T.J. McNamara: Intrigue in the suburbs

By T.J. McNamara

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Mother, Child, Mask and Reclining Figure by Graham Fletcher at Gow Langsford.
Mother, Child, Mask and Reclining Figure by Graham Fletcher at Gow Langsford.

Three galleries this week are showing works with traditionally admired artistic skills such as perspective, drawing and collage.

Perspective construction is shown skilfully and accurately in the work of Graham Fletcher at Gow Langsford Gallery in Lorne St. Phantom Cube shows a series of rooms or suburban scenes, given depth by firm orthogonals of perspective. This is the vehicle for the artist's own vision of things which includes the pervasiveness of art history and the strangeness of clashes between modern style and non-European sculpture.

His calm interiors are empty of people and the furniture has the bare cubist style linked to the abundant glass of modern design.

What gives the scenes their special quality is the looming presence of ethnic statues which inhabit the calm rooms and have more force than the neat, framed reproductions of the work of famous modern Western artists that are also part of the decor.

A work such as No More Play has a firm construction of shapes and lines that would do credit to an abstractionist.

The room depicted by these shapes has bright orange and black furniture, a wall fireplace, a plate designed by Picasso and an abstract painting by Robert Ryman. The glass of one wall shows an enclosed garden with a dark carved African statue standing on the lawn. Its outcast but mysterious presence is matched in a rather more innocent way by a mask from the Solomon Islands on the coffee table and a canoe paddle on the wall. The intersection of these cultures creates a strange atmosphere.

The effect can be more broad. One of the most striking works is The Red Room named after the famous Matisse work. The walls, carpet and bedspread are all red, matched with a warm dark brown of a bed and book shelves. Strangeness and the clash of cultures is conveyed by an Egyptian eye over the bed and a tall African object with bright eyes. It makes an outstanding painting.

The largest work of all has an oval carpet with beaded figures from Cameroon sitting around an immense carved figure standing in the middle of the room where the ceiling is recessed to take it. This ritual figure is really confrontational yet there is a mildly comical aspect to the work.

These confident images are impressively memorable and thought-provoking without being polemical. They have an intriguing atmosphere.

Peter Madden creates work with his special form of collage in Behind the Line of Care at Ivan Anthony. Masses of detail are exactly cut out, standing clear of the background as arrangements make sculpture of a high order. It is lifted beyond a collection of curiosities by impact, its invention and its subtle ironies.

The simplest work is a skull with copper and gold teeth that sprouts tiny flowers on long stems. Other much more elaborate works are heads made of innumerable tiny details that stand clear of a surface that is often copper.

Although recognisable as a head, they may have a dozen eyes. They are never merely pretty but are close to beautiful.

Opposite the entrance is She Has More Past Than Most, a head shape with an immense forest as hair. The hair is made of silver and grey cutouts and from the mass long earrings drip. It is a glittering country rather than a head. A similar shape is A Concourse of Phantasmagoric Shadows, which blooms with carnival colour and red, blue and green softening into each other. More simple works are equally effective. A complex weaving of thorny twigs touched with golden drops standing on a mirror under a glass dome is a compelling object that references many ideas.

Madden's work continues to develop and truly evoke wonder.

At Michael Lett Gallery Peter Stichbury has an exhibition of portrait drawings, all the same size and framed in the same way. They are precisely drawn with brown-coloured pencil on brown paper so they barely emerge from the background. They have the peculiar intensity of expression that is the artist's trademark.

Who are these young men with their hair neatly parted and their buttoned-up American appearance? They have a look of troubled obsession that is startlingly contemporary. They look like portraits and each has a name. But it is the name of a person, place or incident connected with a belief in UFOs.

The connection is apparent if you google each title.

Collectively it is a group of character studies but their apparent obsessions give them a wider reference and a unifying theme.

Michael Lett also hosts work by Australian artist Christopher Hanrahan whose fragile minimalist sculptures in brass are contrasted with the heavy brick walls of the large vault that remains after the gallery's remodelling from an old bank.

At the galleries

What: Phantom Cube by Graham Fletcher
Where and when: Gow Langsford Gallery, 26 Lorne St, to
Sep 13
TJ says: Precisely portrayed suburban interiors with plain modern furniture made piquant by the presence of ethnic sculpture.

What: Behind the Line of Care by Peter Madden
Where and when: Ivan Anthony Gallery, East St, off Karangahape Rd, to Sep 6
TJ says: Madden works his magic with found images precisely cut and assembled into elaborate, surrealistic collage sculpture.

What: Sources and Methods by Peter Stichbury; Oe, Another by Christopher Hanrahan
Where and when: Michael Lett Gallery, East St, to Sep 6
TJ says: A uniform suite of faces of young men, all looking obsessive and all with names connected with reported sightings of UFOs. Australian artist Hanrahan makes minimalist sculpture.

- NZ Herald

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