Gretchen Albrecht: Between Gesture and Geometry

A comprehensive survey of the work of a leading New Zealand painter.

Investigator

It’s a marvellous book, lushly illustrated, and Smythe’s text is lucid and informative ... This is a standout book showcasing the career of a standout artist.

Andrew Paul Wood, EyeContact

Selected as one of the top ten arts and literature books of 2019 by the New Zealand Listener and the New Zealand Herald.

Gretchen Albrecht is one of New Zealand’s most important abstract artists. This comprehensive survey of her career positions her amid key developments in New Zealand art history since the 1960s and argues for her work’s international significance on the basis of its distinctive engagement with shaped canvas painting. Albrecht is best-known for two series of shaped canvasses, which she developed in the 1980s and continues to elaborate today: the ovals and the hemispheres. By imbuing these two forms with a rich array of connotative meanings, Albrecht moved shaped canvas painting away from its formalist roots in postwar American art. In so doing, she pushed a genre that had been synonymous with formal purity and the reductionist pursuit of painting’s essence in the direction of a compelling and expansive impurity. The book traces the evolution of both series and sets them within the broader context of Albrecht’s sixty year career, which encompasses several other noted painting series and engagements with other media. From this new account of her work’s development, Albrecht emerges as a pivotal figure in recent New Zealand art history. In addition to helping end the dominance of landscape painting in the country and pioneering a postmodern approach to abstraction, she established herself as a respected and successful female artist at a time when the local art world offered few opportunities to women.

‘Everyone knows what they think an Albrecht is, usually, a variation on the theme of a hemisphere in two differently coloured halves, or “ovals with bars”. A book such as this allows us not only to see the other paths she has pursued, but also to marvel at the creativity that has managed to find such variety of expression within the confines she has set for herself.’ — Paul Little, North & South

Published by Massey University Press, 2019. ISBN 978-0-9951095-1-3