Artists make their statement through the presence or absence of people.

It is not all abstraction; there is still painting about people. In Power Play, Anah Dunsheath uses her variety of techniques to illuminate the stance of the confident and the famous against the background of the city.

It is in a sense a celebration, but there is also a dark and disturbing angst that gives depth to the work.

In recent shows, Dunsheath has made extensive use of stainless steel both in her freestanding sculpture and, as here, in wall works.

The bright steel background not only has a reflective quality that incorporates the viewer into the scene, but also, as a surface, gives suggestions of the bright brittleness of fame. Sometimes the steel is bent into waves that play tricks with perspective and light.

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Most of these works feature a former film star. Life-sized faces of these celebrities at the height of the power of their beauty are amalgamated alongside sharply detailed black and white photographs of parts of Auckland.

Channel by Jack Trolove.
Channel by Jack Trolove.

The irony of this reflects how deeply they have gone into folklore. In Royal Parnell, the face of Sophia Loren confronts the old Windsor Castle pub in Parnell. There is equal wit and suggestion as Charlotte Rampling presides over opulent houses with riparian rights on the foreshore of Herne Bay or, most telling of all, Ursula Andress fronts the Berkeley in Mission Bay, a great example of the decline of suburban theatres.

In contrast to these works are sombre paintings in one of the artist's other manners where smart, jeans-clad, handsome but curiously restless people hang about in urban landscapes done in deep perspective, sometimes with a fading light on the horizon.

There is some enigmatic power play at work. These figures are rendered often by painting only the shadows of the folds of their clothing, though their faces are sharply drawn. This works well notably in the wet night of Close Circuits where the perspective lines and the general surroundings are painted with a flourish that gives a sense of immediacy. This vigorous definition of the atmospheric setting of the tableaux is at odds with some curious, illogical daubs of thick paint that occur elsewhere on the images. Despite this oddity, this is an impressively inventive show full of thought and originality of expression.

In the neighbouring Jonathan Grant Gallery, the ever-popular Piera McArthur is showing her romping, immediately recognisable paintings that give the impression of being dashed off in a naive, single-shot flurry of action. The action involves a goddess as well as modern people.

A sign, Amor Vincit Omnia, covers the subject matter. Venus, born of the sea, romps ashore and causes chaos of excitement. The principal colour in the works is bright red. It is party time and everybody wants to be in.

People and action painting are also the material of the big oils on canvas by Jack Trolove at Whitespace. He calls the exhibition Medicinal Skins but the surfaces of these often very large portraits are not done as thin skins of paint but as heavily textured surfaces of thick paint.

Close-up, though, you might admire the extravagant action painted quality of the surface; it is only at a distance, sometimes a considerable distance, that the paint resolves itself into the features of a head. This suggests the faces of people are the result of many changes that have been shed in the same way as a creature from a different order, say a reptile, sheds its skin

The artist endeavours to get to the character of the person beneath the skin. The attempt has its failures as well as its successes. The heavy paint is an additive process and the feeling is that the artist has sometimes gone on adding until the process almost got the better of him.

Examples are the almost indecipherable Liquefaction and Ecdysis. Even the impressive big close-up of Alchemy has an inexplicable blob of green/blue on the tip of the nose.

Sometimes the eyes have it. Eyes looking up give real character to Channel. The strong colour contrasts, size and expression of Selkie are powerful. The title refers to a shape-shifter in Celtic tradition and this is apt as the whole image looks to be in a state of flux.

The impact of the exhibition when first stepping into the gallery is striking, and there is a sense of an intense urge to engage with the traditional possibilities of paint.

Unmarked, Unknown by Emily Wolfe.
Unmarked, Unknown by Emily Wolfe.

Sometimes painting can be about the absence of people. The quiet, still images in the work of Emily Wolfe at the Melanie Roger Gallery are mostly shopfronts and give the feeling that the owners and customers have left.

The frontages are close to the curb and the doorways, front windows, blinds, awnings and tiles are worked into tight compositions with a strong abstract quality. The colour schemes are a variety of grey with blocks of soft blues and greens.

The expert use of shadows to create atmosphere was characteristic of Wolfe's curtained interiors and the same sensibility is transferred to these quietly impressive exteriors. The whole effect is of a deep, poetic melancholy.

Artis

What:

Power Play by Anah Dunsheath

Where and when:

Artis, 280 Parnell Rd, to May 22

TJ says:

Inventive in format and technique, the artist matches faded beauty with Auckland architecture and dark vision of urban angst.

Whitespace

What:

Medicinal Skins by Jack Trolove

Where and when:

Whitespace Gallery, 12 Crummer Rd, Ponsonby, to May 22

TJ says:

Faces in a variety of modes created by a thick, colourful impasto of heavy strokes of paint.

Melanie Roger

What:

Lost and Found by Emily Wolfe

Where and when:

Melanie Roger, 226 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay, to May 21

TJ says:

This London-based New Zealand painter produces tightly organised paintings of melancholy shop fronts and makes a soft, quiet poetry of them.