John Walsh and Felix Kelly at The New Dowse

I’d never been to the New Dowse before. I’d been tempted by the craft shows they regularly hold, but I really don’t go to the Hutt that often. The exhibition space wasn’t as large as I expected from the size of the building, but it represents the airy hipster freethinking I’ve missed with the closure of the City Gallery.

John Walsh’s dense, dark, witty oil paintings are exhibited under extraordinary lighting which makes some of the colours glow. They’re extremely disturbing, like the work of Bill Hammond and Edward Gorey. I don’t think they’d be as effective under daylight or reproduced in a book – the originals have a paua-like texture which is hard to describe.

Felix Kelly was an expat NZ artist who worked as a graphic designer in London in the 30s and was also known for his book covers and fantasy-realist art of houses and landscapes. I was pleased to discover he used to be a cartoonist for the kids magazine Lilliput at the same time as Ronald Searle, and there were many of his original cartoons on display. The somewhat tenuous conceit of this exhibition is that Kelly was Evelyn Waugh’s inspiration for the character Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, as if this should be the main reason for devoting a retrospective to the man.

Upstairs they have an exhibition of their Gold Award winners, where jewellers are given the opportunity to create something using real gold. The results are delicate and finely crafted, and under massive security shields.

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