s creative shift to an increasingly abstracted style with emphasis on the painting process.

Curator of Contemporary Art Felicity Milburn says Gray, a strong advocate of preserving Christchurch’s architectural heritage, has previously used his painting to highlight the destruction of the city’s landmark buildings.

“Previous works have referred overtly to the gradual erosion of the cityscape. By its very nature, Soundings is much less direct,’’ Ms Milburn says.

Open economical compositions project a more general statement about the need to respect Christchurch’s urban fabric.

“His work resounds with the echoes of the city’s  streetscape: the soft, smoky warmth of old brick walls, the interlocking layers of urban facades and the hum of the city, in the past and the present,” Felicity Milburn says.

Another shift is that where previously Gray has considered each of his paintings as a distinct, but related entity, with this project he has realised the potential of a group of works operating together on a “negative” white wall space.

Experimentation and risk taking are the basis for the project’s title. “I’m working towards a balance between my current approach to abstract painting and the subject matter of these old city buildings,’’ Gray says.

Gray held his first solo exhibition at the Canterbury Society of Arts 30 years ago. In 2002, Gray returned to Canterbury University to study for a Master of Fine Arts with Julia Morison and Ted Bracey as his supervisors, sparking the reassessment of his practice evident in this exhibition.

“Soundings has been concieved as a cumulative, encompassing experience,” says Felicity Milburn.

“Here are paintings to walk past and be enveloped by – a pulsing, fragmented frieze that evokes a sense of time past and pasing, the vital, but fragile presence of historic buildings in the life of a city.”

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