T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

TJ McNamara: Let there be light

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Exhibitions are punctuated by bursts of different kinds of energy and emotional intensity.

Field Emissions by Ross Manning at Starkwhite. Photo / Natalie Slade
Field Emissions by Ross Manning at Starkwhite. Photo / Natalie Slade

The paintings in Max Gimblett's latest exhibition, The Ballad of the South Pacific at the Gow Langsford Gallery, are for the most part exceptionally large canvases. They are rectangular, eschewing the graceful shaped canvases and circles that were often the vehicles of his work in the past.

The style remains the same with sweeping gestures in colour and black done in one emotionally charged movement. Some new features include a much more layered background, making them more atmospheric, and including the use of epoxy resin to give a polished surface.

The sense of a vivid discharge of energy is always present but the elaborate titles give a way into the nature of the concept of each work. Across the River and into the Trees takes its title from a late novel by Ernest Hemingway about an American WWII general who finds beauty in life in the arms of a young Italian countess in Venice at the end of the war but dies suddenly. Hemingway took the title of his book from the last words of the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson who was accidently shot by his own troops: "Let us cross the river and rest in the shade of the trees."

All of this is evoked by the dark background of the work where falling movement in the layering suggests rain and deep darkness. Across this is shot a great sweep of white and of gold leaf. This is some sort of technical advance because the gold is applied as a vast brushstroke. Whether it was applied in liquid form or on top of a glue base and rubbed back is part of the mystery of making that contributes to the power of the work.

The gold also appears very effectively in The Sun of Heaven but in another it is silver leaf that, allied to bright colour, gives a special personality to The Princess Mnemosyne. The princess was a figure in classical mythology who, by coupling with Zeus, produced the Muses - the gods of poetry and music.

In this painting the silver dances across a radiant background of pink and blue. This lyrical rhapsody is in contrast to the black elegiac painting and the contrast shows that at the end of a long evolution, Gimblett has complete mastery of his individual style and completely merits the recognition he has gained internationally.

The mention of the South Pacific in the title may be because the paintings incorporate light rather than simply reflecting it. Light literally is the medium of Ross Manning's Field Emissions at Starkwhite. He uses fluorescent tubes and projected light. There are three works in the show; two are kinetic sculptures hung from the ceiling of the main gallery, both called Spectra. One has six tubes, each a separate colour, and the other has four. The tubes are hung horizontally in the manner of a mobile but are moved by household fans placed at the extremities which drive them in a circle, then back the other way.

The carefully chosen colours play on the walls, ceiling and floor in an appealing way and the kinetic element gives just a hint of practical magic. There is no attempt to hide leads and plugs so the concept is left raw.

This is quite the opposite of the elaborate effects of light in electronic devices but instead it emphasises the possibilities of ordinary objects. The third work is on the floor with moving light from two projectors playing through arrangements of bevelled glass that break it up into the spectrum. It is a charming effect.

Charm is just one possible response to the work of Star Gossage at Tim Melville although the paintings feature young women in association with landscape and flowers.

There is a brooding Expressionist melancholy in all the works as well as astringent colour that suggests tensions as well as celebration. The paintings are all of women, generalised and painted in a direct rather naive manner but with a strong element of self-portraiture. All are slender figures with long hair and elongated tapering arms. The strongest work is Whai where the curving arms are linked by an intricate Maori string game. Darkly impressive in shades of blue is Waiata o te Wairere which translates as "body and soul". This concept is carried further in a number of double portraits offering a figure and a paler version with titles like At My Table With Myself and On My Land. The setting is obviously New Zealand although the figures themselves recall the curving art nouveau rhythms of Edvard Munch.

The result is a feeling of emotional intensity about the existential problems of women in a troubled world. The work has a memorable haunting quality as well as a very earthy component.


At the galleries

What: The Ballad for the South Pacific by Max Gimblett
Where and when: Gow Langsford Gallery, 26 Lorne St, to January
TJ says: Layering in the background gives more variations in atmosphere to the potent gestural painting that has gained Gimblett recognition in New York.

What: Field Emissions by Ross Manning
Where and when: Starkwhite Gallery, 510 K Rd, to December 22
TJ says: The simplest of lighting materials and fans turned into kinetic sculpture that is colourful and beguiling.

What: Au, Au, Au by Star Gossage
Where and when: Tim Melville Gallery, 11 McColl St, Newmarket, to December 21
TJ says: These intense portraits of young women are an earthy meditation on self and spirit, tradition and the land in New Zealand

- NZ Herald

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