T.J. McNamara: Energetic work full of fun

By T.J. McNamara

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Peter Robinson's unmistakable style brimming with action

No.6 Bellbird Bath by artist Steven Allwood on show at the Orexart Gallery. Photo / Dean Purcell
No.6 Bellbird Bath by artist Steven Allwood on show at the Orexart Gallery. Photo / Dean Purcell

The artists reviewed this week are linked by their use of the special qualities of oil paint. Peter Robinson, at Hopkinson Mossman, has the highest profile. He has been New Zealand's representative at the Venice and Sydney Biennales and played a prominent part in the Auckland Triennial.

Orexart is showing three stages of his career. The first is in the office and should not be overlooked. It is a response to a visit to Italy and, like the big painting in the Auckland Art Gallery recording a visit to Berlin, is mostly made up of lettering. The destination is made clear by sketches of Trajan's Column, the Victor Emmanuel Monument and, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The rest of the space is filled with Italian in dubious phonetics, Maori sayings and sardonic advice to young painters about how to get on in the art world. The style is unique and unmistakable. The work is energetic and, that unusual thing in art, very funny.

Later, Robinson turned to sculpture. In the first part of the gallery is an installation of the sort that won him the Walters Prize.

It is a large thing made of pure white and vivid blue polystyrene. It lies on the floor, filling the room like a giant lobster. Parts are connected by narrow sucking attachments and uprights in blue thrust up out of them. In a reprise of a detail in a previous work, ACK, at Artspace, one form in blue thrusts its way through and out of the wall. This work is called reACK.

This sculpture, though totally abstract, takes on an extraordinary life as it sprawls about. The artist calls it Acktion Sculpture.

The really new work is in the next room, called Acktion Painting, comprising eight paintings using different paint colour and thickness to express movement. The movement is conveyed by the energy of the sweep of the artist's brush and each work has an individual personality. It is a display of what paint can do.

The paintings are not entirely abstract. The grey and white Painting 5 has two caricatures in line that emerge with one offering the other a flower. Another recognisable feature is loops of chain and in another painting, balls and mushrooms.

The distinguishing features of each one are the colour combinations and the style of application that ranges from largely linear as in Painting 7 to dense action painting in the manner of last century. The effect in each one is of a decision made and a style adopted for each work and carried unrelentingly through. There is a hint of an academic demonstration in it but it goes beyond that to a virtuoso display.

Less well known, though he has studied in France and has won awards here, is Peter Hackett, whose large, intensely colourful works are showing at Parnell Gallery.

The dozen paintings are all called The Honeymooners' Bed. They are the marriage of paint and petals. The paint is laid on thickly in a way that gives an overall rich texture to the work. Much of the painting is done wet into wet so the raised paint is often modulated by streaks of the colour underneath, though the tints remain unmixed. The painterly attack is vigorous. In the foreground the flowers are often vivid red, suggesting poppies as the field rolls away towards the background. The colour and the paint surface are all that matters. The paintings all owe a debt to the Impressionists, especially Monet, and some of the works show lily pads on ponds that reflect their surroundings. Because of the lack of transparency in the paint these are the least impressive. The rest are captivating. The bands of colour in the background, sometimes separated by a fence, give a sense of depth. The masses of flowers in the foreground are not just dots but are given a definite shape that says "flower". A sense of luscious spring growth is everywhere. The effect of the work, loved by painters and viewers alike, is that from close up you see nothing but blobs of highly coloured paint. Step back a couple of metres and the representation of nature in bloom is complete.

Stephen Allwood at Orexart is also new on the scene. His show, Fight or Flight, is mostly large paintings of animals. There are sheep looking very solemn in the way sheep do and a calf called Abandoned Pet is a genuinely sympathetic study.

The paint itself takes on energy when the subject is birds. These are painted well over life-size. Song Thrush is shown reflected in a wet pavement puffed out against the rain. In Bellbird Bath the bird shakes itself and flecks of paint catch the moment. Allwood has sharply observed his subjects and succeeds in giving them character.


At the galleries

What: Acktion painting/Acktion Sculpture by Peter Robinson
Where and when: Hopkinson Mossman, 19 Putiki St, Arch Hill, to October 12
TJ says: Much admired academic artist shows his wit and invention in sculpture and paintings full of movement.

What: The Honeymooners' Bed by Peter Hackett
Where and when: Parnell Gallery, 263 Parnell Rd, to October 1
TJ says: Riotous fields of vividly coloured flowers energetically painted in thickly clotted paint.

What: Fight or Flight by Stephen Allwood
Where and when: Orexart, 15 Putiki St, Arch Hill, to October 5
TJ says: Anthropomorphic, vigorous studies that give character to animals with enlarged portraits of birds most suited to the dash of the painting style.

- NZ Herald

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