T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

T.J. McNamara: Glowing flowers in the dark

By T.J. McNamara

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The Silent Critic by Elizabeth Rees.
The Silent Critic by Elizabeth Rees.

A dancer is tensioned in a severe pose between pillars. Gymnastics, colour and idea are powerfully combined.

Light and shadow are complementary but it is the shadows in particular that play an important part in exhibitions this week. Milli Jannides is having her second exhibition at Hopkinson Mossman gallery. In the meantime, she has gathered experience in England and Europe. This work, called As the Light Dips, reads loosely as still-life and landscapes, but they have no external reference. They are landscapes of the mind.

The inventions are consistently dark and the subjects emerge through a shady atmosphere as if in a dream or memory of spaces and colour.

The work ranges from small studies on panels, such as Green, Purple and Orange with touches of paint glowing like flowers in the dark, to large works on canvas with titles like There Were Many Stars in the Sky. On the whole, the confidence and dash of her approach is more suited to the larger works.

There were many stars in the skies by Milli Jannides; Hopkinson Mossman Gallery.
There were many stars in the skies by Milli Jannides; Hopkinson Mossman Gallery.

The Stars painting is a big work filled with dark blue. Glowing lights are dotted about the upper part of an arching space populated by plant-like forms and constructions. Metal Vegetation is also a rhapsody in blue with recognisable plants reaching out of two pots and growing into rhythmic brushstrokes.

There is an abrupt change of feeling in the far less opulent Rubbish Dump Picture Postcard, a wasteland with old crossroads and bare dead trees.

We have further exploration of states of mind in a tense work where an isolated figure stands at the edge of a glade of light in the midst of surrounding darkness. It is called That Man Must Be Me.

These paintings show a young painter of achievement with considerable future promise.

Elizabeth Rees is more mature as an artist and her show Silent Stage at Artis Gallery is more consistent in subject.

Her paintings are very theatrical. Many of the figures emerge from a dark background and others strut their stuff on a curtained stage. They all wear patterned motley and often appear directly related to the costumes of the Italian Commedia dell'arte.

The theatrical costume works well when it is subtly shaded and brushed on in a way that suggests introverted characters. Other characters, clowns and jesters are dressed in costumes of precise stripes that are continued in the stage curtains around them. Though bright and colourful they convey much less ambiguity of character.

Among the moody figures who emerge from the dark is a Hamlet-like personality seen in profile. The title of the work is The Silent Critic, which has a potent feeling of a withdrawn personality. His eyes are shaded, which intensifies a sense of melancholy, while his carefully drawn fingers emphasise his sensitivity.

Some of the painting is particularly fine in handling and use of colour. In For Show, where the figure appears opening curtains on stage, the blue and green of his doublet is delightfully done.

The works that are more specific, such as The Illusionist and The Conjurer, are rendered more sharply and do not free the imagination in the way that the ambiguities of a statuesque figure, The Observer, does.

Everything in the show is colourful and charming but there are times in the midst of the colour that the mood deepens.

The work of Spiros Poros, at the Gow Langsford Kitchener St gallery, is part of the Photography Festival. Light is the defining element of photography.

Like Mapplethorpe, whose work is a clear influence, Poros began as a fashion photographer and the work is superbly lit. In this exhibition he has eschewed fashion in favour of old-fashioned art photography.

He shows a variety of poses of male dancers clothed only in light.

Overwhelmed by Jealousy by Spiros Poros.
Overwhelmed by Jealousy by Spiros Poros.

They strike Grecian attitudes with considerable muscular athleticism.

Each pose expresses a particular emotion. The emotion is named in a plaque under the carefully framed photographs and thereby avoids the book illustration quality that such photos often have.

The setting of the works is Cuba with Spanish-style tiled walls and pillared arcades as background.

The dancers are both European and African-American. Seduced by Arrogance is marked by a graceful pose, while God of Glory is energetically heroic.

The poses are, for the most part, very inventive. One particularly fine work is Overwhelmed by Jealousy where, against a splendid background of tiles, a dancer is tensioned clear of the ground in a severe pose between two pillars. Gymnastics, colour and idea are powerfully combined.

Some of the poses are remarkable in themselves.

In park-like surroundings, one dancer is maintaining his balance on his head and arms with the enormous tension showing in the muscles of his back.

It is called Seeking for Power and would be impressive without any title at all.

These photographs are technically superb and sometimes, like Persistence of Success, in the Wellesley St window of the gallery, absolutely astonishing as a feat of agility and of photography.

At the galleries

What: As the Light Dips by Milli Jannides

Where and when: Hopkinson Mossman Gallery, 19 Putiki St, Newton, to June 28

TJ says: A young artist thoroughly schooled but still able to retain her spontaneity with darkly colourful paintings of memory and dream.

What: Silent Stage by Elizabeth Rees

Where and when: Artis Gallery, 280 Parnell Rd, Parnell, to June 16

TJ says: Using characters clad in the colourful motley of the clown and curtains of the stage, Elizabeth Rees evokes a variety of characters and emotions.

What: Photographs by Spiros Poros

Where and when: Gow Langsford, cnr Kitchener & Wellesley Sts, to June 9

TJ says: Consciously artistic photographs using astonishingly gymnastic nude male dancers expressing a variety of emotions against architectural and leafy backgrounds in Cuba.

- NZ Herald

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