Last week had a quiet lull before the Auckland Art Festival bounded into full swing, although Parnell is home to two highly individual shows, both from artists who have been off the scene for a while.

Nick Wall is a young artist who had a much-admired first exhibition, then vanished from sight for a while. Apparently he was building a studio. The results he achieved in that studio are on display at the Warwick Henderson Gallery in a show called Diodic.

The dozen paintings are abstract and, as the name suggests, usually made in two parts. Most of the work comprises two perfect circles that meet and create a cord across both, where they collide. The support of these paintings is carefully crafted to make them stand out from the wall.

In some of the smaller works the bare wood of the support around the edge of the circles is too deep. For the larger paintings it is exactly in the right proportion to lift the surfaces away from the wall and present them as an independent image.

The surfaces are impressive, ranging from delicately shaded backgrounds to plain circles of almost dazzling colour.

The surfaces, which are mostly highly polished, have been created by the application of layer after layer of paint. They are given extra shine by a final layer of synthetic varnish, giving a surface as smooth and reflective as glass.

The effect of the meeting of the two circles is collision rather than interaction. They seldom blend into each other but when they do there is a big gain. In The Heart in the Matter a bright red is juxtaposed with a pale, creamy circle. The red bleeds into the pale circle in a series of drips that turn yellow. The yellow and red appear again in a circle within the circle as if the brighter colour had fertilised the paler shade.

A second successful work integrating the two circles, this time by line, is Unlearned. Again there is red but it is juxtaposed with a plain canvas. The canvas makes a lovely textured and varied surface, a fine thing in itself. On it is drawn a perfect circle of line which describes a neat arc within the red. The interaction makes for real tension between the two surfaces.

The work is less effective when the circles are one above the other. In some cases, especially Me 2, the work feels upside down. The general movement of the work drips downward when it would be more lively reaching up.

In contrast, two works are big single circles. One is simply decorative, a firm red square outlined against a mysterious shaded background. The other is a circle of yellow cut to make a base for a square and a triangle. The inner part of the triangle contains spermatozoa-like forms pushing upward vigorously. It conveys an energy that goes beyond decorative and surely defines a development this talented young painter might follow up on.

Another artist who has been off the scene for a bit is Mike Morgan, whose eccentric work some years ago aroused a great deal of enthusiasm. Over his work hovers the question that is always asked of painters who have a fine disregard of convention: does individuality of vision and the painstaking recreation of that vision counterbalance oddities in composition and inadequacies of drawing?

The show at Pierre Peeters Gallery has all the characteristics of Morgan's work: bright blue sky, white clouds, lots of red and scenes populated by numbers of awkwardly drawn figures. The scenes have satiric intent and usually reflect the life of people in fringe communities near the sea. Waiheke used to be his stamping ground, now it is the Coromandel.

A typical Morgan painting is Let's Go Crazy, where a score of people in various stages of undress gather around a big table by the sea with yachts and launches in the background and islands offshore.

Although it is a festive gathering, the people are all absorbed in themselves. Some are making speeches.

One sees herself as the Virgin Mary, a fat lady lies nude on the grass under the table, young women disport themselves naked or in bikinis, a man in a jester's costume accepts the homage of a kneeling woman, a Goth in a top hat pats a sheep, and so the romp goes on. These are all rawly caricatured but the islands offshore are delicately painted.

Sometimes the effect is comic, as in Will Triptavilamite affect my mind?, which is another table with a jug in the centre and people whose heads have blossomed into a bouquet. A presiding guru's nose has been lengthened, surely by telling lies.

The extreme case of the mix of social comment and intriguing landscape is a curious work called Rock and Roll Across New Zealand where the main road, filled with bustling cars, is elevated on stilts above a Waikato landscape.

The landscape itself is carefully and precisely created with folding hills dotted here and there with farmhouses. The comment is sharp and the painting surprisingly accurate and convincing.

It is the high point of an exhibition full of oddity and not to everyone's taste, but one that somehow conveys a way of life and a point of view.

At the galleries
What: Diodic by Nick Wall

Where and when: Warwick Henderson Gallery, 32 Bath St, Parnell, until March 12

TJ says: Abstract paintings with intense colour and varied surfaces mostly in two parts that sometimes clash and sometimes chime.

What: That's Life by Mike Morgan

Where and when: Pierre Peeters Gallery, Habitat, 251 Parnell Rd, until March 6

TJ says: These paintings have a personality all their own and give a lively view of a fringe community, though the naive style has its limitations. Mothers' Day Out, by Mike Morgan, makes a social comment in a naive style.

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