Gretchen Albrecht

On Copper

2 - 22 December 2016

Albrecht is alert to the great and enabling ambiguity in the very act of selecting a colour, allowing a gesture of the hand to move the paint… allowing the mind then to discipline the paint and find form for it. Her images often have a stark beauty, but they are not simple. They are aware of history, of art history, as much as they are of the world unmediated by art.[1]

Gretchen Albrecht’s exhibition features a selection of works that see the artist exploring the materiality of copper. Retaining her interest in shaped supports, the works are executed on ovoid or hemispherical pieces of copper that provide the works with a lustre that borders on an internal glow. As one of New Zealand’s leading colourists, Albrecht’s chromatic mastery is readily apparent in each and every copper work in the exhibition, where she skilfully works with both paint and patina. The works feature slivers of brilliant copper, marbled patina, and opaque paint that enhance and animate one another. Further visual interest is supplied through textural contrasts, for sections of the works have a smooth finish while segments of paint are left visibly raised. Indeed, the paintings reward close inspection, inviting the viewer to linger over the myriad of tonal depths, chromatic nuances, and textual variance.

Many of the celebrated characteristics of Albrecht’s painting practice, such as the threshold motif and hemisphere format are employed in these copper works, but they significantly differ from their canvas counterparts in terms of size and material properties with alluring results. The use of a reduced scale and a copper ground, works to intensify and distil the chromatic luminosity that is readily associated with Albrecht’s paintings, producing intriguing jewel-like works. In addition, the forms and material have time-honoured associations, extending back to the Renaissance and Italian painters Fra Angelico, Duccio, and Piero della Francesca. Thematic and compositional parallels proliferate, for, like her, these artists wove multiple narratives (often around the Madonna), which were circumscribed by arching semi-circular formats. A further link between the works in the current exhibition, and those of the Renaissance and Baroque, is found in the use of copper, for many early modern painters used the metal as a support in order to achieve a fluid surface and an internal brilliance.

Gretchen Albrecht has been exhibiting in New Zealand and internationally since graduating from the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland with an Honours Degree in painting in 1963. She has subsequently maintained an extensive exhibition history in private and public art galleries throughout the country. She is also the subject of several major publications, including, most recently, Colloquy: Three Essays, edited by James Ross (Auckland, 2015). Albrecht’s work is held in major New Zealand public collections including the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Auckland Art Gallery, Waikato Museum, the University of Auckland and Victoria University. In 2000, she was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to paintings in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

In addition to the paintings on copper Gretchen Albrecht has launched a new edition of polymergravure etchings, produced by ThumbPrint Editions during her recent time in London.

[1] Colm Tóibín, “Gretchen Albrecht,” in James Ross, ed., Colloquy: Three Essays (Auckland, 2015): 11.


­Four Colour Studies After Turner

Gretchen Albrecht, December 2016

In 1979 when I was living in London, with the help of Dr Eric McCormick I managed to secure a Reader’s ticket for the British Library where I subsequently made an appointment to view several of Turner’s ‘colour study’ sketchbooks. These were delivered to the table with a small easel, along with a pair of white gloves and for the rest of the morning I was immersed in his floods and patches of transparent watercolour: luminescent, radiant and mysterious. They bordered on abstraction (proto-Rothko) with often just the merest suggestion of a horizon or sea- edge, or beach or breakwater wall; the evanescent colour spilling into areas for sky or land, sunsets and sunrises all executed quickly and on a small intimate scale. A perfect viewing experience that made a deep impression on me, and now 37 years later those recalled sensations have tumbled out into these four new prints.

Last year I was introduced to the master printmaker Pete Kosowicz at Thumbprint Editions whose print workshop in Camberwell, London turned out to be a 5 minute walk from my studio. I must have passed the anonymous big solid metal gate many times over the past 15 years without knowing what lay behind it. In May of this year I returned to Thumbprint Editions with the intention of making a print. I had allotted three weeks for workshop time which before starting seemed more than enough, but as it turned out, my ideas tumbled forth and the one print multiplied into four.

Pete got me working in this new (to me) print-making method on large sheets of polymer acetate. From these he made test printouts in black, which I then cut up and collaged together until I had composed an image that I connected with and that rang true for me. This was then transferred to a plate and etched. At this point I was assigned a printer – Marta Gonzalez – a young Spanish printmaker, one of 6 assistants that Pete employs to edition the prints. With Pete’s involvement and guidance Marta stood daily at the big press and patiently and skilfully inked up, wiped and trial-proofed variations of colours on each plate until we found the combinations that ‘worked’, or ‘spoke’ for each of my four images. We worked as a team every day right up until 5pm at the end of the third week to achieve the BAT proofs. (BAT = Bon à tirer – ‘good to pull’). In my absence the editioning by Marta took place over the following three months, and I returned to London in September to sign, title and edition number the four sets of prints.

The whole process was exhilarating and allowed me to fuse the fluidity and ‘nature’ references of my 1970’s paintings with the geometric interstices and multi-part paintings of my recent works, utilising a collaging technique that has always been part of my practice.