T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

T.J. McNamara: Beg and borrow

By T.J. McNamara

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The words of beggars and the fleeting nature of art and life revealed in photographs

Work by Richard Maloy at Starkwhite. Photo / Dean Purcell
Work by Richard Maloy at Starkwhite. Photo / Dean Purcell

Photography always retains a degree of documentary character no matter how varied the subject matter. This feeling is very strong in the striking images by Judy Darragh at Two Rooms.

Darragh bought the signs now-banned Auckland beggars used to ask for charity. They all have a generic similarity. All end with thanks and often a smiley face or "Have a Good Day".

Darragh has enlarged the signs as big photographs with a mobile phone at the edge to establish the real size and stabilise the images. The effect is to memorialise the simplicity and poignancy of the message at the other end of the spectrum from colourful and stylish advertising. The pathos of these enlarged signs makes a powerful point. Ten per cent of sales go to Auckland City Mission.

The still-life photographs by Fiona Pardington downstairs at the same gallery are focused on more purely artistic qualities. They take their title Answering Hark from a Colin McCahon painting and were made during the artist's residency at McCahon House. They hark back to the beginnings of art photography at the end of the 19th century.

They have more than a hint of the decadence of the 1890s with their dark backgrounds, bright but fading flowers, skulls and submissive implications of chains with tags of SLAVE and SLUT. One features an extraordinary gilded glass dildo.

Looming against the dark alongside these motifs are familiar flowers of kowhai and puriri plucked from the trees at McCahon House. The influence of Dutch symbolic vanitas can be seen in the smoke of a snuffed candle with its hint of death.

All of these are the servants of rich colour and intricate lighting. Great use is made of vivid orange persimmons. Sometimes the emphasis is too consciously dramatic, as in the bright red of the skull in Still Life with Iris, Skull and Magnolia. On the other hand one of the simplest of the images in this rich show, Still Life with Persimmon, Puriri Flowers and Skull Glass, is particularly potent in colour.

Documentation of self is taken to an extreme in All the Things I Did, an exhibition about his early career by Richard Maloy. It is shown with the aid of a grant from Creative NZ at Starkwhite.

The gallery is transformed into a series of booths adorned with masses of small photographs and videos of performance art. In the beginning he made a small dog and painted it bright blue. He had himself photographed offering it food. Whole batches of photographs show repeated images of this dog.

From the blue dog we move on to people covered entirely in silver paper and a video of the artist making a garment around his hips from gaffer tape. The sound of tearing tape dominates the exhibition.

In the next booth the artist plasters his left arm to his body with masses of clay. There is also a big ball made of paper boxes painted green. Further on, the artist returns to blue, with blue on his face as a beard, blue roses and around the corner a blue bag. The artist puts it over his head, tries to get into it, crushes it into a corner.

Then we have sculpture - two blue lengths of timber, two white lengths and one unpainted length. These are photographed in different positions and in different places. The whole emphasis is on process. Few works survive. It is an exhibition of transient art that only exists in photographs.

The artist does, as art, things we never expect anyone to do. It follows the Billy Apple concept that everything an artist does is art.

Marti Friedlander, a photographer whose images over a long and illustrious career are filled with human interest, has an exhibition called Self-portrait at FHE Galleries. It contains only one self-portrait. The rest document people from many different places and walks of life with profound sympathy. A particularly notable group is of artists who have contributed to our cultural history.


At the galleries

What: International Beggar by Judy Darragh; An Answering Hark by Fiona Pardington

Where and when: Two Rooms, 16 Putiki St, Newton, to December 7

TJ says: In contrasting shows of photography, Judy Darragh records the pathos of the signs beggars use on Auckland's streets and Fiona Pardington creates still-lifes of dark and subtle beauty.

What: All the Things I Did by Richard Maloy

Where and when: Starkwhite, 510 Karangahape Rd, to November 30

TJ says: Performance and installation artist Richard Maloy recapitulates his development of the ideas of process over product as the outcome of the instruction at a contemporary art school.

What: Self-portrait by Marti Friedlander

Where and when: FHE Galleries, 2 Kitchener St, to December 12

TJ says: Outstanding examples of the redoubtable Marti Friedlander's interest in recording human situations and character in penetrating photographs, notably of artists.

- NZ Herald

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