Painter-musician serenades us with changes in tone

In painting, even at its most abstract, a strong horizontal across a work is inescapably read as a horizon. The sophisticated abstractions called Keylines by Richard Adams at Orexart are all calculated as two parts: one bright and luminous, the other matching but harder and more complex.

They suggest sea or land, a horizon and a luminous sky whether the inspiration comes from a desert landscape in Arizona or from the coast.

The abstract precision into two luminous rectangles and the carefully graded tones do not refer to a particular location, yet they gain attention because of their jewelled colour and its relationships.

The richness of the colour and its varied contrasts make this a commanding show. The placement of horizon is varied from low in the picture space to very high and the colour harmonies are never repeated.


The intensity of colour is achieved by the way the paint is handled. It is never thick but the delicate changes in tone and the luminosity are reinforced by the underpainting.

The loaded top layer of colour glows because it has been stippled with a hard brush when wet in such a way that the colour under it shines through. The surfaces are interesting close up and at a distance can be strikingly atmospheric.

In the lower, heavier parts of the paintings, dry loose lines of paint often give weight and variation.

The abstract nature of the work is emphasised and the colour intensified by thin red framing bands at the edges in paintings that suggest land rather than sea such as Arizona Dawn Suite II.

In addition, in many of the works, fine lines of geometrical precision suggest pause indications and grids.

The artist is a classically trained musician and the works hint at musical variations on a theme: a solemn one, with vivid variations.

They range from the Sea Change Suite that uses shades of green and blue to warm brown tones inspired by the desert in the Arizona Dawn Suite. There, the paintings lean toward naturalism by hinting at storm effects.

A more specific exploration of the colours of the sea is Liquid Landscapes by Mark Cross at the Pierre Peeters Gallery.

He is an artist who, throughout a long career, has stuck to a naturalistic style. His figure paintings were often associated with the sea, notably the Pacific Ocean around Niue where he has family associations.

His present paintings use the clear transparency of the water and the contrasting hard, fissured nature of coastal rocky cliffs both in Niue and Mokohinau Island closer to home.

His fascination with the effects of sunlight, reflection and refraction and how they operate across the surface of the water is conveyed by carefully modulated, fragmented shifts of tone of great complexity and painted with fine technique.

The effects can be highly romantic, as the gleam on the water between high rocky cliffs in Gap, Mokohinau or dramatic where huge rocks with individual personalities confront the shore as the sea reaches toward the distant horizon in the spectacular Mokohinau #1. This is extremely knowledgeable and sharply observed characterisation of the meeting of sea and land.

The paintings are supplemented by a short film shot by the artist in Niue, both on and under the water. The restlessness of the sea's surface is suddenly interrupted by floating debris from fishing boats that is unnaturally hard against the subtle life of the ocean. The film is accompanied by original music by David Harkness.

There is a horizon in the large triptych that dominates the exhibition by John Blackburn at Artis Gallery.

Blackburn is a veteran who divides his time between England and this country. He rides roughshod over any conventions of neatness and grace, using bold form, often black, and adorning his surface with found objects and collage.

What makes a horizon in the Prescription Series Triptych is big sheets of canvas stuck on to the backing and marked with black at the top. Yet this is no landscape because the sheets are covered with empty foil pill-dispensers.

The artist must have had plenty of co-operation to assemble so many. They include a vet who has contributed containers where vast horse pills have been pushed out. It emphasises an element of wit that runs through the show.

The whole is covered with thick white paint and makes an intriguing surface. On the fringes, in complete contrast, are miniature transistors from phones. The whole work is heavy with tension contrasted with quick improvisation.

Tension is also part of White Square and Black Square where a square is so insecurely poised that it weeps abstract tears of dismay. Elsewhere, we see softer feelings as in Nurture where patches of pale colour are supplemented by a real butterfly.

Not all the work evokes such complex responses but, while retaining its rawness and attack, the show has more depth than the artist's previous shows here.

What: Keylines by Richard Adams
Where and when: Orexart, 16 Putiki St, Newton, to February28
TJ says: Attractive abstractions of sea and landscape full of luminosity and skilled painting of attractive surfaces.

What: Liquid Landscapes by Mark Cross
Where and when: Pierre Peeters Gallery, 251 Parnell Rd, to March 22
TJ says: Vivid painting of water contrasted with coastal rock - the solid against the perpetually changing.

What: Inspiration by John Blackburn
Where and when: Artis Gallery, 280 Parnell Rd, to March 2
TJ says: Veteran abstractionist uses material as simple as foil pill-dispensers to create bold and unusual textures.