T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

T.J. McNamara: Almost lost in high mountain

By T.J. McNamara

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Landscapes are layered with intense colour and movement to create tumultuous events

Work by Alison Staniland ; Hexagon Series.
Work by Alison Staniland ; Hexagon Series.

An exhibition by David Ryan is always spectacular. His show at Whitespace is called Nature Studies but the paintings are far more than simple preliminary studies; they are tumultuous events. His technique is like no other. The only comparison that readily occurs is Joseph Turner. Like the great British artist's high Romantic paintings of the Swiss Alps, the complex surfaces of Ryan's images suggest high mountain landscapes almost lost in swirling gusts of mists and snow with masses of rock just visible through the weather.

This complexity is achieved by layers of paint and other substances applied, then rubbed, sanded and scraped so under-layers emerge and disappear again as a range of stony surfaces and colour, clouded and shot through with white. A link to early surveyors' maps and charts is given by various labels and stamps in the corners.

Nature Studies by David Ryan.
Nature Studies by David Ryan.

Most of the work is done on paper in watercolour and ink but two large oils on canvas, collectively called Nature Studies (bones and mist), reveal masses of intense colour and movement.

The paintings are not of a specific place, but are linked to the feeling of alpine landscape gained from the artist's travel through the Southern Alps and the Himalayas. They are paintings that exist in their own right as fascinating surfaces that repay close study of their detail. They are also high drama at a distance.

Three paintings called Cold Harbour are long panoramas. Through Ryan's characteristic rack of clouds, the tall buildings of Auckland city can be dimly seen. Cliffs of the foreshore shrouded in mists and rolling clouds complete these wide views. This change to specific, horizontal views different from the cataclysmic, vertical fall of his alpine paintings is a fertile development.

The fine group exhibition of photography at Two Rooms, titled Portrait, is unified by character study and high quality. Firstly, Mark Adams is showing his unique recording of the tattooing of one of New Zealand's most individual artists, Tony Fomison. Other photographs show the extraordinary intensity of Fomison's gaze and the collections he landscapes surrounded himself with.

'Turihaua Rex E297, Trihaua Angus, Gisborne 2013 (From the 'Bull Market' series) 2013.
'Turihaua Rex E297, Trihaua Angus, Gisborne 2013 (From the 'Bull Market' series) 2013.

Had We Lived is a re-working by Anne Noble of photographs taken of Robert Scott and the men who died with him in the Antarctic. The individual faces have been isolated and enlarged from a documentary group, then illuminated by backlight against a dark background. The results clothe each head with a strange aura. Even without knowledge of the history of these faces, a viewer would be moved by what are tragically doomed men.

There is a different confrontation in Frank Schwere's portrait of a family: mother, sire and calf of thoroughbred Angus cattle. The cow and calf are rather domesticated by ear tags. The head of the bull is seen side-on and close up so we are the object of the gaze of a fierce brown eye and aware of the hide covering vast shoulders of beef. It is a compelling confrontation.

Finally, in a feat of creativity, Fiona Pardington has given us a portrait of a green goddess, half human, half bird, with the curved beak of the extinct huia. While specifically New Zealand in some ways, the photograph also references deities of the classical world. It is truly strange.

Another group of four artists, all recent graduates from Christchurch, is at Bath Street Gallery. There is no painting or sculpture, but rather collections of things done with notable wit.

Bianca van Leeuwen takes black and white photographs and reproduces them in emulsion on the back of groups of small panels of bevelled glass. The largest group is 60 panels. This major group, Manifold Locus III, joins roads, fences and railways in perspective to recreate the variety of a rural landscape.

Multiplicity by Alison Staniland brings together bright images of flowers, fish, birds and jewels cut from magazines and treated to make them shine. Then they are sorted in terms of colour and mounted with entomology pins in a variety of geometrical shapes. The results are sparklingly decorative, notably Purple Diamond, and the vivid Red Hexagon.

There are a multiplicity of things in the work of Nicole Bourke whose Micro Series is made up of nearly two dozen objects, mostly round and folding inward like undersea creatures. They are brightly coloured, made in polyurethane foam, sometimes with added spikes and textured with flock. They are strongly tactile and the product of a lively talent and imagination.

The exhibition is completed delightfully by Tia Parker whose work is mostly embroidery, sometimes with little dancing figures on a background of human or dogs' hair. One work, presented in a Victorian frame, is a parrot with a speech ribbon rather coarsely rejecting a cracker. It squawks when you press it and is very funny.

At the galleries

What: Nature Studies (broken sounds) by David Ryan

Where and when: Whitespace, 12 Crummer Rd, Ponsonby, to March 8

TJ says: Ryan's exceptional style of cloudy alpine tumult is extended to long views of a distant city.

What: Photographs by Mark Adams, Anne Noble, Frank Schwere, Fiona Pardington

Where and when: Two Rooms, 16 Putiki St, Newton, to March 8

TJ says: This is a group show with a wide variety of approaches to personality, situation, circumstance and livestock, all done with great insight.

What: Multiplicity: Tia Parker, Bianca van Leeuwen, Alison Staniland, Nicole Bourke

Where and when: Bath Street Gallery, 43 Bath St, Parnell, to March 8

TJ says: Four recent graduates from Christchurch show collections made in a variety of mediums, with witty and highly decorative results.

- NZ Herald

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