T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

Stillness carries bold impact

By T.J. McNamara

Painting, photography and a sculptured wall hanging have a common thread

Plot, a wall-length hanging, is a new departure in the work of Kathryn Stevens.
Plot, a wall-length hanging, is a new departure in the work of Kathryn Stevens.

Three attractive shows on this week each have a quality of stillness. Lines have always been very much part of the work of Kathryn Stevens at Whitespace Gallery. In her paintings, areas of harmonious colour were energised by interesting lines that were a highly individual weaving through the space of the painting.

This show includes two large and sensitive paintings in this established manner and a group of more than a dozen similar smaller works in the same style but with an attractive addition. They have plain colour on the back and hang just clear of the wall so the lighting bounces the colour from the back and makes a luminous surround that is different in each work. It quietly gives poise and an extra presence.

Nevertheless, the innovative piece that dominates the show, taking up a whole wall, takes the lines into sculpture in a flat plane with cast shadows.

The work is a graceful re-entrant curve made with the sharp red of taut builder's line strung like a huge harp or an abstraction of a loom.

The lines are kept absolutely vertical by a plumbob on the end of each one. The whole is carefully made with almost impossibly neat knotting to hold the weights. Where the curve doubles back the spacing narrows and adds a variant to the bold simplicity. It makes for an engaging work.

Jennifer French is showing two series of photographs at the Trish Clark Gallery. The major group is Decommission, 10 large images that document aspects of the demolition of parts of Auckland Art Gallery to make way for the elegant new building.

The works go beyond simple documentation. They are concerned with the effects of light, particularly as it erupts suddenly into darkness. They record openings broken into the old gallery through which light spills into shadowy spaces with the rich texture of old brick walls.

The first work shows the breaking down of the wall of Mackelvie Gallery viewed toward the northeast to Albert Park from the Edmiston Wing.

From the cavernous depths of the old structure you can see a view of bright sunlight and a demolition worker in the former sculpture garden.

One of the photos includes a machine with caterpillar tracks and a bulldozer blade intruding like an alien sculpture on the floor of the space formerly devoted to art.

A striking shot is of a large tumble of bricks just after they have fallen into the space of the old Grey Gallery. The works have a sense of bright light let into dark spaces, notably when new openings like skylights shed a still pattern of light on to the floor of the old foyer.

The contrast with old space with the promise of renewal gives depth to these images of dramatic documentation.

The second part of the show is made up of soft and grainy images in contrast to the exactness of the gallery pictures. These photographs are taken from inside a moving car. The softness is a step back from the landscape and endeavours to capture a sense of the thinking of the three people in the car seen only from the back. What is present in all but the last of the 10 images is the snowy shape of Mt Tongariro framed by the windows. It is still and remote, a constant in the midst of the thoughts and dreams of the transient travellers.

Stillness is a characteristic of the work of Gavin Hurley in Switch/Board/Room at the Melanie Roger Gallery. His images mostly concern the interaction of men in group situations. The nature of their meetings is caught as art.

As in his past exhibitions the mode of fixing and abstracting these situations is to use collage, a medium he utilises with exceptional skill. Some of the images created by collage are enlarged as oil paintings but the shift yields no real gain.

This is a man's world. In a typical work a group of men in suits are gathered around a table with more men standing behind them. There is a clear sense the central group are the decision makers and the onlookers are yes-men, all wearing glasses. The paper chosen for the collage subtly establishes the clothing that defines all of them.

The other group situation is a control board where men sit at a bank of dials. They have the tools of their trade, such as manuals, near them. A big oil version of one such manual is a less successful work in the show. It translates into a lifeless block. An exceptional piece, No Men at Work, uses the clippings of collage effectively to express the debris after work has been done. It fits the medium and the medium gives it life.

The show also includes another small group of works with heads seen from the back with hair painstakingly stitched though paper. They are clever and comic.

At the galleries

What: Plot by Kathryn Stevens
Where and when: Whitespace, 12 Crummer Rd, Ponsonby, to August 16
TJ says: Attractive abstract paintings that weave colour and line together and a new departure into an ingenious wall-length sculptured hanging.

What: Duplex by Jennifer French
Where and when: Trish Clark Gallery, 1 Bowen Ave, to August 29
TJ says: Two series of photographs: one showing sunlight dramatically breaking into the cavernous spaces of Auckland Art Gallery during demolition and the other recording three people in a car travelling past the stillness of a snowy mountain.

What: Switch/Board/Room by Gavin Hurley
Where and when: Melanie Roger Gallery, 226 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay, to August 23
TJ says: As usual, Gavin Hurley uses his skill at collage to describe and fix situations and characters, in this case, business types and technicians, with some heads seen from the back that make different use of paper.

- NZ Herald

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