T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

T.J. McNamara: Monumental dimensions

Catherine Fookes' 'Rena' (Bay Of Plenty)
Catherine Fookes' 'Rena' (Bay Of Plenty)

Two homesteads and a suburban gallery are venues for exhibitions this week. The Pah Homestead in Hillsborough has Transfigured Heads by Terry Stringer who for many years has been the go-to artist for public sculpture of any kind.

His work is mostly figurative and, in recent years, he has cultivated a fertile ambiguity. Many of his works contain several images melded together into a sculptural form of impressive size and monumentality. His large works suit being shown outdoors. One such piece is at the intersection of Remuera Rd and Broadway in Newmarket. It looks good from all directions.

This is true of most of the work in this show, with only two exceptions. Both are earlier works: a rhythmically cubist Tongan Boy and The James Wallace Table, a brilliantly coloured still-life and table that plays games with perspective. The major works are free-standing sculptures, larger than life-size, that incorporate several images. They enable the viewer moving around them to appreciate the images as well as the way they have been allied.

The most outstanding one is outside the gallery on the lawn at the south end of the homestead. While it can be seen through the windows, it is best to go outside to appreciate it fully. Michelangelo Creates Adam is a massive figure leaning forward and twisted in the moment of being gripped by life. It is not the relaxed figure of the Adam on the Sistine ceiling but more influenced by the tragic Dying Slave, one of the two of Michelangelo's gigantic sculptured figures in the Louvre. The raised arm is similar but the effect here is not tragic but a burgeoning of life as the figure turns its face to the light. The emotional effect is reinforced by the other incorporated motifs: the bearded face of the sculptor and a mighty hand. Although it references the Renaissance artist, it is a highly original and striking concept.

Within the gallery, other sculptures stand like tree trunks in the main rooms and small sculptures such as the maquettes and ideas for the large work are in cabinets off the main hall; a good reminder that Stringer can be masterly on a small scale. He is a sculptor through and through and the paintings and drawings that accompany the show are accomplished and always interesting. But the show really proves that his talent is for work in three dimensions.

Julia Morison, who lives in Christchurch, has worked in a variety of materials throughout her long career.

Her previous exhibition at Two Rooms used the grey mud of liquefaction in ingenious ways related to the earthquake. This show, 2000 Grounds for Error, is based on picture frames and debris found in her Christchurch studio after the quake. There are not 2000 pieces in the show but more than 50 are clustered on the wall. They are all white, with only the faintest tinges of colour here and there.

The painted sculptures hang on the wall and the frames range from simple rather Victorian ovals to elaborate rectangles of moulding.

They provide a regular geometry for all manner of regular or irregular objects that droop from them.

Each work has a Christian name and, accordingly, takes on a personality. Thus Mona has a long tongue drooping from the frame, suggesting someone continually complaining. Esmeralda has loose clusters of Polyfoam whose agitated shapes suggest a wild gypsy girl, and Mimi has a decorative oval frame filled with a bosomy shape just tinged with pink. Stella is a prickly character while Dolly droops a little.

The invention is amazing. If it all sounds fun, there is an element of painful grotesqueness about some of the pieces that stems from the material added to the frame such as fake hair, spaghetti, fettuccine, pearl beads, leather and rubber cords, with the prevailing white of plaster everywhere. The materials have the randomness of objects found in the debris.

White can be the material of mourning as much as black and it is not too much to feel that the variety of these extraordinary works in some way represents the variety of emotions that were the response to the disaster.

The Nathan Homestead in Manuwera is showing Painters in the Third Dimension, with four young artists making paintings matched by related objects.

Catherine Fookes, using thick house paint, makes works such as Rena (Bay of Plenty) where the rough high relief of the paint is the wreck and the reef.

Still-life works such as Taco Bell and Guacamole use the colours of the food beside a bowl with contents that match the meal. These combinations are elegantly photographed by Carolyn Gilbert with the aim of intensifying the colour.

Emma Smith makes painted sculpture out of found objects. Most complex and sophisticated of all are the paintings of Kenneth Merrick, notably the intricate series led by Behind the Sun.

- NZ Herald

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