T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

TJ McNamara: Movement in colour

Bold and subtle hues assume an insistent voice in paintings attracting attention in the city's galleries.

Zoomzoom VI by Judy Millar at Gow Langsford Gallery. Photo / Supplied
Zoomzoom VI by Judy Millar at Gow Langsford Gallery. Photo / Supplied

A group of artists in shows around Auckland this week are using paint in a variety of styles that make it clear the possibilities of the medium are far from exhausted.

Judy Millar, whose work has been exhibited twice at the Venice Biennale, has a show at Gow Langsford that uses oil and acrylic paint in combination with silkscreen printing. The essence of her work is the expression of energy and its style goes right back to Jackson Pollack dripping and splashing over the surface of the canvas. Pollack's best work is captivatingly lyrical. Millar's action paintings sing a more austere song but just as spontaneously.

Colour, applied as isolated patches, is the background, although two works called Deluge have plain gold bases to the canvas as if all the activity above had produced some vast pool. Other works have flashes of white like lightning. Raft has a full background of royal purple that works exceptionally well with a dash of black line.

The black lines are a mass of wild forms overlaying the colour. These shapes have all the unexpected intricacies of Millar's characteristic style but they have more loose ends than the convoluted forms turning in on themselves that she has used in the past.

These energetic shapes are derived from a single painting enlarged into a big silkscreen.

The silkscreen is used to overlay the colour with tangles of black. The general thrust is upward in the Zoomzoom series of which there are four examples, all with different colour combinations. When the forms go down or across it makes the Deluge group. The screen itself is very coarse and provides grid-patterned areas in contrast to the vigorous driving lines. The paintings have great carrying power and provide a lively variant within the artist's established flourishing manner.

Much quieter are the abstractions of Madder Temple by Marie Le Lievre at the Antoinette Godkin Gallery. Her colour is more clotted. Her richly coloured oil paint is allowed to flood and blend. It is also layered with the underpainting bleeding at the edges. This happens within a variety of loose shapes that seem to have evolved from mixing colours. In one painting, Rugged (Clyde), a resist technique is used so the paint becomes delicately veined.

The most appealing works are the jewel-like head shape of Clubbed and the contrast of transparency and density in the title work in which the rose madder leaks from an almost black area of loaded colour. The extraordinary harmony gives the show great charm.

The mixture of subtlety and boldness that has always been characteristic of his work throughout his long career is even more marked in the eloquent exhibition by Mervyn Williams called Colour Corrected at Artis Gallery.

The subtlety is, as always, the ability to convey absolutely convincing three-dimensional waves and textures on the surface of the canvas. This is put to good use to show, in quietly subdued colour, the action of painting in the outer part. In the centre of most of the works is a circle of intense, unmodulated colour. These colour fields achieve great depth without ever becoming glazed or shiny. Only some have the illusionist properties of the framing colour. When the colour is contrastingly plain the results are spectacular, notably in Hot Shot and Fools Gold. The vividness of the red in the centre of Festina is stunning and a tribute to the mature confidence of the work.

At the Tim Melville Gallery in Follow Me, Elliot Collins continues his practice of using classical lettering across the middle of his works. They fall into two groups. The first are a number of charts of islands and harbours around New Zealand. The lettering does no more than call attention to the intrinsic interest of the charts. The fascination of maps and charts is real but we do not need the exhortation Follow Me to enter Wellington Harbour or circumnavigate Stewart Island in our imaginations.

The second group is made up of paintings and here the skilful paint and lettered mottos are a fertile partnership. Masses of small touches of colour make waves of emotion in Beautiful Words Break Me and the dashingly painted white clouds in a blue sky work well with the thought of Arriving or Stopping.


At the galleries:

What: Comic Drop by Judy Millar
Where and when: Gow Langsford Gallery, 26 Lorne St, to April 13
TJ says: Paintings of energy and size created by a special combination of oil or acrylic and silkscreen.

What: Madder Temple by Marie Le Lievre
Where and when: Antoinette Godkin Gallery, 28 Lorne St, to April 13
TJ says: Combinations of loaded and transparent strong colour find their own way in abstractions of considerable charm.

What: Colour Corrected by Mervyn Williams
Where and when: Artis Gallery, 280 Parnell Rd, to April 7
TJ says: Spectacular combinations of plain colour and the artist's special effects make for an exhibition with real impact.

What: Follow Me by Elliot Collins
Where and when: Tim Melville Gallery, 11 McColl St, Newmarket, to April 6
TJ says: An exhibition in two parts: official charts, which are interesting in themselves, and clean, clear paintings complemented by lettering.

For gallery listings see nzherald.co.nz/arts

- NZ Herald

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