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Capturing what Cannot be Captured

7 October - 11 November 2023

Atelier Gallery

Nelson Arts Festival 19 - 29 November

Sewell’s works explore relationships between form, colour, light, space, aroma, and sound contributing to conversations on connections between abstraction and spiritual experience. The work seeks to evoke the unfathomable mystery and beauty of cosmic phenomena, and act as a potential threshold into the terrain of the *numinous. The exhibition includes the use of spherical and circular forms in painted, sculptural and photographic works that reflect artist Karen Sewell’s interest in celestial bodies and sacred geometries. Capturing what cannot be captured was inspired by symbolic motifs in prints of 15th century Jesuit artists who depicted circular orbs, natural light-giving bodies, cosmic or celestial to signify the divine. This motif can also be found in a 16th century painting by Johannes Vermeer who was inspired by these earlier artists.


Sewell’s foregrounding of the everyday materials of her works’ construction also suggests moments of access between the material and the intangible. Paintings are made from pigments, local nelson soil and thousands year old water drawn from a North Island natural spring. Sewell makes her paint herself using natural and synthetic pigments, soil, powdered marble and binder medium.  


Photographic works are photograms made in the darkroom and lumen prints made at the dawn of day. These recast found and everyday materials (polystyrene balls from a do-it-yourself set of our solar system and glass paperweights) as celestial bodies hovering in deep space. The resulting compositions evoke the cosmos, and for some, perhaps the earliest representations of our solar system. 


Sculptures, Hikaru dorodongos (earth dumplings) are an ancient Japanese art form and made from local Nelson soil, sand, clays, straw, pigments and encaustic wax.  The process of these works construction is slow and often meditative, a quality that Sewell enjoys. Dorodango’s can take anywhere from two weeks to a month to complete the hand polished, gilded or sealed surface. The hanging mirrored glass sculptural object has been created using a found object (glass globe) that has been hand-treated to a layered antiquing process.  


The sound component in this installation is created from NASA Voyager recordings made in deep space around the planets and moons of our solar system. This information, when sent back to Earth and decoded, can be heard as enigmatic and intriguing sounds from space – the music of the spheres. Sewell’s interest in levitation, a quality suggested by her suspension of forms appearing to hover in space, is influenced by ideas of ascension and transcendence, and conduits between the material and ethereal realms. She aspires to draw viewers’ attention to look and think beyond the material – and into the realm of feeling – in order to experience the possibilities of wonder.


For the aromatic component of Capturing What Cannot be Captured, (and its accompanying Nelson Arts Festival exhibition Luminary, presenting in the Nelson Cathedral 19 - 29 October) Sewell has commissioned and collaborated with Auckland based artist Juanita Madden Madden trained in the art of scent at Grasse Institute of Perfumery France, her work offers the experience of fragrance, and it's interaction with memory and the body.

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