What: Zarahn Southon, Interiors
Where and when: Jonathan Grant Gallery, 280 Parnell Road; until December 4
TJ says: Virtuoso painting of interiors with still-life, quietly atmospheric in the Dutch manner but thoroughly up-to-date in character and situation.
Despite the prominence of abstract, expressionist and cubist art born last century, representational art - making images of recognisable things - has never gone away. There is always a demand for "realism".
Nevertheless, painting must be more than just illustration. It needs thought and a conceptual element as well as skill.
There are three exhibitions at the moment that capture the exact outward appearance of people and things. Two of them are very real and one achieves the feat of completely fooling the eye.
Zarahn Southon was precociously brilliant in handling paint. When he returned to New Zealand after training in Italy, he came to prominence with remarkable large and startling images of scenes linked to his Maori heritage.
His current paintings, at the Jonathan Grant Gallery, are smaller and more homely and linked to another more universal heritage - that of the Golden Age of Dutch painting. Some of pictures of interiors appear to have works by Vermeer on the wall that actually hang in museums in New York and Amsterdam.
The paintings show tiled floors, tables and chairs, carpets and rugs, jugs and bowls that occur in such paintings. The light source is a window in exactly the manner of the great Dutch masters. The paintings emphasise the stillness and quiet of the interiors. Yet this is transferred to a local setting.
In one, Power Cut, the stillness is the quiet of cold and no electricity. The couple in the picture are both muffled up in thick puffer jackets though the clock on the wall next to a Vermeer indicates it is 11am.
The objects in the room - furniture, books, vessels, old chairs, a rug on the table - are done convincingly in the Dutch manner but are also often modern. A china jug on the table is matched by a bright red electric kettle. All are done carefully, without flourish and the manner of working convincingly conveys delicate surfaces while the light that defines them is masterly.
The splendid technique is also on display in a series of small still-life pictures of apples, skulls and timber doorways. These are impressive but the paintings of a simple, dedicated way of life - as in the very Dutch Interior with Couple or of the small but lovely Guitar Player - have an extra level of philosophy and thought about life that give them something beyond virtuosity.
What: Pamela Wolfe, Pleasure Garden
Where & when: Artis Gallery, 280 Parnell Road until December 5
TJ says: Small accurate paintings of masses of flowers in watercolour supplement a spectacular display of hugely oversize flowers in oils.
In the adjacent Artis Gallery, Pamela's Wolfe's Pleasure Garden is a big and colourful exhibition with two kinds of work. There are appealing works done in opaque watercolour on paper; these are careful studies in a series that gives the title to the exhibition.
The works in oil are more spectacular. Although they are exact images of flowers particularly roses, they are all at least four times life size. They fountain up exuberantly in big bunches.
The grand rhetoric of these works is a tribute to colour and burgeoning life though there are hints of decay. A typical work, like Green Garden, has foliage springing out on both sides to add a strong compositional element and two works, with a black background, give force to the prevailing reds.
It is an area that Wolfe has made specially her own in recent years.
What: Fiona Connor, Brick, Cane and Paint
Where & when: Hopkinson Mossman Gallery, 19 Putiki Street, Grey Lynn until December 17
TJ says: Notice boards that that record the character and workings of factories and a club are reproduced in eye-deceiving exactitude in a remarkable feat of modern still-life that is astonishing.
Brick, Cane and Paint
is the most unconventional and absolute of such exhibitions, reproducing the appearance of reality. It is by Fiona Connor, born in Auckland, resident in Los Angeles, an international award winner and a 2010 finalist in the Walters Prize.
When you enter the gallery's main room, you encounter a group of notice boards. The largest of them are typical of the staff notice boards found in any old industrial businesses but particularly one dusty enterprise.
Here is the making bricks; the board contains a fading photo, going back to 1989, of the works' site with different areas numbered. It has notices to staff, a calendar, reminders of the proportions of red oxide and fuel oil in the various colours of bricks and a variety of other matters. The paper of the messages is brown and faded and the board has a scattering of drawing pins. The firm is Pacific Clay, a brick factory in Los Angeles.
Other boards are blank but with the surface showing signs of long use. One has a piece broken out of it. Many of the signs and official notices are in English and Spanish, which makes clear the ethnic origin of much of the workforce. There are other boards from another site, a cane factory in Los Angeles, and, one close to home, a glass fronted board donated to a weavers' guild in Auckland.
The startling thing is that though they look exactly like a documentary installation of real boards, they are all sculptures and meticulously reconstructed to be permanent and unchanging. Paper notices and flyers are reproduced in aluminium.
The eye is completely deceived. There is a tradition of trompe l'oeil, eye-deceiving paintings often of boards with notes on them, but they are never as successful as these are. The illusion is complete: a triumph of art depicting social and industrial reality.