A Year in Miniature-Summer in New Zealand Exhibition by Artist Susan diRende Review


This remarkable exhibit of 109 miniatures of subjects drawn primarily from life around the Wairarapa adds up to a sweeping collage of the breath and light of summer on the North Island. Each scene is a mere 50 x 85 mm, the size of the credit and bank cards in your wallet. Indeed, plastic credit card blanks are the actual canvas for these tiny gems created using Sharpie and other permanent markers as the medium. The resulting pictures, bright and vivid, were described by more than one visitor to the exhibit as jewel-like.  
"The idea grew out of happenstance. As I was leaving Los Angeles to come to New Zealand for my residency, an artist friend asked if I could use blank credit cards for anything. He'd been sent 7000 by mistake from China, and they were not worth returning but, environmentally, a shame to simply trash. I'd been trying to think of what to use as a travel sketchbook, and so I took a couple of 100-card packs.
"My friend asked how I'd draw on them, and I chimed, "Sharpies!" I knew these markers had been designed to write on plastic without rubbing or washing off. I imagined I would draw on the cards using the Sharpies to make sketches and line drawings. Then I discovered the blending properties of Sharpie-on-Sharpie-on-plastic and the project bloomed into," gesturing to the line of bright images on the far wall, " all this."
Arranged in a visual timeline, you can see the evolution of technique. The first pictures are mostly lines, but they quickly grow into very painterly works.

"I've become something of an expert in Sharpie technique over the last few months. Though I've had to branch out. You can only get a few colors of Sharpie pens in New Zealand, so I've experimented with knockoff brands and alcohol-based permanent markers. Some give a lovely watercolor effect, but for the bright, glossy jewel effect, there's nothing like Sharpie."
All the more amazing is the detail in these miniatures. "I've always loved working small, but other people never responded with more than passing curiosity. Being so far from home, instead of showing the actual miniatures to people, I posted pictures on Facebook which displays them much bigger. Suddenly, people could see the detail that my nearsighted eyes created and they were delighted. You'd think blowing up a miniature would take away its appeal, but the opposite happened here, letting others see the color and depth I put into the very smallest details."
Ms. diRende is an American artist finishing up a four-month artist residency at the New Zealand Pacific Studios near Masterton. She is a writer and a filmmaker in addition to being a visual artist. For the last 10 years, she has funded and run the Broad Humor Film Festival, a festival of comic films written and directed by women. As part of this pop up exhibit at Tory Street, she led a discussion on women filmmakers and the idea of success in Hollywood. It was particularly interesting to hear her talk about the narrative tendency of women to tell stories with a different deep structure from classic Aristotelian rising action to a single powerful climax and denouement, or as she calls it, "climax and a cigarette." 
"Women's comedy tends to be more often built on the multiple orgasm model we gals experience. Not one climax, and perhaps not so big, but, how nice to have another one, even a little one, waiting in the wings. And now another... or maybe not... oh yes it is, and a rather juicy one... And so on. While development executives and festival selection committees pass over women's work for not delivering the one big bang that Hollywood investors require, audiences love these women's films. It's a chance for everyone, male as well as female, to enjoy the multiple orgasms women take for granted."  
It was an afternoon of sparkling ideas, warm humor, and love of life present in both the artwork and the discussion. If you have the opportunity to see any of Susan diRende's work or hear her speak, give yourself a gift and go.

An early card that marks the transition from drawing to more painted technique.

EXHIBITION; A Year in Miniature: Summer in New Zealand
Wellington, NZ
April 19, 2015

Many native plants and animals found only in New Zealand are depicted in the series.

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