This week saw us begin the return of Petrus van der Velden's Otira paintings and drawings to public and private collections throughout New Zealand.
Collectively, they had formed the short-lived Christchurch Art Gallery exhibition Van der Velden: Otira. Open for just twelve days before 22 February, it was the first time that the artist's Otira series had been brought together en masse in such a comprehensive way.
Van der Velden was inspired by the raw power of nature – the forces that created massive landforms such as Mt Rolleston and the Southern Alps or the unrelenting force of a surging mountain river carving its way down a mountain slope. He would certainly have been just as awestruck at the power of the natural forces at work underground in Canterbury at present – those massive subterranean seismic waves that are occasionally accompanied with a sonic boom that would make Thurston Moore shake.
A recent mail-out from Auckland's Parsons Bookshop lamented that Christchurch has 'no places for reflection; no churches or galleries'. Personally, I think this couldn't be further from the truth – as I watch my town slowly disintegrate with each shake, buildings I treasured disappearing under the digger's claw each week, I find this to have been the most reflective period of my life. Pausing and reflecting as you pass a site where you know some fellow citizens have not been as lucky as you in escaping the destruction on the 22 February, and perhaps most of all reflecting at the scale of the natural forces at play deep underground. Ah yes, van der Velden would definitely be reflecting upon how small and insignificant we are in the face of these subterranean forces at play. Of course the major place for reflection in van der Velden's life wasn't a church or art gallery or any building for that matter – it was the great outdoors and his first-hand experiences of nature; experiences that translated directly to his Otira paintings.