T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

Melissa Coote's impressive show of hands

By T.J. McNamara

Hand Cycle III by Melissa Coote, at the Fox/Jensen Gallery. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Hand Cycle III by Melissa Coote, at the Fox/Jensen Gallery. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Some weeks are exceptionally rich in works that impress because of their size. At the Jensen Gallery Melissa Coote is having her first full show in Auckland, although single works have been seen from time to time. A great deal of her painting deals with huge images of parts of the human body. This show concentrates mainly on hands. One part at first looks like huge charcoal drawings because of the intensity of the black background. This resonant black comes from an exceptionally dense pigment combined with Arabic gum and resin. The effect is to make the hands loom solid and sculptural and the excellence of the drawing of the carefully shaded image makes bone, flesh, veins and the throb of blood almost palpable. The sculptural feeling is reinforced by remote references to Michelangelo, especially the hand of Adam in the Sistine Chapel.

The surfaces of the hands are revealed by light and if you look closely at the paint it is richly worked. The quality is also revealed in Marsupial, the skull of a small animal where the subtle texture of the bone is particularly striking.

Another work Kryptos, which means "hidden", is tinged a delicate pink which makes it a singularly lovely piece, marred a little by a strong verticality.

The second part of the show comprises hands painted against a white background. The white has been scrubbed back and the hands are luminous where the light strikes them. From the fingertips, paint has been allowed to run in streams, which have the effect of giving an outflowing of poetic force rather than the stark sculptural quality found in the contrasting works. Altogether it makes for an exhibition of exceptional power.

At Two Rooms, Brad Lochore, a New Zealander working in London, has an exhibition of large paintings filled with light but done in a much gentler way. His painting is mostly of shadows, dim structures on white walls. The shadows make abstract grids across the canvas but are also recognisably real, usually window frames, and create an atmosphere of transience of time and change.

Shadow No 136 has a lovely tinge of pale blue-green on one side like a soft fading reflection of something outside the wall of windows suggested by the grid of the painting. The enigmatic quality of time and change gives depth to Sofa Vanitas where the shape of a sofa leads to a window frame made authentic with catches. In the day beyond, the dark of evening approaches. Dutch Vanitas painting is usually still-life that alludes to the passing of time and life. Lochore does mutability potently here with a sofa and a window.

The quality of the paint is exemplified in one work, which is different in subject from the rest. Rough No 2 is a composition of white and silver with the sense of evening light on clouds. The almost all white Rough No 5 may be a step too far.

Upstairs are three works by prominent sculptor Brett Graham. These hang proudly on the walls like shields adorning an ancient Viking hall but their true ancestry is Maori.

Each has the same form. The carving radiates out from the centre in deep grooves which make of the circular timber a heavy boss shape. They are at once ornate and immensely strong. One is black, another white and the third is red. The colour has been worked so the surface is varied and the total effect is simple but powerful, referencing Maori art but also a universal force.

Universal Light is the title of an exhibition by Anne Rush at Bath Street Gallery and it fills the gallery with a multiplicity of pieces. Her sculpture is all silver wire and Swarovski crystal. The wire is so fine that, as it arches out from a wall, it can be trembled by the slightest breeze. In the midst of this movement crystal shapes and beads move like bright stars. The materials extend beyond the wire and crystal to metal pot scrubbers and paper clips silver-plated and transformed into something rich and strange.

The general effect, particularly the triangular pieces that make up Celestial and Gossamer, are delicate and bright. Together they make an installation of brightness, delicacy and movement.

At the galleries

What: Paintings by Melissa Coote

Where and when: Fox/Jensen Gallery, McColl St, Newmarket, to June 14

TJ says: Large paintings mostly of hands done with unusual pigments which give powerful effects of light and form.

What: Paintings by Brad Lochore; Tangaroa piri whare by Brett Graham

Where and when: Two Rooms, 16 Putiki St, Newton, to May 19

TJ says: A New Zealand painter in London, Lochore paints shadows to remarkable effect and gives them metaphorical weight. Upstairs Brett Graham shows the strength of his carving with three majestic works related to the power of the God of the Sea.

What: Universal Light by Anne Rush

Where and when: Bath Street Gallery, 43 Bath St, Newton, to May 26

TJ says: The spacious gallery is crowded with delicate sculptures of springing wire and glittering crystal. Melissa Coote's larger than life paintings exude an almost palpable life force

- NZ Herald

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