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Fe29 Gallery, December 2022


Fe29 Gallery’s latest exhibition, "Portrayal of Human Form", is somewhat deceptively listed as featuring the works of Viky Garden and Edward Povey.

Although it is true that both artists have works on display, these works sit alongside pieces by other artists, including early work by Robert MacDonald and numerous fine bronzes by Marian Fountain. These works, however, are mainly the icing on the cake of the exhibition.

Edward Povey is represented by a small group of works, among them terracotta-shaded lithographs and several powerful oils, notably the Schiele-esque Bathroom. In Vulnus, the artist steps away from his normal practice of painting from photographic studies to work directly from a model’s pose. The results are more visceral and chaotic than might otherwise have been the case, all to the good of the work.

The majority of the exhibition is acrylic paintings by Viky Garden, on both stretched and unstretched canvas. The unstretched works, with frayed edges showing, create a feeling of psychological distress which suits the women depicted. The soft-focus subjects, seen as if through frosted glass, have a feeling of mental unease. In the more formal stretched canvas studies, the subjects gaze beyond the viewer, as if searching for some understanding of their existence in a hazy middle distance.

James Dignan, Otago Daily Times, 22 December 2022


Fe29 Gallery, April 2022

Fe29's "Autumn Collection" is an opportunity to combine an overview of work by the gallery's regular artists with previously unseen pieces by Viky Garden and John Drawbridge.

The gallery's entrance hall is dominated by the small series of intriguing portraits by Garden. These five works somehow capture the internal character of the sitters at least as much - and probably more - than their outside appearance.


In works such as Frayed and The Wilding, the viewer is left with the distinct impression of looking inside the somewhat fractured mind of the sitter. The same is true with a couple of the artist's monotype works elsewhere in the gallery. James Dignan, Otago Daily Times, 28 April 2022


Fe29 Gallery, June 2021

Viky Garden uses the self-portrait as a means of examining womanhood, both on a personal level and as a reflection of womankind in general.

In ‘‘Grit’’, Garden explores the mental and physical states accompanying menopause, using her self-images as a tool to examine its accompanying psychological, emotional and sexual changes.

The exhibition is poignant, emotional and sometimes brutal, yet above all, truthful. Gaunt faces stare from the canvases, each bearing witness to full lives which have taken a dramatic turn.

It is not the faces themselves which instantly draw the attention, so much as the way they have been created and displayed. There are no fine brush strokes - the paint has been applied using card and wood to spread it around the canvas jaggedly yet forcefully.

The canvas is equally jagged - the works hang from unstretched canvas which has been deliberately left with frayed edges as if to suggest the unravelling of personality.

Accompanying the main works are a series of ‘‘Grit Ikons’’. These small painterly pieces are extreme close-ups, often containing no more than the part of a face, each of which is tightly and ornately framed.

The resulting images, which bring to mind both orthodox church icons and Victorian photographs, are claustrophobic and suggest the impending breakdown/breakthrough which can accompany great life changes. James Dignan, Otago Daily Times, 10 June 2021


Fe29 Gallery, June 2019

Hard on the heels of an exhibition of Viky Garden’s pinhole photography, Fe29 Gallery now presents some of the artist’s better-known work: her strong, introspective paintings and monotypes.


The artist focuses almost entirely on portraiture, using herself as the model. However, describing the works as self-portraits is misleading. The paintings are as much about the inner experience as they are photorealistic depictions of their subject, and as such, they are perhaps better described as “pan-portraits”, portraits of humanity as a whole, and especially the female spirit.


In this, the artist is following a vein of art which has a long history in New Zealand, and it is perhaps no surprise that the earliest work in the exhibition, Shared Pacific, shows the influence of Rita Angus. Neither is it surprising that the remaining works veer, at times, towards the very personal photography of Di ffrench.


The quality and strength of the works, though, are pure Garden. Golden, glowing portraits stare from empty or surrealistically busy backgrounds, their surfaces overworked with seemingly random strokes of colour which seem to capture the essence of inner turmoil.


In a smaller series of monotypes, the face is often only implied, with areas of white producing strong, heavy negative space which threatens to mask the obliterate the subject.  James Dignan, Otago Daily Times, 6 June 2019


Fe29 Gallery, May 2019

Viky Garden's art is being shown in two consecutive exhibitions at Fe29. The second, starting at the beginning of June, focuses on her paintings, but in the current display it is the artist's pinhole photography which takes pride of place.

Pinhole photography is an intriguing art form. The oldest form of photography, even pre-dating the means of preserving the image, it is one which relies as much on chance and the photographer's intuition as it does on the skill of the image maker. The ability to manipulate the image after exposure is reduced to near zero, and the primitive processes require both an intensity of mental effort and an adventurous spirit on the part of the photographer.

Pinhole work often results in high contrast images, relying for their effect on the photographer's ability to use chiaroscuro to good purpose. The long exposures also mean that the inevitable blur that comes from any motion has to be taken into account and used positively. Garden has succeeded in putting both these inherent, potentially problematic, characteristics of the process to good use. In images such as Trap, the stable background and moving foreground produce a strong depth to the image. In other works, such as Stay, the remorseless high contrast of the image creates a disturbing, dramatic effect.  James Dignan, Otago Daily Times, 23 May 2019


Warwick Henderson Gallery, August 2018

As a respected artist who rarely publicly displays her work, a new exhibition by Viky Garden is a delightful treat. From Viky Garden’s earliest drawings the artist has consistently depicted herself as the central subject in her paintings where she explores themes of identity.

Generally, Garden is preoccupied with figures in isolation but there is an impelling improvisational quality to her new work which is evident in the figure in the painting “1 March” and in “2 February” where the imposing figure is draped majestically in a red shawl. In the eponymous painting “Two”, two figures appear side by side rendered quite differently, although appearing with equal standing.

Garden’s imagery has progressed significantly where a more painterly expressionist style has been employed. Portrayed in a more abstract manner, the faces reveal less definition with a greater emphasis on chiaroscuro (the treatment of light and shade). The gestural and lively application of paint supports the somewhat distorted yet alluring nature of the subject. 

“I stopped painting for a couple of months at the end of 2015. I did this previously in 2012, dissecting my process, which ushered in a more informal, looser style. Because I work in solitude, it’s important to challenge myself, to take risks, so I decided to switch from oils to acrylics – a different medium and a whole new ball-game”.

Garden further explains…” With the abstract paintings, there's no pre-drawing process of any kind, it's very much 'point and shoot' with liquid paint, bits of card and a stick - any drawing line that exists is done at the same time as the painting”.

Detail is not necessarily a part of this painting process; many of the titles signify only the month each painting was created, preserving their ambiguity, although in the work “Woman & Cat”, the artists grey cat is included in the portrait adding a significant degree of presence and gravity to the painting. At the same time Viky Garden continues to explore her own intuitive personal, emotional, and philosophical landscape in these new works.

This commanding series of paintings serve to cement Garden’s place as a New Zealand portrait artist with exceptional and enduring ability. Garden has been a finalist in the NZ Adam Portrait Awards several times and is a finalist in this year’s Parkin Drawing Award.

Viky Garden’s exhibition opens on Wednesday 1st August is on view until the 18th August 2018. NZ Herald, 11 August 2018


Seven by Two - Warwick Henderson Gallery, September 2016

Galleries a little outside the city centre often show work of unusual interest. The Warwick Henderson Gallery in Newmarket offers an extreme contrast in the work of Viky Garden and Justin Summerton. Garden has changed her severe line for a freer style but continues her series self-portraits as a study of the life of women.

Paintings by Garden are rare. She seldom shows her work, perhaps because, throughout her long career, she has concentrated, to an unusual degree, on self-portraits in a variety of moods and settings. These are generally domestic and she sees herself as Everywoman. This time, they are straightforward full-face images against plain backgrounds.

Her severe line and clarity of image in her former work has been transformed into passages of expressionist paint. The face is set firmly, centred on the shoulders, but the drawing of the features is clouded, particularly about the eyes.

All seven paintings have the same format but each suggests a different transient mood. They are all untitled but given a date, making Untitled 3, August 2016 a firm character, Untitled 3, March 2016 bewildered and lost, Untitled 4, March 2016 sad,Untitled 1, June 2016 haughty, and so on.

One work, the largest, is outstanding. The face emerges proudly from a passage of light. It stands firmly against a strike of brown, moody colour across the forehead that ends by draining down the canvas. The body is clothed in wild indications of a robe of red painted with impressive dash. Prominent hands add to the effect of something like a swagger portrait.  TJ McNamara, NZ Herald, 24 September 2016


James Wallace Trust, Pah Homestead, August 2014

The second exhibition, in the Long Gallery at the Pah, is this year's Adam Portraiture Award, showing 41 New Zealand paintings selected from 330 entries, judged by Dr Nicola Kalinsky from the Barber Institute in Birmingham. The judge obviously has a strong liking for simple honesty and little taste for attempts at high drama. The deserved winning portrait, Tim, by Henry Christian-Slane, is small with no detailed background. The face is modeled to give a strong sense of structure and a distinct personality emerges.

Much larger portraits posed dramatically against landscape, or of subjects like Jon Trimmer the ballet dancer, are strong but obviously carried less weight with the judge. The huge portrait of Ralph Hotere by Martin Ball also did not appeal; nor did Viky Garden's intense self-portrait. As a gallery of New Zealand faces evoked by an established award, it is well worth a visit.  TJ McNamara, NZ Herald, 2 August 2014



Warwick Henderson Gallery, May 2014

Viky Garden’s new work, featuring in the Autumn Exhibition at Warwick Henderson Gallery, comes hot on the trail of her recent success in the USA. The launch of The Idaho Review, Boise State University, at the Seattle Book Fair in March, featuring Garden’s Passengers #14 on the cover, along with paintings exhibited to coincide at Idaho’s The Art Spirit Gallery during April was a follow on from having exhibited at the Wet Paint Gallery, Gloucester, UK during 2012.

Garden returned to painting after a period of producing limited edition sculptures in 2012. It is evident in her new work that the fundamentals of drawing underpin the current paintings on canvas, the image of herself being the ever-present protagonist.

The inevitability of change, both within the autobiographical narrative and mark making, offers us a visual disturbance within layers of Garden’s painting. Interacting with the drawn line, uneven gesso underpainting is exposed and yet, ultimately these works give us a sublime sense of a psychological and physiological presence rather than one of agitation. The subtly of narrative hinges on her skilful manipulation of materials, from pencil lines describing highly delicate, sensitive and observant contours, to the solidity of paint. Here one becomes aware of the transitory nature of what it means to be specifically female and female biology, within this personal narrative.

In Untitled August 2013 (recently shown in the Molly Morpeth Canaday exhibition), the unswerving sense of self is duplicated albeit faintly, hauntingly, yet the facial definitions provide a stronger identity to the depicted figure to its left. Intersecting lines or planes of the surface continue to play with our interpretation of what ‘is’ or isn’t in the picture frame. In all three paintings, Untitled August 2013, Untitled September 2013 and Untitled March 2014, washed out, faded and stylised chrysanthemums (symbolising longevity), seemingly bleed in front of us or hover in the background and a limited colour palette informs a certain status has been arrived at or is possibly a point of departure.

Those who have followed this artist’s progress over the past 25 years, will be excited by this new vein of work, which confirms Garden as one of New Zealand’s leading figurative artists. She has gained recognition not only for her consistent standard of work but also for her exceptional talent, never failing in her capacity to examine and engage.  Rosalie Jurczenko, May 2014


Passengers Exhibition - Warwick Henderson Gallery, November 2009

In a week when the unmissable exhibition of work by Len Lye opened at the Gus Fisher Gallery, other venues are featuring the work of artists of considerable standing whose exhibitions reinforce their reputations...

The work of Viky Garden at the Warwick Henderson Gallery is much more orthodox. It is painting done in oil and acrylic on linen. The subject matter is, on one level, autobiographical. The painter is shown in silhouette in black in a way similar to 18th-century paper silhouettes and the profiles on Greek vases. Yet the effect is modern because of the energy of the subject's hair gathered at the back and the carefully painted variety of clothing on the figure. The profiles are more tender than the sometimes grotesque self-portraits of previous exhibitions.

The premise of the work is that time, which subtly erodes our lives, is symbolised by huge moths, some dark and ordinary, others with attractive patterns on their wings. The human figures touched by these moths gesture pointing forward, though some are also menaced by fingers pointing behind them. Moths grow by metamorphosis - change of form - and it is implied that life is change. These thoughtful works could be melodramatic but although the images are far from sentimental they have a highly individual charm.  TJ McNamara, NZ Herald, December 5 2009


New World Virtues Exhibition - Warwick Henderson Gallery, August 2008

The mobile phone may well be the single most life-changing device created by modern technology. It is typical of the work of Viky Garden that the phone is linked to adolescent females as a source of pressure. Her show at the Warwick Henderson Gallery is intensely personal. It is also toughly unsentimental as it makes memorable images from the way a naïve young woman comes to terms with the world.

In Annunciation 2008, the girl has a vision of an angel floating and shod in smart sandals. The girl instantly tries to capture the vision on her mobile phone though it may announce the end of her virginity. The girl is dressed in red, and boldly coloured clothing gives these paintings real impact.

The background of the images plays its part too. Behind a girl is a sketchy map of the world with which she tries to link. In the most potent of these paintings, which are richly coloured in red, the adolescent figure is less confrontational because she is seen in a mirror with a slight distortion at the bevelled edge. Both of these are called Red. In Red I, an old fashioned doorknob, light switch, cupboards and locks are looked at sideways by a face escaping while talking on her mobile phone. And in Red II the girl stands in the centre with shoulders naked to the world and the phone as an almost hidden secret.

These curious dramas with their details of bobby socks, sandals and a hint of white panties are visually striking because they reject charm for insight without being savage.  TJ McNamara, NZ Herald, August 16 2008


Arabesques Exhibition - Edmiston Duke Gallery, 2006

The eye to see and the skill to transform makes fine art, and three fine shows this week illuminate this interaction.  The work of Viky Garden at the Edmiston Gallery (Arabesques, until April 28) is the result of her fixing her eye on herself. Garden's self-portraits reveal a variety of moods and attitudes and achieve their remarkable presence by her unusual combination of expressive glance, baroque patterning and the audacity to be a little grotesque while preserving dignity.  T.J. McNamara, NZ Herald, 25 April, 2006

Femme-Bridal Suite Exhibition - Edmiston Duke Gallery, 2005

Not so high-flying, also reliant on withdrawal, but much more humanistic is the touching little exhibition called femme - bridal suite by Viky Garden at the Edmiston Duke Gallery until September 23.  The works are small, carefully drawn monoprints of garments and handkerchiefs discarded by the women who once owned them. Their crumpled confusion takes a bit of deciphering.

The neat little drawings of bras incorporate the mystery of triple hooks at the back. The underpants feature the intimacy of gussets.  The images printed on handkerchiefs suggest narrative, with little kisses stitched in red and crosses marked in lipstick. A relationship is suggested. These unpretentious images carry a considerable weight of suggestion.  T.J. McNamara, NZ Herald, 13 September, 2005


Baselines Exhibition - Judith Anderson Gallery, September 2004

Garden combines tight construction with individual style and/psychological penetration. She examines the domestic scene - an intersection of a letter with a strong still-life of roses uses a compositional device for symbolic purposes in Love Letter I and realism confronts anonymous idealism in Love Letter II. Such prosaic things as window-catches complete the composition and intensify the work in the Black Window series. All this linked to striking, almost iconic figures.  T.J. McNamara, NZ Herald, 1 September 2004


Any Given Day Exhibition - Judith Anderson Gallery, November 2002

What can we use instead of that damnable word "interesting" for three fine exhibitions this week? All have recognisable people, animals, houses and scenes in them but art is always so much more than copying appearances; we need adjectives that will convey the special qualities the artist gives to these things.

Perhaps we should adopt those the British painter Lucian Freud is said to have written over his studio door: "Urgent, subtle, precise, robust".  Certainly there is a sense of urgency about two of the shows. Both Viky Garden and Bing Dawe convey the feeling they are anxious and need to give visual expression to their ideas.

Viky Garden's Any Given Day is at the Judith Anderson Gallery until December 6. As usual her work is autobiographical. The figure that appears in all the paintings is a persona of the artist but also works symbolically as a generalised woman figure.

The woman wears the same dress in all the paintings. It has a big check pattern like a tablecloth and on the checks are sprays of cherries which symbolise both fertility and loss of virginity or innocence. Another consistent feature is that the woman wears pink rubber gloves which suggest housework and gardening. The one painting in the show that does not have a figure in it is a still-life of these gloves.

Symbols are all very well but they must be given an effective visual presence and Garden's figures have an extraordinary force as they act out their part in wide landscape settings. Rural II, the most powerful of all, has a strong base in the skirt and a neck like a column as it looks from the hills of a rural setting towards something like an apartment block on the horizon; torn clouds in the sky set the emotional tone. A broken fence is not only precise in the rural setting but also suggests broken barriers.

As always with this artist there is an element of the bizarre, notably in Go Out and Play where shadows add to the drama. The housewife figure prances in gumboots, kicking a ball with the symbol of a major world issue on it. But immaculate white washing dancing like spirits on a clothesline marks a different, domestic world.

At times the woman is joined with another. Splendidly, The Visitation links the present with the past with representations of Mary, the Mother of God, meeting Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. This acknowledgment of pregnancy is touching and solemn. 

Garden has gone through a long evolution. At each stage she has produced work that is curiously compelling and this visual expression of the emotions of mature women is completely convincing.

TJ McNamara, NZ Herald, 18 November 2002


Auckland - A Work of Fiction Exhibition - Judith Anderson Gallery, February 2002

All art is born from the artist's experience and knowledge but some exhibitions draw more directly from the artist's life than others. With art as autobiography the trick is to make the images not only reflect the artist's life but also strike a chord with the viewers.

Viky Garden's work at the Judith Anderson Gallery (until February 23) is not a narrative but a series of autobiographical feelings. In her paintings she uses a tall, female figure who is obviously the artist herself but also stands as an emblem or metaphor. The images are solemn and intent.

From painting to painting the figure passes through a range of attitudes and emotions. It is questioning, commanding, asserting, accepting, saddened and, in one grim picture, made grey with despair.  The attitudes of the figure are reinforced by a repertoire of images, particularly a series of tall structures that turn a blank face to the world except where they are pierced by a dark window. The mood is reinforced by wind-driven clouds in the background and by islands cut off by the innocence of the sea.  Frequently in the background there is a tall stone plinth which inescapably locates the scene in Auckland and gives an upright, Apollonian, penetrating contrast to the foreground where the figures stand in the light.

There is no exact meaning for the other objects that accompany the women. They obviously have an allegorical purpose in this theatre of life but it is a virtue of the painting that every viewer will be able to link them with their own feelings and meanings. In The Tub, the plinth stands on a distant hill. Nearer the foreground there is a chair, which works as a symbol of domesticity. Since the beginning of her career, Garden has been able to paint a chair and endow it with a significance beyond the commonplace. In this painting, too, significance is added by a big, empty tub and further intensity is given the work by the huge cat the woman holds. Its springy tail and muscularity convey instinctive action and energy.

We are tempted to ask, will the cat be confined in the tub, washed in the tub, drowned in the tub? Nevertheless, this is not a narrative work but a work that conveys a sense of assertion and precarious control.

Another strong work is a tall nude Venus. The pose is the attitude of the Venus Pudica - the Venus of Modesty, with the hands over the breasts and groin as in the reconstructed figures of antiquity. But this is modern woman and we are confronted with a triumphant, if bony, reality while paper dolls wind between her legs. In contrast there is Mercy, where the woman kneels, her face made grey with grief, her bust thin, her feet clad in clumsy, peasant shoes and, above her, driven clouds. September 11 comes to mind and subsequent war.

This is not the single most powerful work in the show. It is a calmer, more tender work called Shelter, where there are three trees which, like the crosses on Calvary, cast long shadows. The woman in this painting has a complex expression of acceptance and holds a tiny, leafless sapling which might be bare but hints at possibilities of growth.

With every exhibition Garden's idiosyncratic, demanding work grows in complexity. These deeply meditated paintings are at once splendidly executed and have a haunting, humanist depth.

TJ McNamara, NZ Herald, 11 February 2002



Here, After Exhibition - Peters Muir Petford Gallery, October 2000

This week, among the usual variety of work - there are several interesting exhibitions of still life.

One is by Viky Garden at the Peters Muir Petford Gallery. The artist is best known for her portrayal of young women in emblematic roles. In this show she is portraying objects rather than people, although one of the remarkable qualities of the work is the suggestion of people among the objects that help to make up their lives.

In the paintings, these objects - glasses, bowls, bottles and vases - are gently distorted to make them link into tightly organised compositions and to give them a tense, curious life of their own.

These Cezanne-like, subtle shifts of shape can be seen in such things as the shoulders of the bottle in My Wine, a painting that also features transparent shadows which add to its intensity. TJ McNamara, Perspective on Art, NZ Herald, October 2000


Contra-Indications Exhibition - Peters Muir Petford Gallery, September 1999

The eternal feminine is widely in evidence in Auckland this week and not just in Stanley Kubrick's form-filled film Eyes Wide Shut.  The most starkly autobiographical treatment of women is Contra-indication by Viky Garden at the Peters Muir Petford Gallery. This exhibition evokes the memory of the poem In Excelsis by Amy Lowell:

...the whiteness of your hands and feet 
My mouth is open 
As a new jar I am empty and open

Each painting features a white vessel with a long neck and a full body as the symbol of eternal womanhood. The way in which the protagonist handles the jar with her long, pale fingers contributes to the extraordinary mood of each painting and the psychological attitude it conveys. The visual power of the work, which is considerable, is also in part due to the use of patterned fabrics in some works and landscapes in others.

Against a bare landscape and a naked tree, in The Very Thing You Love, the woman swings the vase as if to break it. The feeling of decisive movement is emphasised by the swirl of the patterned material of her dress. In Tense (past, present, future) the woman is in repose and the vase is cuddled to her as she lies in bed, the tilt of her head recalling Christ, and the sheets spread like angels' wings. The whiteness of the figure is set off by the narrow straps of her nightgown and the whole given energy by the pattern of the bedspread.

The paintings as a group have an astringency set by the acerbic face of the woman and the tension between subject and object, between the cradled vase and the nearby statue of motherhood, between the perilous poise of the vase and a bare tree out a window or a faded rose on a table. TJ McNamara, Weekend Books and Arts, NZ Herald, October 1999



Office Wives Exhibition - Chiaroscuro Gallery, November 1997

What is the secret that makes Viky Garden popular enough to sell well, and yet keep an undeniable intellectual strength? The answer is many layered.

Her Office Wives exhibition at the Chiaroscuro Gallery has the direct humanist appeal of interesting characters. When we look at these paintings, we feel we know the women. They are recognisable individuals, and typical without being empty stereotypes.

There are other more obscure resonances in the painting of which the viewer may not be consciously aware. Many of the figures are in the centre of the painting with their heads turned slightly and their hands in front of them, in a pose that recalls the most famous painting of all - Mona Lisa, of the Florentine housewife who became immortal.

Like Leonardo, Viky Garden knows that expression lurks in the corners of the mouth and the eyes. But the corners of the mouths of these women, who are weeded to the office, do not have a Mona Lisa smile and are turned down in expressions of patient endurance and hidden frustration.

The quiet misery of the lives of these women, identified as typists by patterns of shorthand that appear in the background, is most completely shown in Number 10, Death of a Shorthand Typist (I used to be so keen and bubbly). Further depth is added to the images because the artist is obviously using herself as a model and putting herself in a variety of roles.

This process is well known in the famous photographs of modern American artist Cindy Sherman, but here the process is painterly. The self-identification is a confirmation of the reality of these situations, even though each character is different.

The realities include the strong useful hands which may have spent a working life typing letters of no importance, the anonymous windows in the anonymous multi-storeyed blocks that form the background, and the curtains which signify the end of the scene when the working woman is replaced by, perhaps a younger, smarter more amenable version.

There is a great deal of sadness in these images but also a lot that is touching and honest. The faces and figures are bounded by Garden's characteristically wiry line and no detail is shirked. Look, for instance, at the solid mass at the base of the neck in the only nude in the show Unit Measure, which is a mark of the hunching osteoporosis to come.

This powerful human interest does not mean that formal strength is neglected in this fine exhibition. The colour and the patters of dresses, as well as tilted still life objects - a coffee cup or a glass of wine in the happy hour - all play their part in the tense rhythms that hold these paintings together and give them pictorial intensity.

Yet, for all the formal excellence, it is understanding and sympathy that make this a remarkable show.

TJ McNamara - On Show, Perspective on Art, NZ Herald, November 1997


OFFICE WIVES - Women of Modern Substance

Office Wives Exhibition - Chiaroscuro Gallery, November 1997 

Vermeer lovers take note. If you are, like me, susceptible to the hypnotic world of the Dutch paintings, where serene women in starched linen bodices are caught attending to timeless interior rituals, Viky Garden's Office Wives may take your breath away.

Where Vermeer's women exude a profound tranquillity, Garden's characters have inner poise that is both alluring and scary. Garden's subjects are always variants of herself. Here she has created a series of fictions based upon her day job, peopled by characters who go beyond the realms of self-portrait.

As secretaries they are imposters, elegant and obedient to the point of seeming docile, yet behind the torpid powdered face, a potent anarchy reigns.

Garden's theme are serially of anguish. Her sell-out shows Thin Disguise, last year's Sisters of Mercy, and now Office Wives are testimony to frail, yet determinedly stylish, women.

Office Wives strikes the themes pointedly. It's the pettiness, the menial tasks, the surface stickiness of the office banter, "have a nice day", "you're welcome", that contrived up-tempo chirpiness that is so utterly deadening.

Garden takes shorthand and strews it like mysterious hieroglyphics across her canvas. The buildings are those of Le Corbusier of Bauhaus Europe, a clue to the artist's European roots. These are not the secretaries of the electronic age but those of Garden's schooling, where she spent hours in the top storey of an old brick building with 30 other girls in her class, battering away at ancient typewriters.

A central image titled Curtains, portrays a 40-ish woman, an obvious recipient of a redundancy letter, bravely summoning a dignified facade. Her fate is perhaps that of the shorthand-typist.

In the coup of the show, Happy Hour, a woman braces herself against the slipstream of conversation that races past her in this supposedly upbeat affair, while she struggles to find a point of entry.

In another cloyingly familiar and large scale work, Office Politics, two women in sordid conspiracy, with coffee cup about to spill, are about to "dish the dirt".

And while there is a weight to the paintings that make them appear serious, they are also whimsical, almost funny. In Wanted: A Sunny Disposition the lips are puckered to the point of distortion, while Death of a Shorthand Typist (I used to be so keen and bubbly) has Marilyn Monroe overtones, which suggest her personality type may be the blueprint for the ultimate secretarial persona.

Jacquie Clarke, Sunday Star Times, November 1997


Sisters of Mercy Exhibition - Chiaroscuro Gallery, August 1996

In the sell-out exhibition, Sisters of Mercy by Viky Garden at the Chiaroscuro Gallery, some of the most striking paintings have in the background agitated pieces of linen swept by turbulent breezes. They evoke the striking first line in Elizabeth Smither's poem, The Feast of All Saints, where she talks of "napery in heaven's wind".

All the paintings have the same face, the head adorned with a scarf with tails that stream in the wind.

The breeze blowing through the work is a very effective symbol for emotional agitation. Against this agitation is set the monumentality of the torsos, the hands and feet making ambiguous gestures that are half threatening and half blessing.

This fertile ambiguity is particularly apparent in Games We Play, where there are two heads, a protagonist and her alter ego whose hands create an intricate play of forms with the middle and index finger clamped together and the thumb cocked as a child makes a pistol or a bishop makes a blessing.

The quality of the painting makes potent the sandalled foot, the twisted toes, the sculptural thigh.

At first these paintings appear very similar but there is a lot of difference between Tender Mercies, which combines a hint of prayer with more than a hint of defensiveness, and the fretful mood of Unrest where the agitated dreams of the sleeper are figured in the floating linen above her. The pattern of the blanket contributes its own weight to this complex and disturbing painting.

The key work is There is No Peace, There is No Freedom, which shows a figure in front of a bare plain and emphasises that these women, though they have a majestic presence, are tense and embattled. They are not icons, they are real.  TJ McNamara - Wednesday Arts, NZ Herald, August 1996


A Thin Disguise Exhibition - Chiaroscuro Gallery, August 1995

There is coherence in the exhibition of the work of Viky Garden at the Chiaroscuro Gallery because all the 20-odd paintings are self-portraits. Yet there is plenty of variety because each painting, in its tight, claustrophobic way, conveys a particular emotion or state of mind. They range from the artist as Queen Vic, complete with crown and royal smirk, to the artist as Miss Havisham, in the weird painting, The Heart Wants What It Wants.  All these faces verge on caricature. They are done with Garden's characteristic twisting, writhing line and some are completed by equally characteristic knobbly hands.

The moods of the faces are complemented by a wonderful variety of hats, which also give an added frisson to composition which could easily have become monotonous. The hats have a particular flourish in After Lizzie's Visit and the amusingly pompous Vanity Bag. In Me As I Am the hat becomes like the Medusa's snake-hair.

This witty, astringent, idiosyncratic show is sharp and unsentimental and in its own way full of delightful, intriguing painting.  TJ McNamara - Perspective on Art, NZ Herald, August 1995


Chiaroscuro Gallery, August 1994

True Life Laid Bare

In a world where women are constantly bombarded by changing images of the ideal body, it is no surprise that many women suffer from a low self-esteem about the way they look.

Viky Garden's exhibition of predominantly nude self-portraits, True Life Studies, which recently showed at Chiaroscuro Gallery in Durham Lane were precisely that, true life studies, if a little grotesquely distorted through the artist's own perception of herself from looking in the mirror.

Garden's portraits do not betray any feeling of low self-esteem. In these paintings she often isolates an area of the body, the rest cut off by the frame to leave her legs dangling or stomach tensing before us. When we do see the eyes, like these body parts, they seem to gaze provocatively at the viewer with a confident ambivalent stare as if to sternly command us to observe the beauty of the body as it "is" not as we are told it should be.

An evaluation of Garden's work like this would not be possible if the work itself was not of a high standard.

Garden has a talent with the brush and an eye for colour where the shades and tones of the body are a subtle decorative patterning like the bruises on an apple.

In a work such as In The Time Of Sleep this decoration echoes the pattern of a sheet in the background, yet this abstraction still manages to convey the real undulations of the body. The figures are never completely anatomically correct, they are awkward and gangly and, as the artist describes, suggest the "sensitivity of a time in space".

These self portraits are, however, very beautiful and carry much more of the "feeling" of the body than any close-up in a medical journal could provide. We are made strongly aware of the power of body language.

In Early Morning Lippy the face has a vulgarity, as it is screwed up before the mirror and the garish red lipstick is held like a weapon in one hand.

In Ashley the artist has turned her mirror on a male subject and the differences in feel to her self-portraits are intriguing. Here we see a headless torso and thighs languishing luxuriously across the canvas.

This depiction is closer to the classical and erotic male model stereotype. The body seems to welcome our eyes rather than disturb them. The success in composition and confidence of this piece suggests Garden may succeed equally well with figurative studies other than herself.

Garden has been less successful with her isolation techniques with objects. In Empty Chair and My Blue Chair the objects have been given similar distortions, almost appearing to have buckled under the weight of the artist's feelings at the time, which brings reminiscences of the work of Van Gogh.

They remain awkward and indeed rather "empty" in content and the compositions feel clumsy. Only when the chairs are sat upon in the other portraits do they really come to life.

And If I Row is an earlier work of Garden's which was brought out on an easel to complement the show. This work is superb, apart from the fact that, like many other young local artists, it betrays too strongly the influence of Fomison in its moodiness and biblical feel.

Here, like in the later works, the background is flat and solid but is given a jewel-like blue which attracts rather than detracts us from the figures passionately rowing for an unknown destination.

Mark Amery - Galleries, Sunday Encore, September 1994


Auckland Society of Arts, 1989

In the last little gallery there is a very bright exhibition by Vicky Garden, whose paintings have strong unusual design elements and very individual colour schemes and make good use of the texture of the hessian on which they are done. TJ McNamara, NZ Herald 1989

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