T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

TJ McNamara: Brilliant detail to plain abstraction

By TJ McNamara

"You are Never Far From My Thoughts". Artist / Peter Madden
"You are Never Far From My Thoughts". Artist / Peter Madden

Displays brighten up galleries with character, colour and definition.


This week art ranges from brilliant detail to plain abstraction with charm and folksiness in between. Shapes hovering in space have always been a feature of the work of Peter Madden who has an extensive show at the Ivan Anthony Gallery. The artist established himself with intricate compositions of brightly coloured tiny images cut from magazines like National Geographic. He placed them behind Perspex so these tiny bright pieces of reality clustered in an airy void united theme, colour and composition.

Two big works in this show follow this pattern. One is titled Distracted Reader where a whole cluster of images form a butterfly shape, while Dispersion has images densely gathered on a ridge, then thinning out like angels tumbling from heaven. These are what his admirers have come to expect from Madden and they are certainly impressive.

Other work in the show moves into new areas. Golden Brown still uses found images but with much more tightly controlled colour on multi-layered Perspex. Flowerhead has a life-sized woman's head with a life-size image of a rose clustered on it. There are half a dozen other found pictures of heads modified in some way by collage or paint.

Madden has also extended his use of three dimensions. In the past he made assemblages like crowded fragile cities. Here the three-dimensional works are based on physical objects like a walking stick with found images and modelling on the handle, or a complex massing of leaves that appear to grow from a set of antlers. This is called The Thing.

It would have been easy for the artist to continue to create such conspicuously attractive works as Folio with its collection of butterflies confined on a wooden grid on a Perspex box and he is to be admired for pushing on further.

The paintings by Katie Thomas called The Seventh Day at the Bath Street Gallery are abstract but full of natural colour and dancing sunlight expressed in paint rhythmically and intricately applied. Paintings like Little Voices and the matching Nectar have layer after layer of paint under a slick of silver which is the background to branching shapes and a pattern of leaves. The leaves are cut-outs put in place when the top layers were painted, then taken off so the underlying colour is revealed. More dripped lines of paint are applied to envelop the work in an intricate mesh, which adds texture.

The show has a joyfulness reflected in the title of the painting in the window called Wake Up Laughing.

The paintings are given individuality by varying the rhythms of the lacework of lines, which have a remote ancestor in the work of Jackson Pollock. Tumble is full of falling movement and the hints of leafy shape have autumnal colours. The charming Dancing in the Shadows has a rich texture and the rhythm goes across the painting. Dance movement is seen in Swarm but the lines are looping rather than networked. This is an exceptionally rich exhibition with delicacy in the detail and charm at a distance.

The show called Leda Petit by Mike Morgan at the newly extended Pierre Peter Gallery is pretty straightforward. In this show, the artist has concentrated on one figure, a stripper called Leda.

Most of the works have a painted proscenium arch and curtains in keeping with the model's trade. Leda herself consistently appears in corset and stockings. The pictures range from the obvious Leda's Burlesque Salon to the more imaginative Sliding from Day to Night which contrasts relaxation and work.

One work is different from all the rest, not in sentiment but in brushwork. In Leda Walking the Artist Down Lollipop Lane everything is twisted agitation. Style, emotion and a characteristic manner all come together.

Connoisseurs will find elegance in the work of Billy Apple at Two Rooms Gallery. Apple's work lives in the air of refined abstraction. He shows six paintings of the floor plan of three galleries, each shown in white on black and black on white. Each pair has tiny squares of colour, which correspond to some feature on the floor of the gallery.

Two Gallery Abstracts: Two Rooms shows the floor plan of the gallery itself. The tiny piece of colour is bright red and in the gallery a steel plate on the floor has also been painted red. This plate gives access to the drains. We are assured in the accompanying literature that the red draws attention to the underground sewerage system and "immortalises" the drains by including them in abstractions.

The gallery is shared with Simon Morris who has painted a stack of lines across one wall of the gallery that makes them push from side to side. The journey here is not as impressive as his former lines where the journey of eye and brush is endless. Upstairs is work by German artist Christoph Dahlhausen who made his considerable reputation by modifying walls by a series of lines. The Auckland Art Gallery has a work called Three Lines. Lately he has used discs of bright colour, principally across glass walls. Sixty such discs are in the upper gallery and the exhibition includes the crate in which the discs were shipped. This art born in the thin air of abstraction must have an architectural setting to gain any effect.

- NZ Herald

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