Medium has become part of message

By T.J. McNamara

Shows illustrate expectation on artists to devise techniques expressing their vision.
A close-up of Lovelorn Housewife by Rohan Weallans at Ivan Anthony Gallery. Photo / Paul Estcourt
A close-up of Lovelorn Housewife by Rohan Weallans at Ivan Anthony Gallery. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Art schools used to teach technique: how to draw things so they looked three-dimensional, how to mix colours, how to apply paint, how to compose a painting. Now it is believed that if artists have something to say they will evolve an appropriate technique to express their particular vision. Four artists on show this week have found individual means of expression.

The most evolved and the most confident is Rohan Wealleans at Ivan Anthony Gallery. Very early in his career he decided to concentrate on paint, not as a medium but as a substance. His by now well-established technique is to apply a multitude of layers of many colours of paint on a board, or a moulded shape or even, as here, on the bottom of a bath. Then he scoops hollows out of the strata of colour to make a surface of hill and dale, crater and lake, that is paradoxically unified but immensely varied.

He can play on his basic technique like an instrument that plays many different sorts of music but where the tone and timbre is always recognisably the same.

At the top of the stairs to the gallery his work - a child-sized figure called Charlie Brown - is rich, strange and very amusing. It is a very oriental Charlie Brown, though the wide-open mouth is the comic figure's shout or scream. He is clad in a yellow robe adorned with glass jewels but apart from the jewels every surface is enlivened by Wealleans' special treatment of paint layers. It is a simple comic idea transformed into something amazing.

Rather less comic is the maw of a shark surrounded by sharpened stakes. There is an improvised quality about all the work and in this case the lack of finish on the box on which it is mounted detracts from the fine savagery of the piece.

This is a copious exhibition that extends through all the rooms of the gallery and there are cases where the general tone of bizarre aggressiveness of work such as the huge, spiky, space-age helmet called Time Burger is modified by the complex charm of three-dimensional reliefs such as Lovelorn Housewife and the amazing invention of All Over Sarah. The show represents an immense amount of work but every part of it is in some way rewarding.

Scott Gardiner's work at Whitespace uses a mixture of watercolour, oil paint and pencil to express his thoughts on isolation and threat conveyed by images of wide, stony landscapes.

Several works in his early style are finely detailed landscapes with stone outcrops and rough pathways to indicate human occupance. In the foreground the stone has been quarried and huge stratified blocks lie open to the air, sometimes with heaps of rubble between them.

The recent work moves into a more metaphorical world of danger with walls and barriers conveying separation. The Distance Between You and Me has a wall in deep perspective, with a turbulent sky beyond it. Inside the wall is an area of calm. The sky, thin and luminous in previous work, is now energetically painted with clouds that suggest emotional disturbance. Another painting, a red sky behind skyscrapers reflected in water, is more pictorial but creates less tension.

Somewhere inbetween is Ever After, a powerful idea of sea held back by an immense dike with placid water on the landward side. The tight control of technique is loosened here, with a big dark run of paint in the top corner suggesting powerful forces at work. The elements don't quite come together. However, this development of less tightly controlled paint has the potential to add even more force to the compellingly strange situations Gardiner's careful technique creates.

Eddie Clemens, whose show Delusional Architecture is at the Sue Crockford Gallery, doesn't have a technique so much as a series of inventions. He came to notice with his imitation tissue boxes with a perpetually fluttering tissue.

There is a fluttering in this show too but the pieces that cavort in this way are laid on the floor. They are made of silk and the corners of the material are tucked into the neck of champagne bottles buried in decorated boxes. Mysteriously, air blows out through the neck of the bottle and perpetually agitates the sheets of silk. It is amusing and fun to watch.

Another invention is a broom with fibre optic bristles that continually change colour. The works are all modern enough to need power but the cables are tidily part of each piece, notably in New World which features trolleys where the bar of the handle is a fluorescent tube and the trolley, complete with child-seat, seems ready to be pushed into some everlasting darkness. The exhibition is completed by mesh that looks like a fence but in each panel of the fence the mesh is broken by a shape that has burst through. This feat of daring is glorified by little lights around the gaping hole. It is very inventive and entertaining but profound it is not.

Much more traditional in technique, particularly as most of the works use a pedestal to elevate forms, is the work of Charlotte Fisher at Bath Street Gallery. Surprisingly the collection is called Howl, perhaps as a tribute to the free verse of the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who collected his work under that title. Like Ginsberg her work has a note of autobiography and some social protest. A Self Portrait is formed of strong clumps of pohutakawa and oak with a fall of the sculptor's hair bringing life to its monumental formal qualities.

The materials vary. Nine Billion is block upon block of steel and the title refers to the steady increase of world population.

These fine works enhance Fisher's considerable reputation. Most impressive of all is Dark Matter. A dark shape balances, heavy but with great poise, on the top of a column. Both material and form are fitted to the artist's serious purpose.

AT THE GALLERIES

What: Physical Education by Rohan Wealleans

Where and when: Ivan Anthony Gallery, 312 Karangahape Rd, to August 21

TJ says: A unique technique of sculptured paint achieves a spectrum of moods from funny to grim.

What: Traces by Scott Gardiner

Where and when: Whitespace, 12 Crummer Rd, Ponsonby, to August 7

TJ says: Wide, surreal landscapes of detailed rocky surfaces expand to works with walls suggesting degrees of separation.

What: Delusional Architecture by Eddie Clemens

Where and when: Sue Crockford Gallery, 2 Queen St, to August 14

TJ says: Clever kinetic sculpture sits on the floor; relief sculpture fences hang on the wall; a broom with flashing lights stands by the door.

What: Howl by Charlotte Fisher

Where and when: Bath Street Gallery, 43 Bath St, Parnell, to August 14

TJ says: A rare exhibition by Charlotte Fisher shows the strength of her monument sculpture using material ranging from steel to wood and hair.

- NZ Herald

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