T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

Gnomes to gangsters

Auckland's galleries host a wide variety as the year draws to an end.

Gregor Kregar's Thinker 3, at Gow Langsford Gallery. Photo / Natalie Slade
Gregor Kregar's Thinker 3, at Gow Langsford Gallery. Photo / Natalie Slade

Art around Auckland is typically varied right to the end of the year. The most spectacular and yet the most light-hearted and glittering work is by Gregor Kregar, at the Kitchener St Gow Langsford Gallery. He goes the Jeff Koons way of making comic commonplace objects sculptural and monumental by making them very large and altering the material.

Kregar makes garden gnomes. Two are huge, made in polished stainless steel, with no attempt to make any sort of convincing realism. The aim is to give them an amusing and memorable presence and in this he is entirely successful.

Darkness reigns in the installation by Jacqueline Fraser at the Michael Lett Gallery called The Making of American Gangster 2012. The film is the starting point of the installation. Two projectors in separate rooms show extracts so slowly they are barely recognisable. Each room has a large chandelier hung from the ceiling but the dimness is lit by twisting, stylish floor lamps.

The real substance of the show lies in cellophane bags hung on the walls. Each contains a collaged clipping from a magazine of an African-American man or woman with a powerful personality, but in a situation that suggests exploitation. The clippings are accompanied by sheets of glitter and tinsel. Some of the figures have bullet wounds and trails of blood. They are rather slight compared to the scope of the installation as a whole, seen as a summary of the filmic view of gangster life with a tribute to the power of images.

The darkness continues in a remarkable show called Affliction at the Ivan Anthony Gallery by Brendon Wilkinson, who has achieved considerable prominence as an artist working with a gothic, vampiric imagination. The exhibition includes large paintings, some extraordinary delicate watercolours and images that create character by using dense collages of moth and butterfly wings.

Of three big paintings, two have columns rising like totems against a black background, while the third is an elaborate ritual carried out against an aureole of rainbow colour. Drone has a girl and boy beneath a winged form that dominates from high above them. Nazarene rises in veils like smoke to reveal a vision of spirit forms around a face lost in ecstasy or agony.

It is a work full of mystery that extends to the third ambitious work that has figures symmetrically arranged in a vivid ritual dance against an exceptionally rich background. The watercolours use the texture of thick paper as a vehicle and it is typical of the show that in one room a delicate portrait is opposite a deeply disturbing image of a terrifying wound.

There is more darkness in the mostly black and white photographs at Two Rooms where beekeeper and photographer Ann Noble has recorded her bees in swarm, sleep and flight. The density of the swarming bees is caught in astonishing detail.

Upstairs at the same gallery is the video work of Gregory Bennett whose computer-generated work involves legions of identical figures marching, sitting and stomping along in continual movement. In this latest and largest of his works, aptly named Omnipolis, the figures occupy a great tower. It is a gripping piece.

Niki Hastings-McFall returns to light in her new show at Whitespace called Variance. As she has often done in the past, Hastings-McFall is adapting reflective material including the vinyl used for roadside signs. The patterns on her work are geometrised Pacific motifs layered behind the reflective material. The result is work that is powerful under lights and varies according to viewing angle. They project their qualities in ways impossible to photograph.

Equally impossible to photograph in their full impact are the thickly crusted paintings of Geoff Dixon, at the Bath Street Gallery. A Short Ride in a Fast Machine takes its title from a trumpet fanfare by the modern American composer John Adams which has a high-speed beginning with insistent tapping of a woodblock followed by bursts of sound from a huge orchestra.

The paintings are similar to this virtuoso fanfare in their bold energy. They are dominated by the sweeping curves of predatory birds and flashes of zooming space ships. The meaning of all this is not clear but the effect is brutally and colourfully dramatic.

The gallery is shared with the quiet painterly works of Euan MacLeod where spirit-like figures and their boats are metaphors for contemplative moods. A typical work is Approaching Island where a figure clutches the gunwales of a boat as it drifts toward a visionary island shore.

- NZ Herald

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