T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

TJ McNamara: Some odd ones out there

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Artists who use more atypical methods of portrayal are featured in current exhibitions.

Sad-eyed Oyster Man by Andrea de Chatenier at Seed Gallery. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Sad-eyed Oyster Man by Andrea de Chatenier at Seed Gallery. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Unusual means of expression are the order this week. One artist uses statistics, one uses pop imagery and another shells and stones.

Sara Hughes' show at Gow Langsford is titled Harvest because she crops statistics and transforms them into art. The images are made from the ups and downs of the sharemarket to form highly colourful works using the forms of line diagrams and pie charts. The line diagrams work best. These are based on the German stock exchange, about the price of wheat and oil per barrel. The peaks and falls of these lines, which make irregular but rhythmic patterns, are arranged in towers of 14 variations of unusual but tangy colours.

They are lyrical and the two colours in each panel above and below the line of the graph chime brightly together. The combinations ring like key changes in music. They also have a sense of continuum. Stopping at the frame's edge is arbitrary.

They may have foundations in statistics but they work as paintings complete in themselves.

The effect is like the work of Clyfford Still, the American abstract expressionist, but he made huge symphonic paintings whereas Hughes' work is like vigorous and charming chamber music.

The circular pie graphs based on statistics about the price of wheat do not have the same energy, although when clustered together in groups as big as 36 pieces, the overall effect is of an impressive galaxy of colour with each circle different in composition and harmony.

The theme of wheat is carried forward in another group of three "paintings", a new and lively development in the artist's techniques.

They are made up of pins painted in colours specially mixed by Hughes and assembled like the enlarged dots of a printing process.

The images show heads of wheat floating upwards or sinking downwards. Behind them is a background pattern of the meeting between land and sea, suggesting a world view.

This new technique adds to the brio and thoughtfulness of this inventive and colourful exhibition, which lacks the movement that formerly made her vivid line compositions zing.

There is unusual technique too in the painting of Sam Mitchell in her sardonic, at times savage, exhibition called Members Only at the Melanie Roger Gallery.

The sharpness of the work is modified by the constant presence of roses in full bloom. Although they soften the cutting edge, they also emphasise the feeling of mutability and mortality that runs through the show.

Most of the painting is done in acrylic on perspex or on found book covers, with two works made in conventional manner on canvas. Both of them have a vigorously painted skull surrounded by pansies. One of the skull paintings is called Ivor Novello, composer, film star, poseur and gay icon of the 30s and 40s.

Posing is part of a group of 10 paintings, all on book covers, of body builders showing their muscles in various attitudes. The force of these images is undeniable but the key is in the blankness of the eyes.

The paintings on perspex have the more familiar form of investigating the minds of the subjects. These heads are bright-eyed and decorative; mounted around them are images that run through their mind. They think of warriors, particularly athletic Greeks like Alexander the Great and those he defeated. These sit alongside demonstrations of the grip on a cricket ball for fast bowling, or women's faces, dreams of love-making, and odalisques.

The largest and most impressive, called All I Could Know, has wrestlers and a pig and a skull in the centre.

The thoughts often recall Hollywood or comic style versions of the classical world with a camp element running through.

Sam Mitchell's work is sensational but never comfortable.

Strangeness extends to the macabre in the work of Andrea du Chatenier at the Seed Gallery in Newmarket. Her Denizens are six heads and a reclining figure. The heads are seen as something emerging from the evolutionary swamp, mostly made up of shells and stones collected on the beach.

They are assembled with glass eyes and human hair and strikingly resemble the famous paintings by the 16th century painter Arcimboldo who painted bizarre heads made of fruit and vegetables for gardeners or books for librarians.

Du Chatenier's work is three-dimensional, built around the stare of the glass eyes. Gent with Old-money Eyes makes great use of cowrie shells once used as currency. Most grotesque of all is a reclining figure that is all brittle edges. It is really an exceptional show.

The construction is amazing. Most fantastic of all is a reclining figure sitting on mirrors which suggest water. The shape is definitely human but it bristles with shells as some sort of alternative creation.

- NZ Herald

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