The pressure of artists seeking gallery space can lead to the doubling-up of exhibitions. This works best when the material is drawing rather than painting and is of a moderate size.

Whitespace gallery is showing work by two artists whose drawing is exceptional. Mary McIntyre has a series of more than 30 drawings, most of them done on black paper. One group is her typically accurate drawings of nude young women. There is nothing comfortable about them as they all confront a skull as a symbol of mortality.

A further group shows the artist, lined and elderly as she is, in the grip of the sharp feet of a kiwi whose form enfolds the back of her head. These are not suggestions of mortality but striking emblems referencing her position as an artist in our society.

The show is completed by drawings made at a wedding in His Majesty's Arcade the day it began to be demolished in 1988.

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The wedding was invaded by a bag lady who drank champagne directly from a bottle. She was accepted without question. It is a deftly caught evocation of those times.

Colour plays a strongly emotive part in the work by James Ormsby in the second show at Whitespace. He brings his drawing skill to a series of heads based on 19th-century busts of Maori and Europeans from the Catholic Church and Museum in Akaroa. He uses a combination of media including charcoal, pencil, pigment and wax to obtain an unusual intensity and denseness of colour.

James Ormsby's Ariki 1.
James Ormsby's Ariki 1.

Ariki 2, taken from a portrait of Bishop Pompallier, gains more authority from his gaze and his red soutane than from his halo. The most striking of all is Roi Tawhiao en rouge where the entire head is in red, reinforcing the subject's pride and powerful expression.

The effect of these heads is akin to Roman portraits of ancestors. The classical force is particularly evident in Ariki 1, a splendid feat of drawing taken from a life cast made in 1840.

At the Sanderson Gallery in Newmarket Liam Gerrard has established a reputation for his large, highly detailed, dramatic drawings in charcoal. His skill in representation is apparent in his painstaking images of flowers and plants but these are tainted by macabre elements. Out of a bouquet may emerge savage teeth. Leaves may surround the head of a lion or flowers spread their petals in clusters to delineate a skull in a way that evokes a Mexican carnival of death.

Most strange is Hair, a work that features roses, some decaying, with fine lines of hair emerging from the tangle. These are admirable for the tightness of their drawing and as feats of imagination.

The second artist at Sanderson is Linda Holloway. Her paintings have many elements in ink or charcoal on washes of plain colour. She creates scenes with masses of tiny people spaced about in little clusters, often in hollows in the painted panoramic landscapes. The land is furnished with larger figures on exceptionally tall thin posts with rectangular banners of abstract patterns in black and white hanging in the airy space.

The feeling is decidedly surreal but the wide-openness lacks the intensity of dreams. The show is called Anomie; certainly everything in the paintings is anonymous but has a collective oddity of manner. The country the artist has created is dry, enigmatic yet a bit coy. The coyness is apparent in cats with human bodies and curious shapes like cells with a nucleus. These cats and cell forms are larger than the miniscule dots of people.

The paintings are intriguing but the meanings are intangible despite references to Don Quixote in one painting called A Man of La Mancha. Yet there is certainly a sense of seeking but without a plan. It is a strange world but entirely consistent in mood.

At the Railway Gallery the charming paintings of Merthyr Ruxton have a variety of subjects from nudes to the Tuilleries and Montmartre. The harmonised colour that holds these subjects together is admirable, emphasised by the way one painting called Abstract Night is the equal of the others without the appeal of a particular object or place.

The second artist, Toni Mosley, does unusual, detailed and humorous screenprints, which match people to suitcases as gentle symbols of cultural baggage. They are original, skilled and touchingly thoughtful.

At the galleries

What:

Drawings by Mary McIntyre; portrait heads by James Ormsby

Where and when:

Whitespace,

12 Crummer Rd, Ponsonby, to March 7

TJ says:

Two veteran artists using line, colour and mass in different ways to speak of life and mortality or evoke classical strength.

What: Series Notes by Liam Gerrard; Anomie by Linda Holloway
Where and when: Sanderson Gallery, 2 Kent St, Newmarket, to March 8
TJ says: Remarkable charcoal drawings where sweet flowers are matched with macabre details and paintings that create a dream landscape dotted with people and strange signals.

What: Recent work by Merthyr Ruxton; So you think you've got baggage? by Toni Mosley
Where and when: Railway Street Studios, 4 Railway St, Newmarket, to March 10
TJ says: Gentle landscapes and nudes in soft, harmonious colour alongside unusual hand-tinted prints where suitcases take on a metaphorical weight.