This week three artists take the land as their subject and use it in ways other than direct representation. The visionary paintings of Michael Shepherd, called The Land of Cockayne at Two Rooms, are a comment on the exploitation of the land, sometimes with oblique references to the paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, notably his Land of Cockaigne and The Fall of Icarus.
The paintings are all dark and moody and often look like representations of World War I battlefields. In The Land of Leonard Cockayne, the spelling has been altered to reference Leonard Cockayne, the author of a fundamental description of our flora.
From the Bruegel work, Shepherd has borrowed a tree with a shelf on it and figures lying around under it. The tree casts a dark shadow.
His composition is much more spare than the Old Master's work in which lazy men lie around and eggs walk up to them to be eaten, birds lay their necks out ready for the chop and pigs carry knives ready for carving.
In this land the earth is depleted. A soldier lies dead alongside bones which are identifiably Maori. A glutton emerges from a huge mass of porridge and an invasive exotic plant gropes in from the left. A moa egg lies broken in the foreground. The knapsack and boots of the soldier, the tangle of the invasive hedge - all have a striking presence.
The Fall of Icarus has a powerful sense of movement. The debris splashes up as the unfortunate boy who flew too high crashes into sludge with only a leg visible.
The ploughman of the original painting is reduced to a modern plough with its deep-cutting multiple shares heaving against the sky. The whole is sombrely tragic.
In the Greek legend, Icarus' father, Daedalus, was a great inventor of basic technology. His invention caused the death of his son. The ominous plough is an image of modern farming technology.
As always with Shepherd, the quality of the painting in his grim visions is outstanding. His methods combine traditional skills with invention. His starry sky in Milky Way is done by methods known only to him. In Holyoake, the great spreading oak shows command of natural forms while the symbolic, heraldic Golden Fleece hanging on the tree is a delicate piece of still-life. The depth and sky that give these works their haunting visionary power is rich paintwork. There is nothing comfortable about the multiple meanings these images convey but their rendition is masterly.
Where Shepherd's work is founded on a prophetic vision, Nic Moon in Tissue Memory, her exhibition at Whitespace Gallery, evokes the immediate past, the trauma and repair brought about by violent change.
One wall of the gallery is given to Seismic, an installation of 37 salvaged strips of weatherboard from demolished homes in the Christchurch Red Zone. The length of the strips is equivalent to the graph that recorded the earthquake. Each strip is topped by a singing head and gives a note of survival and hope. The lengths of wood are touching in that half of their width has been sanded to reveal the colours of numerous coats of paint that, over the years, reflected the passing of time.
On the other edge numerals evoke the recording of the shock. There is a sense of transience and the fragility of life in the work.
This show has much less direct use of natural materials than Moon's previous exhibitions but her preoccupation with patterns in nature, particularly leaf patterns, is present everywhere. The patterns are laser-cut in steel, most notably in a row of nine old grass catchers from lawn mowers. Ranged in a line, they have leaf patterns up the centre and refer to the Alpine faultline.
These cut-leaf patterns are most effective as the centre of three works called Faultline. In these, the centre is a leaf skeleton flanked by a rich surface of clay and oil paint and delicate accents of pencil and stitching. The richer response with natural materials is closely linked to Moon's earlier work.
The Antoinette Godkin Gallery, which has moved to Parnell, is showing Consequences of Action by Andrew Drummond. He is notable for the huge wheel that graces the foyer of the Vero Building in Shortland St. The wheel carries big lumps of polished coal, referring to the raw material of power.
The domestic-sized exhibition in Parnell also incorporates coal. In two tall works called Rotating Limb, a precisely circular tube filled with pieces of coal is the support for a contrasting slender branch of willow coated with precious metal leaf that gently revolves. As the elegant branch moves it comes in contact with a loop on the support which causes wear, emphasising the gradual process of change.
These strong, graceful works are accompanied by three wall tabernacles, also contrasting natural forms with coal and slate as well as human invention in pulleys and rail. It makes an inventive, thoughtful show.
At the galleries
The Land of Cockayne by Michael Shepherd
Where and when:
Two Rooms, 16 Putiki St, Newton, to October 25
Grim visions wonderfully painted, with oblique references to Bruegel, of our landscape potentially blighted by exploitation and advanced technology.
What: Tissue Memory by Nic Moon
Where and when: Whitespace, 12 Crummer Rd, Ponsonby, to October 25
TJ says: Elegiac work emphasising leaf patterns cut in steel but imaginatively evoking damage and potential recovery from the Christchurch earthquakes.
What: Consequences of Action by Andrew Drummond
Where and when: Antoinette Godkin, 30 York St, Apartment Y32, Parnell, to October 25
TJ says: Kinetic sculpture, evocative wall tabernacles and striking photographs all evoke the contrasts between natural forces and the potential power of solid minerals.