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

T.J. McNamara: Soft in colour and handling

By T.J. McNamara

Isolated young men take thought in moody, atmospheric paintings
A Silent Dream by Elizabeth Rees, at Artis Gallery.
A Silent Dream by Elizabeth Rees, at Artis Gallery.

ARTIS GALLERY

The atmospheric works by Elizabeth Rees in Juncture show no particular place. The paintings, with one exception, show a solitary figure of a young man in a landscape that includes a vivid twilight sky, a misty mass of bush and lake or river. Against this, with a shadowed face and a bent, thoughtful head, stands the young man in a jacket whose stance is irresolute. The title of the show and of individual works: Crossroads, Passing Through or Silent Dream, reinforce the impression of this pensive irresolution.

Man alone is a recurring New Zealand trope but the figures in these paintings are not alienated. They are part of the landscape and collaborate with it. It seems they are lost, not dramatically but in mind. What links them with the landscape is the rich palette of ochre and blue and the skilful handling of the paint with a whole vocabulary of quiet touches that effectively convey the colour, the dark and gleams of light in each work.

Some of the detail is emblematic. There is a bridge in the background of Passing Through and a shadowy alter ego in the background of The Last Time. The wide horizon in the background is particularly effective in A Silent Dream in suggesting further, wider travelling.

Two Friends is the one work that somewhat breaks the pattern. It shows two men in earnest talk in a place moody with dusk and a bending reach of river.

The insistence on lack of animation in the figures throughout the show falters only in Crossroads where a standing man's full face becomes a mask, making the head sit oddly on the body. The rest of this sensitively painted exhibition, rich with subtle colour and mood, shows Elizabeth Rees at her imaginative best.

TRISH CLARK GALLERY

Black and white photography can look better in a book than on the wall but colour photography is different. The colours and absolute clarity of the large photographs by Chris Corson-Scott show the gains size can bring.

The principal images are rocky cliffs by the sea and cluttered interiors with particular associations both human and historical sometimes with a touch of irony. One work, Wildflowers In a Development Near Tauranga, shows a solitary young woman in a field looking toward a ridge with trees beyond. The composition is very like the paintings of Elisabeth Rees but soft suggestion is replaced by clarity.

Wildflowers in a Development near Tauranga by Chris Corson-Wood.
Wildflowers in a Development near Tauranga by Chris Corson-Wood.


The clarity produces subtle ironies. The pale green plants the woman stands among make a varied foreground but are clearly unromantic onion weed. The strong touch of ochre on the ridge is clay laid bare by a development and there is a feeling that trees on the ridge with the blue sky beyond are under threat.

Blue skies also enrich images of cliffs by the sea and the ruggedness of rocky shore adds to the Romantic feeling.

This is often reinforced by detail such as the remnants of Paratutae Wharf at Whatipu and the curious structure covering international cables coming ashore at Whangaparaoa. Cables heaving up through the sand like thick snakes as well as a stack of new battens on the old wooden structure add intriguing and localising interest to the sweep of the image.

The High Romanticism of evening sky in Last Light, Tokomaru Bay is the richest of all, with detail of another old wharf. Tokomaru Bay was also mined for the collapsed interior of an old building. The size of print, colour and sharpness of detail make this -- and the interior of a collector's workshop, a woolshed and the preserved Frank Sargeson House -- also indicative of the technical ability, the eye and confidence of this young photographer.

GOW LANGSFORD GALLERY

Structure in a video can increase its already formidable power and move it into the area of metaphor and associative force. Alex Monteith divides her time between Ireland and New Zealand and is known for filming local surf beaches.

With this video, she chose to use footage of the waves at Mullaghmore, Ireland made during powerful storms in 2014-2015. The work is made up of two identical parts: one is reversed and matched up to the original so the action of the waves is equal either side of the centre.

The effect of this symmetry is that as the waves surge forward, the centre drives up the sand like some strange ravening shape-shifting beast thunderously crashing in as an ungovernable, murderous force with wild spume blowing the top of it.

A small illuminated sign (to the side) links the work with poems written by Mary Hornsey, the mother of Paul, a schoolboy killed with Earl Mountbatten when working as a boat hand on Shadow V. The boat was destroyed by an IRA bomb at Mullaghmore in 1979.

The text of the poems is on display. The tumultuous sea is image of unrestrained rage and its white foam and the slow retreat of water after it has crashed on the sands is the mourning consequence.

- NZ Herald

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