T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

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To your right lies rich still-life, to your left a great depth of earthy emotion

SL 315 by Jude Rae. Photo / Dean Purcell
SL 315 by Jude Rae. Photo / Dean Purcell

One door in Newmarket leads to two galleries but the paintings on show could hardly be more different in subject and style. Turn right into the Fox/Jensen Gallery and you enter the rich world of still-life by Jude Rae. At its most extreme her work can be two plain blocks on a slightly reflective surface, but painted with luminous colour and such quality of paint surface that they become objects of grace and poise.

In other larger paintings the quality of light playing over the surfaces is much more complex yet the objects are still commonplace in themselves. SL 315 is a white paint pail and a tall, faceted jar with a fat brown bottle behind. The transformative magic of the artist's paint forces the viewer to see these things as rich and strange.

The series of flat surfaces that make up the jar each catch the light in a slightly different way. Reflections of the brown bottle behind are broken up by the planes of the jar. The jar, a little grubby, is half filled with water. The reflection through the water is clearer, with more shape. The whole scheme is keyed to the orange line of the shelf on which these objects stand.

The splendid painting of light that works this transformation is also part of the quality of the painting of a quite different subject. SL 317 (Chet Lap Kok) is a painting of huge windows, part of the concourse of Hong Kong airport. The window frames make a strong formal pattern and the light from the sky makes silhouettes of a bus on the elevated road outside and the throng on the floor of the concourse. A figure pulling a bag on wheels characterises the place.

The sky is a pale blue that takes on a stronger hue where it falls on the floor of the passenger hall. It is these washes of colour contrasting with the rigidities of the construction that make this image memorable.

The nature of looking and perception is investigated by three digital video projections, a new departure. These are slow, gentle works that oblige the viewer to watch patiently as the camera investigates three objects on a plane surface. All three remain perceptible but each in turn comes sharply into focus, then becomes more hazy and takes on a different form as the focus shifts to one of the other objects. The process gives a hint of poetry to the act of acute looking. The effect is something of an instruction guide to looking at the paintings.

Turning left at the door brings you to the Tim Melville Gallery and an exhibition by Star Gossage. Her work is expressionist and deeply emotional. Colour is symbolic. Every image is linked to the land and to Maori women. Almost all the paintings have a strong autobiographical element. In Never Alone a solitary woman figure is painted with her face and torso a melancholy blue and her fingers drained to pale white. Behind her are Maori wall patterns and alongside a carving offers strength to counteract her obvious stress. In most of the other work the support comes from the company of women either gathered together as a sorority in Marae or in close partnership within a meeting house in That Stairway of Stars Where Your Ancestors Are. Most touching of all is a meeting of age and youth in a landscape where the water of life flows turbulently past in Clouds Caught in the River.

In this and another figure associated with the land, Your Eyes Are Like Our River, arms become elongated and limp to suggest vulnerability, yet this is minor compared to the deep emotional dedication to the friendship of women and association with the land that the paintings express.

The sculpture of Chiara Corbelletto at the Bath Street Gallery falls into two categories. The first is a number of works done in blue and white polypropylene where an open shape is moulded and interwoven in complex movement in space. These modular works come in various sizes, big as in Sixfold Song, to a conglomeration of 14 smaller pieces called Organising Principles Cloud.

The movement through the open space of the shapes is always inventive but the works would have more force seen as single pieces.

The second category, made with fine wire mesh, offers much more variety. Their visual appeal is reinforced by the transparency of the mesh which, from a short distance, reads as a tone of grey. The lively forms with the outer layers of mesh appear obviously related but darker in tone.

The effect is that the inner forms appear to float and the twists, turns and funnels within the outer shape are very lively. A typical title such as Connecting event in a small cosmic space is an apt description.

At the galleries

What: Painting Drawing Film by Jude Rae

Where and when: Fox/Jensen Gallery, 11 McColl St, Newmarket, to December 21

TJ says: Still-life and architecture transformed by colour, virtuoso painting and several delicate videos as a new departure.

What: Marae by Star Gossage

Where and when: Tim Melville Gallery, 11 McColl St, Newmarket, to December 20

TJ says: Earthy paintings of Maori women - girls, mothers and children done with sympathy and understanding.

What: Morphic Field by Chiara Corbelletto

Where and when: Bath Street Gallery, 43 Bath St, Parnell, to December 21

TJ says: Strong sculptural forms that weave and interlock in space, some modular in polypropylene and others shady and strange in wire mesh.

- NZ Herald

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