TJ McNamara: In keeping with tradition

Richard Maloy's installation shot.
Richard Maloy's installation shot.

GUS FISHER GALLERY

This is a week of gestures: painterly, sculptural and performative.

Recently, in front of a substantial crowd at Auckland Art Gallery, celebrated Chinese calligrapher, Wang Dongling painted a work as a performance to music. On an exceptionally large sheet of paper on the floor, he meditated, dipped his long handled, pointed brush in ink and, with controlled gestures to the accompaniment of a solo cello, quietly created vertical columns of characters filling the paper. The work is now part of a substantial show of his work at the university's Gus Fisher Gallery.

Although the shapes are calligraphic and arranged like script, they do not represent any actual Chinese characters so the judgement of the work must be purely artistic, even for those who read Chinese writing. The often-long titles based on Chinese poetry give some lead as to why some of the characters are simple and thick as in Inaction or light and graceful as in Flowers in the Rain and the Moon in Water.

This intriguing exhibition at the Gus Fisher is in keeping with a grand tradition of Chinese art and the intersection with contemporary Western abstract art enables viewers unfamiliar with the former to approach the work with greater understanding and appreciation.

OREXART GALLERY

The painting of Kathy Barber at Orexart consistently makes use of a gestural form brushed with a technique all her own. Against a background - light or dark, cloudy or clear or in moody colour - there is an overlapping maze of these forms. There is a mystery in their making; they begin as a line and then swoop downwards as a ribbon.

Each of her paintings has a name that indicates a place in Japan as the inspiration for the work. This varied response to place gives each painting an individuality that may not be the case given the uniformity and consistent use of the same form.

Every painting has a different mood from the dark of Go'o Shrine to the luminous Naoshima Pier. These two works consist only of the artist's characteristic strokes. In others, clouds of subdued colour and some vertical fluid forms add to the mood.

One work, Kanazawa Colour House, has very effective horizontal lines of bright colour. It adds something special to an attractive exhibition.

STARKWHITE GALLERY

Drawing a perfect circle with one swoop of the hand was, in the past, considered a great feat of draughtsmanship. According to Vasari, the biographer of the Renaissance Italian artists, Giotto won admiration and commissions from the Pope by sending him such a circle.

At Starkwhite, the feat is achieved by a hand holding a piece of chalk and drawing on a blackboard in a short video called small world by Daniel von Sturmer. This is in black and white except that it is an illusion. We become aware that it is the intense black background that is moving not the chalk. It is a telling modernisation.

Von Sturmer also has a video showing a large pen drawing a line. The pen is still and the line streams out from under the nib. Slight irregularities make the line flow and when the pen is cleared away this sense of animated flow of line is intensified even more. These make an intriguing trio when completed by a further video showing a gradual flow of milky white above a peaked shape.

All three small, animated gestures hold the attention but there is also an elephant in the room. It is an enormous vessel shape roughly made from cardboard boxes held together with tape. It is one large gesture of "look at me" by Richard Maloy, an artist who has gained considerable recognition and support in recent years from public bodies such as the Asia/New Zealand Co-commissioning Fund and has appeared at art fairs at Basle and Hong Kong. His works are in Auckland Art Gallery. One is a photograph of an abstract sculpture in butter.

The big shape, too frail to be monumental, dominates the gallery. It looks like a boat but is roughly and gracelessly made. Outside, it needs posts to stop it toppling over on to the floor. Inside there are no building principles of any sort. The whole is painted butter yellow; it is incomplete. The artist pops in at night and adds bits. It is without grace or strength. It is a large gesture about the value of process not product in recent art. The artist is a maker and the act of making is the art.

Kathy Barber's <i>No. 9 Kadoyo</i>.
Kathy Barber's No. 9 Kadoyo.

At the galleries

GUS FISHER GALLERY

What: Calligraphy by Wang Dongling

Where and when: Gus Fisher Gallery, 74 Shortland St, to August 6

TJ says: This copious exhibition includes a work done to music before an audience at Auckland Art Gallery. It is a synthesis of traditional Chinese forms with modern abstraction.

OREXART GALLERY

What: Yugen by Kathy Barber

Where and when: Orexart, 1/15 Putiki St, Arch Hill, to July 19

TJ says: Moody atmosphere paintings evoking the spirit of places in Japan done with the artist's characteristic gestural forms.

STARKWHITE GALLERY

What: Material Candour by Richard Maloy and Daniel von Sturmer

Where and when: Starkwhite, 510 Karangahape Rd, to July 23

TJ says: A trio of extremely clever videos comment on the power of line and a strange construction by the avant-garde Richard Maloy.

- Weekend magazine

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