In a Pear Tree
The Press, Christchurch, 22 December 2004, p.C1

CHRISTOPHER MOORE, imbued with festive-season spirit, peeks at the work of two Canterbury artists.

Christmas, like art, lies in the eye of the beholder. The season's spirit is a thing of the heart and the mind; an emotional response to belonging, discovery and renewal.

Christmas is a time when beauty and truth can be discovered in the baroque swirl of a Rubens Nativity or a mundane Christmas card complete with robins and glitter dust. It is the gentle spirituality of a 15th-century Virgin and Child, the meditational calm of a Sung celedon bowl and the words which mould a painting by Colin McCahon. It's the simple words written by a child on a handmade card: Happy Christmas.

Christmas is all things to all people of goodwill whatever their cultural background.

For Christchurch artist Clare Reilly, it came suddenly; a revelation on the fringes of Banks Peninsula that revealed the different threads woven into a New Zealand Christmas.

"Walking along a track near Okains Bay, I saw a single pear lying on the path. Looking up, I saw that it had fallen from a small, stunted pear tree which was somehow clinging to the volcanic rock.

"This small, fragile tree was defying the harsh environment which surrounded it. Someone at some time had eaten a pear before tossing the core away. Instead of dying, it had grown into this tree," Reilly remembers. "It was an experience which triggered my imagination and a painting, The Little Pear Tree. It's a work which became a depiction of how things happen by chance – and by chance it's part of The Primitive Bird Group's new exhibition at Akaroa, a few kilometres from where I found the pear and the tree.

The painting is also a commentary on the human settlement of New Zealand, while the native pigeon becomes a symbol of the resilience and the renewal of the New Zealand bush. The painting contains the essential elements of a New Zealand summer on Banks Peninsula – the sea, beach and hills framed by a single, small tree with its memories of an old European carol transformed from a partridge into a kereru on a pear tree."

Sue Upritchard's Christmas offering began its life as a suggestion for a Christmas card. Upritchard, winner of the 2001 Guthrey/Centre of Contemporary Art Award, has been exhibiting regularly at CoCA where her work has become a favourite among visitors and gallery staff.

She seemed a perfect choice to feature on CoCA's 2004 Christmas card. Earlier this month, she set up Christmas Selection on a gallery wall – a colourful, fantastical world of Christmas iconography and a sense of magic. She creates the extraordinary from the ordinary – selecting, cutting and positioning a mosaic onto a wall where light and shadows can add to the magic.

"She entices the viewer to track down the exceptional in the banal, find beauty in the insignificant and marvel at the fabric that makes up the everyday," art critic Margaret Duncan wrote recently.

Happy Christmas.

* The Primitive Bird Group – Clare Reilly and Max Podstolski's new exhibition opens on December 29 at the Orion-Powerhouse Gallery, Akaroa.

Reproduced by courtesy of The Press