T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

T.J. McNamara: Light and illumination

A sense of the relationship between art and life are evident in works by Hany Armanious.

Hany Armanious' Power Nap, at Michael Lett's gallery. Photo / Greg Bowker
Hany Armanious' Power Nap, at Michael Lett's gallery. Photo / Greg Bowker

Art invites speculation about meaning and significance. Often there is no easy way in. The exhibition by Hany Armanious at Michael Lett is a case in point.

All the pieces are isolated still-life objects given an art context by being mounted on a pedestal or within an open frame. The pieces are moulded or modelled in polyurethane resin but they look like found objects.

A typical work is Power Nap, a lantern-like light fitting made in solid polyurethane with the addition of small pieces of figured glass. The framework of the light is painted, with some small pots of coloured pigment beside it.

It stands on a pedestal covered with red-striped paper in a way that a little orange light escapes at the corners. It invites speculation about the absence of light where you might expect it and the presence of light where you do not.

Of the works in an open frame Light House is the most intriguing.

The stirring blades of commercial kitchen mixers have been covered with sterling silver and they stand tall and bright inside the frame rather than on top.

In other works the meaning is more clear. Ikebana is a tower of flat pieces and in Smokers the resin has been shaped into a huge cluster of crystals in a tilted box to let the smoke out.

Only one piece is completely explicit. It is called Ejaculate and Dick.

The works are very carefully made and come in editions of two. In no way are they graceful or conventionally beautiful but in all of them there is a little shock of recognition and a sense of the relationship between art and life.

Contrast of colour, application of paint and dislocation of patterns comprise the eight paintings by Amber Wilson at Anna Miles Gallery. Each one has a patterned background that hints at wallpaper or decoration or, in the case of Mirror Dream City, an intense green leafiness. In the centre of each of these backgrounds a shape is painted in a different manner or colour, sometimes quite discordantly.

A typical work is Pontoon Shilly Shally, where the background is a varied ground of brown touched with V shapes of blue and occasional dashes of pale green. It is quite subdued. The shape in the centre, which floats on this background, has an agitated surface of thick paint - bright blue covered with loaded brush marks of red, orange, yellow and white. It is a visually compelling work and the contrast has a great deal of wit.

Other works such as Inlets of Cobble and Ascender, have a pastel charm and less sense of visual shock. The exhibition is inventive in handling and colour within tight parameters.

Despite the title, Sienna Palette, the paintings by Mark Cross at the Pierre Peeters Gallery are tightly governed by the concern for a magic realism. One part is given over to landscapes such as Dry Gulch where the brown of folding hills seems to be a darker version of the prevailing drought.

The realism goes further than that, inviting speculation without being explicit. Cross has done a number of paintings based on the rocky landscape of Niue.

His virtuoso realism comes into play in representing rippling transparent water. A notable example is Swimming in Cyan Champagne, where a woman swims in deep blue water with the surface above her very cleverly realised. The Tuna Years shows a young woman sitting on the rocks looking at the ripples on the clear water with a glass buoy in netting floating clear in the water. We can only speculate that this has floated clear from a tuna boat offshore.

Not all the work has this layering of meaning. Some is simply illustrational. Yet one uncomplicated painting, which shows the head of a thoughtful bearded man alone on a wide sea with an infinite horizon beyond him, has a symbolic force that encourages speculation about him and what looms beyond that horizon.

Scott Eady has a reputation for quirkiness. His most famous works are a Ferguson tractor modified with chrome exhausts in the Auckland Art Gallery and a scrum of skeletons packing down. Found borrowed stolen copied left-over at the Seed Gallery contains something less iconic.

It is a tricycle, modified with headlights, warning lights, a chair, a cellphone and a canvas hood. It pulls a skilfully made trailer that contains a survival kit - a puncture-repair outfit, a blanket, a torch, three folding tools and a plant.

Speculation about this work could range from reference to the German artist Joseph Beuys, who used blankets and fat as images of protection to the realisation of a child's vision of all the things he would like on his bike.

The quaintness and enigmatic nature of the work extend to the candles and tiny photographs that make up the rest of the show.


At the galleries

What: Set Down by Hany Armanious
Where and when: Michael Lett, 2/285 Great North Rd, to April 13
TJ says: Australian artist of wide and varied invention shows small sculptures with great originality and wit.

What: Paintings by Amber Wilson
Where and when: Anna Miles Gallery, Suite 4J, 47 High St, to April 20
TJ says: Abstract paintings that show delicate fields of paint with a centre that sometimes contradicts, sometimes complements the background field.

What: Sienna Palette by Mark Cross
Where and when: Pierre Peeters Gallery, 251 Parnell Rd, to April 15
TJ says: Sombre paintings of landscape combine with sparkling compositions with blue water and young women, all with an underlying symbolism.

What: Found borrowed stolen copied left-over by Scott Eady
Where and when: Seed Gallery, 23A Crowhurst St, Newmarket, to April 20
TJ says: Quirky sculpture and photographs show a clever eye, invention and childlike wish-fulfilment.

- NZ Herald

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