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Emily Wolfe: New Works (2019)


Fri 3 May 2019, 10:00am–6:00pm
Sat 4 May 2019, 10:00am–6:00pm
Sun 5 May 2019, 10:00am–6:00pm
Mon 6 May 2019, 10:00am–6:00pm
Tue 7 May 2019, 10:00am–6:00pm

Where: Milford Galleries Queenstown, 9a Earl Street, Queenstown

Restrictions: All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Admission: Free

Listed by: Milford Galleries

There is something unsettling in the faded rooms depicted in Emily Wolfe's oils. The spaces are empty, save for an occasional item of furniture, yet they are imbued with unseen presence. We seem to be aware of the people no longer present in the images — whether dead, relocated, or simply outside the edge of the picture area.

The personal nature of the covered items (photographs, small furnishings, paintings) suggests that if only they were uncovered we might be able to tell far more of their owner's life. Covered, the unseen presence remains a cipher.

Wolfe, who grew up in New Zealand but who now lives in London, has created a world filled with mystery in her art. She has said that she has “always been interested in painting things that are somehow worn, decayed […] or overlooked. They’re scenes of something that’s about to happen, or has happened, but they’re not part of the narrative.”(1)

Wolfe's rooms are pallid, the walls reduced to a plain concrete grey, and the only faint colour comes from the dull brown of pine furniture or - as is the case with Bind - the soft tones of a length of twine. Within the rooms, the furnishings and the diaphanous fabrics of images like Obscure are presented in a beautiful, almost hyper-realistic manner.

The furniture is covered, as if to indicate that any life in the house is no longer present. We see no doorways, no windows. This is an enclosed and self-sustaining space, but it is clear that some life force should be present. This feeling of the overbearing emptiness of a place which should be inhabited, technically called kenopsia, has been a major characteristic of modern art, from Giorgio de Chirico through to Peter Siddell and beyond. The works are haunted; the empty walls are not merely the negative space of a blank canvas but are filled with an eerie after-presence.

There is paradox here. The works are calm and meditative, yet seem filled with unquiet energy. They hint at cloistered darkness, yet they are painted in pastel-light tones. Great care has been taken in the representation of shadow and reflection, indicating specific times of day, yet the scenes themselves hang in a timeless limbo. Most importantly, the works have been deliberately painted so as to display the interiors to the viewer, yet one cannot help but feel a voyeuristic frisson when observing them.

1. Emily Wolfe, in Sam Eichblatt, “Strange Wilderness,” Home New Zealand, 2013.