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

T.J. McNamara: Reaching new heights

Studies in colour and shape are to the forefront in galleries this week
A detail from Ekarasa Doblanovic's Modulated.
A detail from Ekarasa Doblanovic's Modulated.

Abstract art is showing new vitality. It can be Classical or Romantic, poised and precise, or energetic and expressionistic. At Hopkinson Mossman Gallery, the engaging painting of Milli Jannides, who studied at Elam in Auckland and then academies in Glasgow, Dusseldorf and the Royal College of Art, is on the energetic side.

The exhibition, The Company of Volcanoes, suggests distinctive potent, eruptive and emotional qualities. Jannides' big paintings are filled with movement and appear to be born out of remembrance of gardens. They have no particular subject and because of the occasional reference to birds or pathways, they might be called semi-abstract.

Bugging Out is the most volcanic. It surges out in thick lines of colour from some source at the bottom of the painting then spreads across in a mass of energetic strokes that spread and widen out toward the edge. The feeling is of liquid movement but it refers to a multiplicity of colours the possibilities of energy through artistic brushwork and harmonies rather than to water.

Shiny Side drives from right to left and, exceptionally, there is a hint of a bird in a shape of a head and beak which helps drive the movement through a landscape of colours. Parallel Lines (meet at infinity) is a darker work where the rush is upwardly diagonal toward a blue indication of great depth done with a fine edge of white. Undercover has pale colours and a quiet movement forward between two masses, while How to Disappear has firm circles at the top which give way to a complex fall as the firm shapes dissolve.

The titles, which feel as if they were decided after the work had spontaneously evolved, are a hint to set the imagination working but do not suggest a specific subject. Most of the forms do not describe things and remain abstract yet are emotionally rich, conveying dreams without the sharp definition which would make them specific like the dreams of surrealism.

The smaller works in a separate gallery each offer one sensation, like Slavish Rhythm's gathering of lines in a corner that forces your attention in one direction. Only the yellow Birdkite really leaves the territory of abstraction.

Jannides' previous exhibition at this gallery was outstanding and full of promise but this fine show reaches even further heights.

MATTHEW BROWNE, painter and teacher, has an exhibition of a different kind of abstraction at Orex Gallery. Called Theoria, it could equally be named "Elegant Demonstrations". It is the result of varied thought about the relationship of colour and shape. The viewer can feel the shapes taking form as the artist thinks through the composition. Each painting is entirely different in design so concentrated, rather than impulse thinking leads to copious and stylish invention.

The paintings have smooth, flawless shapes in plain colour with precise edges. As they evolve, they exert pressure on, or lead to, other shapes to form a convincing whole. The pressures are supported by the colour, which is kept very even and dense except when the shapes overlap. The surfaces are immaculate and the harmonies rich and intense.

Sophistes is a typical form. A brown shape thrusts in from the right, exerts pressure on a vivid blue form which itself presses against a curved black form flattening it but absorbing it slightly at the pressure point. The blue is supported by a sharp line and a small white bracket shape. These big paintings are lyrical and the use of tempera colour with oil paint gives an even surface without shine. The language used to discuss abstract art owes much to music and the exhibition is divided into two parts. Six big paintings are like symphonies; an amazingly inventive group of 64 paintings, arranged in four close rows on the wall, might be thought of as chamber music -- intricate but quieter than the big ensembles. Each leads your eye around the design, giving time to link and weigh up each element and enjoy the colour as you go. The consistent excellence of these works, charming but not over-sweet, strong but always elegant, is an achievement.

SHARP-EDGED, SIMPLE abstract geometric shapes make up the work of recent graduate, Ekarasa Doblanovic at Black Asterisk. Her work is done on panels assembled as modules to make up large ensemble works. The shapes involved are straightforward because the emphasis is on colour and the interaction when colours are juxtaposed. The piquancy of the colour and its intensity in some shades is because the artist makes her own colour from raw pigments. They are used as a single coat on boards and the result is sometimes dense and glowing, especially the reds, yet sometimes thin as if slightly faded enough to reveal a hint of the board underneath. The modules are massed into large groups.

A major work dominates an entire wall, its square forms making the work stable in parts, sharp angles energetically different in others. The complexity of the interactions lifts the work beyond design exercises and shows the artist's ability with colour and design.

Hopkinson Mossman

What: The Company of Volcanoes by Milli Jannides
Where and when: Hopkinson Mossman, L1, 19 Putiki St, Arch Hill, to June 18
TJ says: Rich and abstract expressionist dreams with a hint of gardens and full of potent, emotional movement.


What: Theoria by Matthew Browne
Where and when: Orexart, 1/15 Putiki St, Arch Hill, to June 18
TJ says: Clear and precise considered abstraction with a whole fund of invention - deceptively simple but effective.

Black Asterisk

What: Modulated by Ekarasa Doblanovic
Where and when: Black Asterisk, 10 Ponsonby Rd, to June 18
TJ says: Modules of geometric shapes assembled with seductive colour in resonant combinations with artist-made pigments.

- NZ Herald

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