TJ McNamara at Auckland's art galleries

By T.J. McNamara

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Brendan McGorry: The Burial of Painting
Brendan McGorry: The Burial of Painting

What: The Death of Painting by Brendan McGorry and Black Cloud by Simon Kaan
Where and when: Sanderson Contemporary Art, 2 Kent St, Newmarket, to September 4
TJ says: Brendan McGorry turns the colour and manner of 19th century art on its head while Simon Kaan's austere but strong works combine Maori and Chinese idioms

Increasingly galleries are mounting the work of two artists in parallel. It sometimes offers a piquant contrast; certainly the two shows at Sanderson Contemporary Art are at different poles of style and thought.

In one room, Brendan McGorry offers extremely colourful work obliquely titled, The Death of Painting. The works all refer to paintings by Sir John Millais, president of the Royal Academy in the 19th century.

There are three of Millais' most famous works referenced. The least known of them, perhaps because it is in Detroit, is called 'Leisure Hours'. The inverted commas around the title were deliberate on the part of Millais because it has two beautifully dressed young girls looking at two bright red goldfish in a bowl.

McGorry's version heightens the colour and the bright presence of the fish. It is clear that for all their beauty and lovely dresses, the young women are just passing time. Is the work a comment on contemporary art that has an audience, wealthy but not really involved?

The better known, Vale of Rest, (a superb sunset painting with two nuns, one digging a grave and the other watching melancholy on) is more radically altered and retitled, The Burial of Painting. Here the grave is darker and deeper than the original and what the nun shovels out of the pit is blood red. Perhaps she is shovelling colour out of today's art.

That is a charge that could not be levelled at McGorry's version of Ophelia, almost the best-known painting in the Tate. Where Millais surrounds the drowning woman with a multiplicity of plants in shades of green, in this painting colour runs wild but in runs and splashes of bright red in the wild expressionist paintwork of the girl's dress. Careful drawing is out; wild attack is in.

Whatever the implied analysis, the title of the show is a misnomer in that these are paintings done with verve in a modern idiom and demonstrate that the act of painting is not dead.

The bleakly beautiful, restrained prints that make up Black Cloud by Simon Kaan are in the other room. These are elegant, austere paintings and woodcut prints on paper that have mixed Maori, European and Chinese influences.

Most of these works are tall and made up of several panels and have distinct suggestions of beach and sea. Generally the only iconography is a canoe shape with a forked, reaching bow. They evoke travelling to distant shores.

Anita DeSoto: Wedding
Anita DeSoto: Wedding

What: Vintage by Anita DeSoto and Six days by Simon Allison
Where and when: Orexart, 1/15 Putiki St, Arch Hill, to September 3
TJ says: Dashing bright painting of women a little uneasy in conventional roles by Anita DeSoto and unusual combinations of lead and wood in the inventive sculpture of Simon Allison.

At Orexart, there is also a contrast: austere sculpture and bright painting making two shows though the works alternate on the walls.

The paintings are dashingly done by Anita DeSoto and show women swept into various historic and present roles by the winds of chance. The swift and vivid style of painting implies force of circumstance rather than choice. The emphasis is on pathos and nostalgia.

In the past, her work has suggested bodily stress; here the pressure is more mild but interior. In Wedding, a bride goes swishing past in a car having just thrown her bouquet. She looks backward with more than a hint of regret. In School, a young woman gets out of a car in a storm both of rain and of emotion; War Bird shows a woman pilot heroic but uncomfortable in her role, and in Stables, a woman with a horse is just plain awkward.

These colourful and thoughtful investigations into the stress of playing a role are in direct contrast to the austere wall sculpture in wood and lead by Simon Allison. He cuts deep groves into dark, blackened timber and fills them with molten lead that often overflows into irregular patterns.

The title of the show is 6 Days following one of the works which replays Colin McCahon's Six days in Nelson and Canterbury with its variations on austere hills. The solemnity of the work is repeated in 8 Stations referring to the Passion of Christ.

The artist trained in New Zealand and has achieved considerable standing in England as a sculptor, but it is evident he follows the solemnity and invention of some traditions here.

Siavash Momeny: Casino Royale
Siavash Momeny: Casino Royale

What: Contribution by Siavash Momeny
Where and when: Artis Gallery, 280 Parnell Rd, To September 4
TJ says: In a display of virtuosity, Siavash Momeny paints all manner of objects as if they were wrapped in newsprint. The reason is most clear in a tribute to Jonah Lomu incorporating a guitar.

For sheer oddity of expression, though done with virtuosity and extreme care, there are few artists whose practice equals the paintings by Siavash Momeny. He paints all his subjects as if they were wrapped in newspaper.

There is only one exception in his current show and it is of a large crumpled page of plain paper, but it has the same careful attention and virtuosity as the newsprint in the other works.

What is the viewer to make of these chairs, stag's head and coffee pots startlingly and realistically wrapped up?

One work is slightly less enigmatic than the others. Titled Eleven 11 it shows a guitar wrapped in paper that has a large area of black. It is a tribute to Lomu, who wore the No. 11 jersey, as an All Black. The whole is a curious by way of painting with a flavour all its own.

- NZ Herald

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