T J McNamara on the arts
T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

T.J. McNamara: Passion in broad brushstrokes

By T.J. McNamara

Jacqueline Macleod's I'm Not Myself.
Jacqueline Macleod's I'm Not Myself.

Paint and ink are fluid. An artist can splash both about to great effect and the Chinese painter Reagan Lee (Li Nanfeng) certainly does so in his exhibition at the University of Auckland's Gus Fisher Gallery.

He uses a Western-sounding name and his given name to reflect his experience as an artist. Born and trained in China, he has worked in the Seychelles, Europe and, for some years, in New Zealand. The European influence is prominent in his work but as most of the painting is done on heavy scrolls of paper and in his use of black ink, he retains something of his Chinese heritage. Yet instead of the traditional delicacy that expresses, for example, the moods of the weather - the wind in bamboo conveyed by delicate touches - he uses big, broad swathes of intense black in action portraits.

A powerful example is a head of a grinning, gap-toothed man with the head defined not with the point of a small brush but with the fluid swish of a wide one. Inks both black and red are used dramatically as a wash over acrylic paint to establish the passionate mood of some of the paintings.

He says, "I can feel the flow of blood in nature; woe and joy are both active power." There is plenty of blood in Reagan Lee's work; his favourite colour is red. The gallery is dominated by two large paintings, one at each end. Both feature a red sun or moon. Summer, part of the Seasons of Life series, has a red sky swept by driven clouds and the ground is mostly red and yellow. The trees shown are stark black with few leaves but scattered with white blossoms, which begin to fall on the right of the painting. One of the trees has been cut down to a stump with two stubby branches, like a cross. The cross shape is used often throughout the show. Two paintings show children (male and female) on crosses that appear to symbolise the suffering they can expect from life. The artist himself is shown as a sunflower on a cross.

The big painting at the far end of the gallery, called Landscape with Crosses, is more optimistic than the sombre tone of the rest of the show. A vast hill confronts the sky adorned by a red sun and red clouds. Four anonymous figures hold out their arms in hope as they step from a cave with blossoming trees on the horizon. It is similar in conception and scope to large modern works by artists such as Anselm Kiefer though more conventionally dramatic.

Much of the other work, particularly the opulent female nudes, have their origin in 20th century Expressionism but with even more obvious intention to shock. What Lee takes from Expressionism is what one commentator in the huge catalogue calls "heroic implosion", using paint and ink to express extremes of emotion. It makes a colourful but often grim show.

Gus Fisher Gallery

What: East/West, paintings by Reagan Lee
Where and when: Gus Fisher Gallery, 74 Shortland St, to March 5
TJ says: Chinese-born artist adopts a Western expressionist style to dramatic effect in a turbulent show.

Jan de Vliegher's subjects are varied and often taken from sources such as Italian majolica plates. Whatever the subject, the appeal of his painting lies in the flourish of its making.

The viewer's captivated by the application of the rich fluid paint. This is apparent in works that show glassware.

Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergere has a glass vase amid the clutter of bottles on the bar. That glass is painted with just a couple of miraculous touches of paint. The transparency of the glass, even the level of water in it, is completely realised.

In De Vliegher's canvases that show nothing but glassware, the act of painting is everything. The paint is heavier - almost as deft as Manet - but the glasses are not important in themselves.

The paint is all but the subject is not entirely lost. A fine big look-a-like painting of a Monet pond, Garden 1 redefines the manner of painting not the subject. The delight is not the small light touches of the Impressionist manner but big dashes of paint. This re-working of style even extends to an Air New Zealand dish that completes an attractive, stylish exhibition.

Gow Langsford

What: Recent Paintings by Jan de Vliegher
Where and when: Gow Langsford Gallery, 26 Lorne St, to February 20
TJ says: This is an exhibition that engages you in the act of paintings as the artist re-interprets a number of subjects in his energetic, painterly style.

The inventive show of portraits of women called Digitised Society by Jacqueline Macleod is attractive in an astringent way. Sub-titled, I'm not quite what I thought I was, it investigates the ambiguous roles of women.

The 15 paintings, some square some round, assert a different character. I Am a Doll is a young woman viewing a monument of herself; The Puffed-Up Faker is intricate and ambiguous and The Prima Donna is proud but ageing and set in a series of frames.

The separate world of each woman is expertly created with subtlety in paint with Photoshop also employed, along with gold, silver leaf and collage. The combinations produce an ingenious and complex exhibition of moods and character.

Railway St Studios

What: Digitised Society by Jacqueline Macleod
Where and when: Railway St Studios, 8 Railway St, Newmarket, to February 23
TJ says: A series of portrait heads that pose a variety of psychological states created by a complex use of mediums from computer generated images, through oil paint to gold leaf.

- NZ Herald

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