Charlotte Handy’s paintings explore “the tensions between abstract and literal, land and sea, surface and depth.” (1) The atmospheres move between the realms of implied, real and imaginary while Handy dissolves perspective to play games with the viewer’s perception. Key in these paintings is the state of constant visual flux: nothing is fixed or certain or final.
Handy’s early seascape paintings are a non-representational visual cartography of oceans, landmass, and weather conditions where location is suggested rather than overtly stated. “Her works map dreamscapes; they are the paintings of a self-exiled New Zealander whose eyes comb a phantasmal body of water for evidence of something specific, something familiar.”(2)
In her “Heaphy’s Garden” series Handy entered the landscape of the forest, openly acknowledging in the title a childhood “first lens” debt to the depictions and interpretations of the NZ landscape in the work of colonial artist Charles Heaphy. She presents the garden as a forest and with this metaphor central to the broad dialogues contained, commences her now characteristic exploration of the spaces between the abstract and the literal. She uses light, atmosphere, line, substance, shape and the hue of colour to express moments by holding them in suspension.
In her most recent body of work, Handy explores the inevitability of time’s passing and the feelings of loss and nostalgia that this engenders. Framed by an elegant geometry of cheekbones and jawline, and constructed using a series of delicate planes, Handy has created beautiful, yet alien, portraits. Some of the subjects stare directly out of their paintings; others gaze past the edges of the canvas into an unseen distance. Her shallow perspective and tight focus in the smallest works recall Russian icons, emphasised further by the flat plane of the background. The abstracted natural forms seen in her earlier works are still present, but here provide a frame for a series of calm, pensive portraits.
Charlotte Handy was born in Wellington in 1967. She attended the Elam School of Fine Arts in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Her contemporaries included Giovanni Intra, Anna Miles, Michael Parekowhai, and Gavin Hipkins. She was awarded a Senior Scholarship in painting and was invited in her third year at Elam to hold her first solo exhibition at the Betty Wallis Gallery. A move to London in 1994 resulted in Charlotte becoming involved in the British photography scene. She was a finalist in two international competitions, and her work was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Festival Hall. Her work is held in the James Wallace Arts Trust, National Bank, Minter Ellison Rudd Watts and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade collections, and in private collections in New Zealand, East Asia, Europe and North America.
1. Anna Smith, Sea Lungs for an Inland Sea,
2. David Eggleton,The Sea Inside, New Zealand Listener, December 16, 2006.
3. Anna Smith, Sea Lungs for an Inland Sea.