TJ McNamara: Astronomical undertaking

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Rehua by Chris Bailey. Photo / Natalie Slade
Rehua by Chris Bailey. Photo / Natalie Slade

John Reynolds explores a scientific theme.

The exhibition by John Reynolds at the Sue Crockford Gallery is called A Diptych of Triptychs. The title describes the major part of the show - two very large paintings, a diptych each made up of three panels - a triptych. They are extraordinary works and reinforce Reynolds' reputation as one of our outstanding artists.

The two major works offer a contrast: one is dark, the other has a vivid background of sky blue. The majestic three blue panels suggest the heavens and are called Kepler's Dream in reference to the 16th century scientist who first described the laws of planetary motion.

This is the key to the work. The background blue is clouded with runs of paint that suggest movement and, in the middle panel, there is an area of bright light. Some of these effects are the result of exposing the background to rain, a process that reinforces the idea of a natural element. On these three panels, Reynolds has made marks with a silver marker pen which has become his trademark medium. The marks are generally in vertical columns and flow down the canvases like journeys of thought.

These columns of marks are often quite severe and geometrical. They look like broken lettering and fall into an angular rhythm but mainly suggest scientific formulae. The other kinds of marks are for the most part columns of dots, not so regular as to appear scientific but with the irregularity of natural things.

They are interrupted in the left panel by an image that looks like a shower of meteors and other patterns of intricate orbiting shapes that evoke diagrams of atomic structure and the elliptical orbits of planets that Kepler was the first to reveal.

In the right-hand panel the looser marks evolve into stars and the whole work becomes more open, except at the top where there are stars linked by lines which recall Maori navigation patterns.

This is an impressively serious painting but it also has the direct appeal of the rich colour. It also suggests levels of meaning, science and history that give it a deeper resonance.

The second big painting, Twilight of the Idols, is equally solemn but much darker. It is a turbulent space with images that appear almost like faces with eyes that are decidedly circular, and fade into the background. There is even a hint of evil about them. The painting is dominated by a large, multifoliate rose in intricate white line. It is a powerful counterpart to the big blue painting.

Showing the amusing side of Reynolds' work is a lithograph of lines all with a dying fall called Last Words.

Another work that liberally evokes science, philosophy and astronomical time schemes is an installation by Julian McKinnon in the startling new gallery called Snake Pit. It contrasts a ruin of smashed concrete blocks on the floor with precise, geometric planning drawn on steel plates on the walls. The accompanying literature speaks solemnly of space and time but whether the imagery of the installation supports the weight of science and philosophy implied in the commentary is open to question.

The links with tradition are more apparent in the outstanding work in wood and stone by Chris Bailey at FhE Gallery. The forms of his work are exactly matched to the nature of his material. The works in wood are tall, closely carved posts that stand as markers and memorials. Particularly fine are the tall shapes called Mamari I and II. These are like the stern decoration of a waka but are grounded and made statuesque by a heavy binding that stabilises them at floor level. The work on them is mostly hollow gouge marks but the effect is similar to traditional Maori carving. The same patterns interspersed with columns mark three tall posts, which have the strength of the tree they came from.

These majestic works in wood are complemented by heavy weight and density of carvings, which exploit the contrast between rough and polished surfaces inherent in the material. The fishhook shape has been given new and powerful life in the rhythmic shape and polished hollows of Rehua, a large work in basalt.

This is a splendid exhibition and one not to be missed.

Barbara Tuck at Anna Miles Gallery does landscapes that are something special. She combines a multiplicity of views with differing horizons and foregrounds and weaves them together so they make a coherent painting.

Her style consists of quick dextrous dashes of paint for rock and vegetation and pale broad areas for sky, distance and water. She makes every part of the painting work.

In this show called Alice Capricious Compass she is concentrating on the dry interior of Australia. A typical work When the Water Came combines red rock with dark overhangs and areas of scrub. In this and in the other works the sky, though it shows only in narrow bands, seems limitless.

- NZ Herald

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