Impressionism continues to bloom

By TJ McNamara

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Detail from Peter Hackett, Anonymous Neighbours.
Detail from Peter Hackett, Anonymous Neighbours.

What: New Works by Peter Hackett
Where and when: Parnell Gallery, 263 Parnell Road, to October 25
TJ says: Large, vivid painting of wild and cultivated flowers modelled with virtuoso use of thick oil paint.

Impressionism is still with us. It began with painters like Monet, who delighted in landscape painted with emotion, which was reflected in clear and vigorous brushstrokes and joy in manipulating the qualities of oil paint.

The invention of tin tubes, with a screw top that made pigment easy to carry and could be resealed to keep paint from drying out, was what freed their style and enabled open-air painting.

Peter Hackett's exhibition is Impressionist in manner and emphasises the qualities of oil paint. Previously, he has painted dense fields of wild flowers like an irregular carpet with masses of flowers in a variety of intense colours. Each was formed by a little twist of thick paint standing prominently on the canvas. Close up, they had no form and were nothing but rich paint.

However, at a short distance they were a convincing field of flowers and the whole was done with remarkable skill.

This time, Hackett has several such paintings - Anonymous Neighbours being one example - but also new variants of his established manner. In one work, downstairs at the gallery, he has endeavoured to match Monet at his own game with a pond of water lilies. They are sharper than Monet's masterworks and lack the interplay of reflections of sky in the water but the impact of the work carries right to the door of the gallery.

There is work which is less dense than his paintings of the past. These variants from his usual style of composition have isolated but regularly shaped flowers on a short stem. Each flower throws a shadow that is part of the open rhythm of the composition.

He also has several spectacular paintings that are more particularly illustrative than the unspecific places of past work. Two include dark portals with walls that support thick cascades of flowers but done with Hackett's usual flair and impasto paint. There is far more black in these paintings to contrast with the high key of colour and swathes of white. The change is emphasised by such contradictory titles as, Manicured Wilderness.

These are undoubtedly impressive paintings and break the mould of artist's work in the past but it does shift attention from the stunning properties of oil paint in the abstract to the subject itself. Nevertheless, this is a virtuoso exhibition of texture and vivid colour.

What: Inland by Bob Kerr
Where and when: Whitespace Gallery, 12 Crummer Road, Ponsonby, to November 6
TJ says: Paintings of rolling hills at risk of erosion from human intervention and its effect on people who strive in the landscape.

Bob Kerr: When Tom and Elizabeth Took the Farm.
Bob Kerr: When Tom and Elizabeth Took the Farm.

The special effects of modern acrylic rather than oil paint are used by Bob Kerr in his show, Inland. Although all the paintings generally are of New Zealand landscapes, there are always traces of human activity and a sense of concern for damage done to the land.

In a range of steep bare hills of farmland, a raw road has been cut through the slopes. It is spectacular but it will produce erosion and the farmer's bulldozer that provokes this loss of pasture sits bright red on the road like Smaug the dragon taking the air.

In The Paraparas, an even longer road loops fascinatingly across the hills but on one of them erosion has already begun. Other damage done in the effort to establish pasture is exemplified by bare dead logs lying like lines of perspective pointing to the future in Te Humenga Dunes. The dryness of the logs, the bareness of the hills the thinness of vegetation is conveyed by thin paint that is often scraped through to underpaint to create forms.

The flexibility of effect of the paint is used well for human interventions, too. Seven symbolic suitcases sit as strange invasive objects on a road in one painting. In another, the outstanding work in the show, it is used to separate two figures from the natural environment.

They are Tom and Elizabeth from the famous poem by Denis Glover where death and madness overtake the couple striving against the odds to establish a farm during the Great Depression. Among burnt logs, they stand facing an immense tree trunk greater than any kauri. Its bark surface is excellently conveyed. It emphasises its role as symbolic obstacle rather than a simple illustration of the poem.

It completes a small but very unusual show.

What: Swallow the Sun by Laith McGregor
Where and when: Starkwhite Gallery, 510 Karangahape Rd, to November 5
TJ says: A virtuoso display of pencil drawing in a display of large works showing a quiet fie on an Indonesian island and an exceptional variety of character heads with imaginative texts to go with them.

Detail from Leith McGregor's work, Untitled.
Detail from Leith McGregor's work, Untitled.


There is no paint involved only pencil drawing in the intriguing work of Laith McGregor called Swallow the Sun. The exhibition is in two parts although every work has, somewhere in it, two perfect circles that are the artist's signature emblem.

Four very large drawings from the artist's recent residence on an island near Bali are on one wall. The technique is unusual the images of the quiet life of the people on the island are conveyed with white line. The line is not drawn but is formed by tapestry-like regular shading that fills most of the large surface and leaves bare paper as the descriptive line to describe the outlines of palms, trees huts and outrigger canoes or an old man with a staff. The effect is of still, unchanging things.

The rest of the works, which exemplify the artist's exceptional draughtsmanship, are from his studio. Each one is a portrait head drawn from people seen from paintings, photographs or any source that takes the artist's eye.

Each one is an excellent character study but the unusual feature is that the portraits are surrounded by text that conveys both the subject's and the artist's thought. In many cases, they also embody a whole series of line drawings of sharp profiles that represent people's experience and imagined history.

The whole series is an outstanding display of virtuosity in drawing as well as lettering to unusual effect.

- NZ Herald

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