TJ McNamara: Power of words

By TJ McNamara

Rata #5 by Darryn George. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Rata #5 by Darryn George. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The repeated use of evocative words have a spiritual connection in Darryn George's Karakia series.

Darryn George is a Christchurch artist whose considerable reputation is based on large abstract works that work very well as murals. His exhibition at the Gow Langsford Gallery in Kitchener St includes one such painting which is more than three metres tall. Although it is in the office, it is open to the public.

Done with automotive paint on aluminium, it is a deep resonant black divided into seven panels defined by a bright fine line. At the top of each panel is a bar of red and white. The work is striking in its minimalist manner and only the repetition and the black and red and some areas of pattern give a hint of Maori design.

In the main room of the gallery things are different although the colour schemes mostly retain the simplicity of black, white and red. Here the oil-on-canvas paintings grow out of Maori names. The series title for these paintings is Karakia and the works evolved, in part, as a response to the earthquakes of last year which the artist experienced first-hand.

Powerfully evocative words like Rata, here meaning doctor as well as the vine, and Manukura (Leader) are given a presence by being repeated in different forms in tight compositions.

The repetition sometimes makes the lettering of the words mighty pillars, notably the white letters at the base of Keti and Rata. At other times they become smaller and run vertically rather than horizontally. In all of them there is a link to the Bible made explicit in Atua where Isaiah:40 is referred to, immediately evoking such phrases as "Comfort ye my people" and "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed". The complexity of the lettering suggests many different manifestations of the nature and workings of God.

Yet these works are not banners for a cause but visually complex compositions with power in their own right, notably in Atua, which has polarities like magnets facing all ways, and in the luminosity of Piki. Also in the midst of the bold forms Maori motifs match the major words. Delicate patterns in brown reach upward in Rata and curve and contain in Keti.

The paintings have surfaces varied by textures generally on the white lettering. George's style in these works imposes a unity but all together they can look mechanical. Separate paintings seen on their own would have more force than the whole group seen collectively.

There is an increasing tendency for galleries under the pressure of the times to stage group shows. The Melanie Roger Gallery has three artists including Sam Mitchell, recently returned from a fellowship in New York. Her work has its usual wit as she concentrates on David Bowie in his many guises, especially as Ziggy Stardust and the flash across the face taken from his album cover, Aladdin Sane.

As she often does, Mitchell paints her images on book covers and adds a rose on each as a tribute. The theme culminates in a remarkable image titled Hey Man that encapsulates the rest but done on a larger scale on Perspex.

A newcomer to the scene, Erica van Zon reproduces old film posters in paint, thereby making still-life of them and emphasising that they are history. Crowded together they look spectacular. Individually they would seem an odd endeavour.

Kirsty Bruce uses her excellent drawing skills to produce images that look as if they had been cut from a magazine. There is piquancy in some of them, such as Beauty Contest, a line-up of girls in swimsuits with Miss Wigan in the forefront that suggests that there is more to Wigan than rugby league. Spaced around the wall, they make a stylish collection of miniatures. There is a lot of life in this show at the witty and ironic end of the art process.

The same combination of two stalwarts and a newcomer can be found at Artis Gallery as well as the same variety of expression. Bridget Bidwell is showing her careful but poised abstractions. These have a rich interplay of colour and shape with a hint of still-life. Although they are small they have a tension between shapes often lacking in much larger, more pretentious work.

The work of Anah Dunsheath implies high drama and tense confrontation between men and women in night scenes of bright light and deep shadow. Familiar buildings from around Auckland as well as swooping perspectives and flash cars add to the drama and the ubiquitous traffic cones add vivid notes of red and danger. Though illustrative, the work is really vivid.

The newcomer is Bruce Hunt who captures the empty nature of back-country deep gullies and rolling hills with the faint track of a road the only indication of human presence. The evenness of tone gives an atmospheric unity to a typical work, Otekaieke, but softens the hardness of stone in Lindis River.

- NZ Herald

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