T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

T.J. McNamara: Beguiled by bold brush work

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Accumulations 8 by Amanda Gruenwald. Photo  / Dean Purcell
Accumulations 8 by Amanda Gruenwald. Photo / Dean Purcell

At a time when installation, assemblage and video art are so prominent it is something of a surprise to see three young artists devoted to painting.

Each in their own way use the medium to convey effects not possible in any other.

At Sanderson Contemporary Art in Herne Bay's Jervois Rd, Amanda Gruenwald is showing seven paintings in a series called Accumulations. These are big, abstract works on a series of pale backgrounds on which large and complex touches of paint make an intricate shape that floats free of any base. Each touch has a twisting energy that comes from decisive application of paint.

This lively painting is thicker in texture towards the centre and thins out at the edges, but it makes the surface convey excitement about the nature of the process itself. The apparent spontaneity of application gives the painting life and variety, but its great merit is the colour.

Each work has hundreds of these deft applications of paint, and colours are set against each other to complement, support and act in the transition to nearby areas.

It makes for intense, torn clouds of light and dark filled with delicious and unexpected combinations of tints.

Often vistas in the pale background imply natural woodland because these interlocking colours suggest the colours of foliage and fruit, and they are as varied as bark. The choice of each colour seems deeply considered; in total, they have a beguiling grandeur.

The overall shape retains its intensity even when seen at a considerable distance. There are only seven paintings in the gallery. They suffer a little from being so similar in conception, but as individual works they are startlingly effective and announce the arrival of a fine talent on the scene.

Delight in colour is also key to the painting of Nicola Farquhar at Hopkinson Mossman. Her works, with one exception, all carry women's names and are based on head and shoulder shapes. Yet there are no recognisable features, rather the creation of a sense of a personality for the work itself.

The show is titled Daylight's Feeling Forms. The technique is spontaneous, and viewers can feel each stroke and twirl of the brush and imaginatively participate in the making of the work.

The application of paint varies from large chunky flourishes to thin, wispy forms. The colours evoke flowers and spring. The paintings require no interpretation but call for an immediate response.

Denise is rich and dark with predominant shades of red. Rachael is a play of green and blue, with tall poppy shapes on each side of the head. Another version of Rachael has an audacious orange. Vicky is surrounded by sheaves of gold rising upward.

Because the head shape is unmistakable, there is an element of the grotesque - just enough to add a note of tension to a style that could easily fall into obvious, conventional sentiment.

The work of Alison Granville at Pierre Peeters Gallery in Parnell is much more metaphysical, as suggested by titles such as Constellation, Eye in the Sky and Above and Beyond, yet its qualities are defined by colour and an exceptional technique. Her process is painstaking, with masses of tiny circles drawn. Each one is filled with a dot of stiff paint that dries as a small mound.

Each dot is topped by a tiny highlight. Then there are more dots on the dots, or clusters of dots. The clusters take on irregular circular patterns. The extraordinary care and patience needed to make these minute touches is fascinating.

The gallery promotion mentions pointilism but Seurat and his followers used their touches of paint to define forms like stitches in a tapestry. In Granville's work, the dots are the forms. It is an effect more like flower paintings by Klimt, especially in the bright orange of the round painting called Kaleidoscope which actually has nothing of the sharp-edged forms of the toy pattern maker, or in Millefiori where the patterns include definite indications of poppies.

For the most part, these vivid dots are clustered into cloudy foaming masses shot through by occasional larger forms, all rich with bright colour. The titles lead the viewer to think of coloured stars or gardens of masses of bright flowers. In Alice's Garden there are upright hints of flower stalks but generally there is little that is so specific. Yet the results are always appealing in their richness.

One work that shows a potential way of developing the style is a blue, loose hanging where the collections of circular forms are larger and more isolated.

All three artists are mercifully free of irony and have a strong sense of their own talent. They are not aiming for profundity but are painters in the fullest sense of the word.

- NZ Herald

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