Craig Murray-Orr Ingleby show a hymn to power of nature
New Zealand artist's work suggests an unspoilt land before colonialism
There are many painted works in this new exhibition by Kiwi artist Craig Murray-Orr, but the first item that catches the attention is the large rifle mounted on the wall. It’s not a rifle at all, but a mahogany carving in the rough but unmistakeable shape of one, from butt to sight to trigger guard and barrel with bayonet attached. It’s at once a smooth-surfaced, tantalising ornament and a strong visual symbol of power and control. Two other such sculptures are here, one of them named in tribute to Florence Baker, wife of Victorian explorer Samuel Baker, crack shot and freed slave herself.
Each of Murray-Orr’s painted pieces is a series of two or three horizontal strips of watercolour, piling black upon dirty yellow or lunar grey, or sunshine yellow graded into sandy red. Taken on their own, these offer resonant approximations of the colours and tones of a landscape horizon at varying times of day and season, with decorative aesthetic value. With the presence of the weapon-sculptures, as iconic and smoothly produced as commercial ethnic carvings, they become vague impressions of Murray-Orr’s home country as an idea, a virgin, unspoilt land before colonialism came to stay.
Broadening the theme, the mahogany-carved frieze ‘A Breath of Wind’ – a relief carving in the shape of grass fronds blown by the breeze – seems an attempt to subvert the very power of nature to the needy demands of art.
Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 26 Mar