Review: At the galleries

By T.J. McNamara

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James Cousins Untitled (pl 112)
James Cousins Untitled (pl 112)

What: Resident by James Cousins
Where and when: Gow Langsford Gallery, 26 Lorne St, to August 27
TJ says: Luminous, near abstract works based on flowers yet with both spontaneous and systematic processes establishing their independence as paintings.

In today's varied art, method is often more important than the subject itself which is frequently drawn from every day and commonplace material.

Flowers are just such a well-worn subject, yet the background flowers are hard to make out in Resident, the work of James Cousins. His work was included in the Necessary Distraction show at the Auckland Art Gallery possibly because of his use of up-to-date technology to intensify images in a way that makes the blooms behind the work a spontaneous starting point for what becomes a luminous, systematic painting.

Washes and spills of related colour - that merge with the forms into the background - overlay the white, green or red of the natural forms. These colours are often allowed to run freely down the canvas though by contrast, there may be geometrical forms like circles.

A grid or a cross shape may be imposed or, even in one case, strong primary colours push in at the edge of the work like fingers.

The final layer energises the surface in a way that unifies and characterises his work. Always across the face of the painting stand patterns of narrow stripes in dark colours. These are so narrow, so close together and so uniform that it is impossible they could be painted by hand. These fine lines are sometimes in a wave pattern. More frequently they are dense system of concentric circles. In one case they make a distinctive driving pattern across the canvas. How are they achieved? Perhaps some sort of laser cutter is involved.

This technique adds luminosity to Untitled (pl 187) and extraordinary richness to the intensely colourful Untitled (pl 112). The lack of descriptive titles shows flowers that loom dimly under the surface are almost completely subsumed to the purpose of making an independent work of art intricate and luminous and complete in itself. The success rate in this show is high.

David McCracken installation shot
David McCracken installation shot


What: Plain View by David McCracken
Where and when: Gow Langsford Gallery, cnr Kitchener & Wellesley Sts, to August 27
TJ says: Brilliant use of stainless steel and bright colour defuses the bomb shapes of this witty and engaging sculpture.

David McCracken whose work Plain View is at the other Gow Langsford Gallery in Kitchener Street, has mostly made his sculpture in steel. His early shows consisted of large, collapsed stainless steel bottles crushed by hydrostatic pressure, but latterly he has become known for his immense loops of caterpillar tracks in weathering steel and staircases reaching out in deep perspective.

This show is less solemn, although the shapes are of bombs. These range in height from knee high to more than 1.8m (six feet). Except a couple that lean against the wall, most stand on four feet. They are colourfully painted up to the waist with the bright colours of toys; at the top the stainless steel is so highly polished it reflects the room, the viewer and anything else in sight.

The colour also defuses the threat of the bomb shape and their innocence, wit and individuality is increased by a suction process that slightly wrinkles the steel at the seams. They look as if they are made of silver paper but a slight tap dispels that illusion.

Nevertheless, it is part of their tactile appeal. They are more cheerful than the big caterpillar tracks, but have the same qualities of ingenious invention and imaginative use of modern materials.

Simon Payton Harvest Moon so warm and succulent
Simon Payton Harvest Moon so warm and succulent


What: Conversations with the Moon by Simon Payton
Where and when: Exhibitions, 19A Osborne St, Newmarket, to September 3
TJ says: Images of the moon given mythical status by intricate weaving of thick strands of paint to create energetic textures that give the work a special quality.

Simon Payton puts the moon in all his paintings in Conversations with the Moon: full, crescent, waxing and waning. Titles address it familiarly as "You" typically in, A week passed as you gained in power and vitality. There is also an unnamed "She", as in, She wrote music - inspiration drawn from your celestial image - brilliant.

The subject and the sentiments, therefore, are fairly commonplace but exceptionally intricate, skilled use of the possibilities of thick paint gives these paintings their quality. The moons and background of all the works comprise a rhythmic mat of intricately woven strings of pigment that makes a texture standing proud on the surface.

This process is so intricate that at any distance it vibrates as a mass of colour; close up the tangle of thick lines has a strong physical effect conveying energy always in motion. The backing colours are mostly the primaries red, blue and yellow with a predominance of blue but always tempered with the others so the moon takes on varying halos.

These variations on the theme come in two forms: the usual rectangular framed painting and another where the thick tangle of paint is circular and has the appearance of being done on a hard surface allowed to set and then been lifted like a cake from a tray. This leaves the boundaries of the work as uneven. At times, paint falls clear of the body of the image.

Surprisingly, the circular images do not suggest the infinity of the sky in quite the same way as the framed rectangles. The round form increases appreciation of the skill needed to produce such textures but reduces the emotional effect of the ever-present floating shape.

- NZ Herald

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