T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

TJ McNamara: Twiss victorious in winged works

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reer Twiss'  Restoration of Victory. Photo / Jodi Rose
reer Twiss' Restoration of Victory. Photo / Jodi Rose

The great ancient Greek sculpture The Victory of Samothrace has been shown spectacularly at the top of a wide flight of stairs in the Louvre since 1883. Every visitor sees it and admires the wings and garments blown by the wind as Nike/Victory stands on the prow of a ship.

What is not so widely known is that it was discovered as thousands of pieces that have been carefully fitted together. But it lacks a head.

Most antique sculpture is known through fragments rather than complete works and famous sculptors such as Rodin in the 19th century have exploited the romantic appeal of fragments in their work.

Veteran sculptor Greer Twiss, in his largest and most successful exhibition for many years, uses this sculptural power of fragments. He works well on a small scale and his show of more than two dozen works at Whitespace Gallery is mostly made up of small wax figures based sometimes remotely on the great marble, Victory.

Although almost all the work is in wax, some pieces have been cast in bronze. Wax has the capacity to be worked into attractive surfaces that bear the imprint of the sculptor's hands. Many of the greatest artists have used wax for their first ideas and it is a basic part of the bronze-casting process.

The figures in this show have some similarities with athletes that Twiss modelled at the beginning of his career. Now he allows himself to begin with the idea of a winged figure and, exploiting all the references to Nike and angels, has added quirky touches, sometimes giving his more or less complete figures high heels and mini-skirts. At times, they even appear to be working out at the gym.

They all have a wing. Sometimes the wings are very beautiful in themselves. At other times, they hang limp. The figures are nude or at least topless and they range through expressions of emotion from ecstasy through energy to pathos. The emotional charge of each figure stems from the wings as much as the pose.

The work also references how ancient sculpture is shown in museums. Many are shown in cases and, being fragments, they are supported by iron rods and retort stands. Out of all this emerges a series of absolutely delightful statues. Weathered Victory is heroic with one broken wing and one complete. There are three small Victories, including Walking Victory. They stride vigorously forward although are held back by restraints that give real tension to the energy. In Victory Reconstruction, there is an arm on the floor and a deep feeling of loss. The most triumphant of all is a work called Restoration of Victory with a red torso and a vigorous forward lunge. It is a fragment that has regained energy.

All these works, including those that are merely a wing by itself or just an arm and a wing, are endlessly inventive and modelled with the skill of long experience to make variations on great and historical sculptural themes.

The Gow Langsford Gallery hosts an exhibition by the prominent British sculptor Tony Craig, who has evolved a style that involves columns of layers of discs that seem to sway back and forth. An example in this show is simply called wt(bronze) column), an abstract work that moves in space from a slender base. Some of the biggest layers are at the top and arch over the spectator.

Other works are less abstract, where the layered discs can take on a form that is distinctly a human profile. The trick here is that when you move a couple of feet, the face is lost in the rhythmic waves of abstraction. A fascinating example, which, coincidentally, looks like a Winged Victory, is called Big Head. Actually it is two heads looking in opposite directions, both caught up in a great hook of bronze.

Although the style of these bronze works is similar, they all have a distinct character. One in particular is different from the others in that it is folded rolls of bronze embossed with a digital pattern. There is a sense of monumental, endless ribbon. The patterns work not only as decoration but also as some mysterious modern message.

There are examples of his usual style cast in steel or carved in marble. These changes from bronze are not as effective because his customary shapes seem exactly suited to the dark metal.

Orex Gallery has an exhibition called Ordinary Mysteries by Peter Wichman, a painter long known for his groups of figures mysteriously engaged in rituals that have a sense of menace. In a complete change of subject, this show is made up entirely of still life - bottles and bowls, fruit and flowers, cacti and scissors.

In an odd way these objects are grouped so they seem to interact with each other like people. The tall spikes on the tops of bottles of eyedrops read rather like weapons.

The artist carries over from his previous work a special palette of colour with intense purples and violets and browns. The result is that in the best of the work, like Razor, there is a tense interaction between the objects, almost a confrontation.

That works well in Meths, where a jar of poisonous colour sets the mood. This gives a new slant on what often comes across as a played-out genre. An artist who can give a sinister emotional charge to a toothbrush or a cactus in a pot is rare.

At the galleries

What: The Restoration of Victory, by Greer Twiss

Where and when: Whitespace, 12 Crummer Rd, Ponsonby, to December 4

TJ says: A brilliant return to veteran sculptor Greer Twiss' earliest style of modelling with variations on the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

What: Sculpture by Tony Cragg

Where and when: Gow Langsford Gallery, 26 Lorne St, to December 10

TJ says: A welcome show by a prominent British sculptor whose work in bronze is full of abstract energy and mysterious profiles.

What: Ordinary Mysteries, by Peter Wichman

Where and when: Orexart, Khartoum Place, to December 3

TJ says: An artist known for his sinister groupings of bizarre people transfers the same acid colour and sense of oddity to still life.

Check it out

For gallery listings, click here.

- NZ Herald

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