Russell's captivatingly elegant works emerge as a response to the environment surrounding him. "It is about the regenerative power of the landscape I work and live in: its contours, sense of scale and history. As an artist and gardener I am concerned with nurturing, protecting, the cycle of growth and decay, with resurrection, the seasons, the physicality of work."
The series featured in the exhibition, titled Whareakeake is based on Whareakeake or Murdering Beach, a secluded beach near Port Chalmers. In 1815 New Zealand's first art dealer, William Tucker, lived with the Maori at Whareakeake for 2 years organising an export trade in heitiki for the European market. Tucker became a minor legend in NZ as the man who started the retail trade in preserved heads. Maori abandoned Whareakeake in 1825 and it became a treasure trove for European curio hunters.
In the 1880s sluicing guns from the central Otago Goldfields were used to wash out the pounamu artifacts to sell. Vast quantities of pounamu artifacts were still found by archaeologists throughout the nineteen hundreds.
The exhibition explores the beach's history; Russell condenses Murdering Beach, its history and physicality to an assembly of paintings, working together as a monument to that which inspired their creation.
David Eggleton has observed that Russell's art emerges from the landscape rather than being superimposed, like a monument, on it. His is an art which sustains itself on a vocabulary of synonyms for nature: abstract minimalism crossed with landscape romanticism.