T. J. McNamara: Strange encounters on the mat

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Exhibition not risky but it still manages to excite and disturb.
Still of a sheep skull from Mono by Clinton Watkins.
Still of a sheep skull from Mono by Clinton Watkins.

The work of Francis Upritchard at the Ivan Anthony Gallery reinforces her established reputation here and in Europe, though it does not show her taking risks away from her usual style.

The works, for the most part small statues and ceramics, are displayed on carpet mats on the floor. There are three or four objects on each mat and they are each very different in form but so unmistakably in the artist's style, they read almost as a tableau.

Upritchard's early work had the flavour of the museum about it, often resembling buried artefacts revealed in some archaeological dig. It would not be from one department, but from collections of costume, ethnology, sculpture and ceramics and even theatre. Yet imagination and invention are both fully in play.

Sitting figures are two of her characteristic statues in this show; both have a strong ethnic feeling. Dark Figure, in the first room, is a naked female adorned with bone disks. The figure squeezes her body in a way that ambiguously suggests both enjoyment and a certain fear.

The face has the idiosyncratic character of a kind the artist has made entirely her own. It is a pity it is shown on the floor because the viewer has almost to lie down to see the bared white teeth that provide a special element of shock in the bowed head.

Other works on the same carpet show how Upritchard takes commonplace objects in works embodying motifs that she has made her own. The patches of the jesters' motley garments of her usual colourful figures have been transferred to bells and lamps. One in particular has a creepy, voodoo force. It is a face with oval, cut-out eyes above a nose and often a hint of mouth. These faces are not applied to the surface of ceramics but emerge from the substance itself like some spirit captured in a jar. When there is a light within the ceramic, the oval eyes glitter; if there is no light they appear as dark pits and are even more effective.

Dutch Patterned Figure by Francis Upritchard.
Dutch Patterned Figure by Francis Upritchard.

The second major sculpture, Dutch Patterned Figure, is completely shades of blue with adornments of silver. The remarkable thing is that the head, with its neck-ringed elongation is bright blue, while the body is clothed in a contrasting matte texture of a tight blue body stocking heavily stitched at the shoulders. Meeting her makes a strange encounter.

This is a copious exhibition. The artist's inventiveness extends to ceramic bells in a variety of glazes and jars adorned with swinging monkeys that seem to have emerged from the vessel like spirits. This effect of spirit monkeys is also conveyed in small, soft drawings in watercolour on paper where the swinging ape shapes dissolve into soft line. The whole clever show is both disturbing and entertaining.

? Francis Upritchard's work will show at Wellington's City Gallery in Jealous Saboteurs, from Saturday May 28. THERE IS a plethora of art video work on display just now: art + science at the Gus Fisher Gallery, art + ethnicity and archaeology at St Paul Street Galleries but the work of Clinton Watkins at Starkwhite stands out as art without a special message.

His art is founded in reality. Those who have seen his wonderfully compelling video of a vast container ship repeatedly passing Browns Island will remember the force of this mighty image.

The present show of just four works is less dramatic and less colourful but memorable in the same way.

Mono is an image of a weathered skull, probably of a sheep though the great grinders of teeth suggest something fiercer.

Magically it turns slowly poised in space against a quietly tinted background.

Every detail becomes strongly apparent: the huge eye sockets, the boniness of the nose, the roofed cavity of the palate, the hills and valleys of the skull.

It is visually very immediate, yet redolent of mortality and the passing of time.

A second video of a skull, shown on two screens and therefore called Stereo, has slightly less impact.

Dark Form with the darkness of black obsidian turning against a black background is rather obscure.

A complete variant of this mood is offered by a small screen that shows what appears to be masses of clouds driven together over a wide landscape that constantly turns under them. When you look hard it is a perpetually foaming waterfall. It is all visually gripping, magic without the aid of reference or message outside the image itself.

The witty title, Happy Camper, conveys something of the gaiety and colour of the small show by Miranda Parkes at the Art House, the apartment/ gallery of Antoinette Godkin in Parnell.

The exhibition is dominated by examples large and small of three-dimensional floral paintings.

Floral canvas from Happy Camper By Miranda Parkes.
Floral canvas from Happy Camper By Miranda Parkes.

These are the artist's characteristic vivid, bright abstract canvases which have been pushed, punched and rolled into wall relief shapes of intricate hills and dales or intricate flowers while keeping the original bright abstract design which then somewhat resembles a bright flower.

The title work and a small diptych called, Double Banger are enchanting.

Ivan Anthony

What: Dark Resters by Francis Upritchard

Where and when: 1/312 Karangahape Rd, to 21 May

TJ says: The unique sense of mystery Francis Upritchard brings to her small figure sculpture extends to a range of other, mostly ceramic objects.

Starkwhite Gallery

What: lowercase by Clinton Watkins

Where and when: 510 Karangahape Rd, to May 14

TJ says: Skulls, stone and mortality are endlessly examined in stark videos that evoke powerful responses.

Antoinette Godkin

What: Happy Camper by Miranda Parkes

Where and when: 30 York St, Parnell, Apt. Y32, ring bell at gate, to May 28

TJ says: Brightly coloured canvases manipulated into three-dimensional forms vivid with the feeling for rich colour harmonies.

- Weekend magazine

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