Since landscape became an independent subject, artists have always been fascinated by the tangles of vegetation and the unexpected variations that growth takes under the impulse of an apparent mind of its own.

Fascination with the patterns of vegetation, water and sky extend to those who use modern technology instead of oil paint.

At Starkwhite, Phil Dadson has a trio of videotapes that inventively record shallow water, sky and the intricate growth of mangroves. The note of experimentation gives freshness and originality to the work.

Dadson has always been an experimental artist from the days when he explored new ways of making rhythmic sound with his Scratch Orchestra. He later made videos to combine sound with visual images and movement. His work from Antarctica was particularly memorable.

This time he has simply gone to the bottom of his garden in Beachhaven, where he has photographed the movement of water to make three 12-minute works called Deep Water. Each of the three video loops is filled with the glitter and movement of rippling water and the patterns of vegetation. The plants are caught in extraordinary detail as narrow, gnarled stems reach upward like hands in contrast to bright, complex patterns of leaves.

Then, spectacularly, to intensify the effect he has inverted the images so a narrow band of vegetation is at the bottom of the screen - sometimes above the water, sometimes beneath and sometimes only reflections. It becomes an endless stream of changing patterns against the wider sweep of the water that dominates most of the screen.

A remarkable element that breaks away from accepted formulae is a big triangular area that thrusts in from the top of each screen. In this area the sky is reflected and, like the water, it is continually on the move. It might be compared to a boat equipped with a mirror that moves gently over the water. Occasionally, because the reflection is distorted around the edges, dark forms appear and gradually spread and resolve themselves into vegetation forms, which vanish quickly. There is a hint of the feeling of moving under overhanging branches while looking up at the sky. The situation is never specific. It's all a matter of visual perception. The nearest analogy would be music with a dark bass, a steadily developing theme and a continually changing high register.

Only in one of the three loops is there a glimpse of houses appearing in the dark band at the bottom. This is just enough to suggest overtones of legend and works like Debussy's La Cathedrale Engloutie. It gives a sense of history and a mystery under the water.

When conductor Leopold Stokowski orchestrated the Debussy work, he incorporated bells. The soundtrack that accompanies Dadson's work also uses chimes of bells as well as the cries of birds and the lap of water. Three screens hang together to make a triadic shape in the middle of the gallery. A feature of the work is that prints are available of any instant in the 12-minute loops.

For anyone prepared to sit and watch for the whole 40 minutes that the installation demands, the images are a great source of visual delight and material for the imagination, notably when the sunset gleams on the water and through the maze of plants.

Foliage and light, the tangle of branches and roots, and the vivid contrasts of night and day are part of the new paintings by Sam Foley, called Domain, at Whitespace. Two large paintings, one by night and one by day, and 30 small deft studies investigate the play of light among the foliage, roads and pathways of Auckland Domain.

The works display two kinds of light - the glare of electric street lighting and vivid contrasts of sunlight and shade. Foley has always been intrigued by light, even to the extent of having light moving behind transparent paintings in past exhibitions. These are static.

Intersection, the big night work, portrays no cars but shows road signs, dark foliage, a stark winter tree and glaring bright light that illuminates where two roads meet. It is virtuoso painting and on first impression is striking.

The second large painting, Morton Bay Fig, has more to offer. The big dark tree fills the foreground and its dark overground spreading roots crawl toward the viewer with a kind of animal life. Beyond the darkness, bathed in sunlight, is the plinth and statue of Robert Burns leaning against his plough. What makes this painting more impressive than the other is the energy the roots give to the foreground, darkly empty in the night painting.

These paintings are fine illustrations of the Domain but they do not suggest anything beyond the scene. In their own way some of the little studies set the imagination working more. Foley has always made his pathways suggestive and the intense green of Domain Drive Night Study III revealed by the light leads only to darkness. The divided path of Day Study IV projects a feeling of choice - two pathways but only one to be taken. The curious tension of the tangle of overground roots also gives a charge to these day studies.

The paintings all show a high degree of skill and a sharp eye but do not push beyond the boundaries of the artist's previous work.

There is still time to see the thoughtful, poised, abstract painting of Bridget Bidwill at Artis Gallery. Her work has overtones of still life. She poises shapes carefully so they counterpoint each other, sometimes spreading rhythmically, others stacked high against a dark background. Within the shapes are a great variety of surface and firm combinations of colour, notably of blue and brown, which nicely recall the harmonies of Braque. This is quiet painting with a great deal of inner strength, excellent within its own careful boundaries.

At the galleries
What: Deep Water by Phil Dadson

Where and when: Starkwhite, 510 Karangahape Rd, to March 5

TJ says: Veteran multi-media artist Dadson combines inventively photographed visions of plants, water and sky in movement with expressive sound to make three intriguing videos.

What: Domain by Sam Foley

Where and when: Whitespace, 12 Crummer Rd, to March 5

TJ says: Foley finds equivalents in rich paint for effects of natural and artificial light and the tangles of vegetation in Auckland Domain by night and day.

What: New Paintings by Bridget Bidwill

Where and when: Artis Gallery, 280 Parnell Rd, to March 5
TJ says: Effective abstract paintings with an echo of still life make quiet, strong harmonies with a variety of surface and colour.

Check out your local galleries here.