How words change. "Methinks how sweetly flows that liquefaction of her clothes," said the 17th century poet Robert Herrick, gleefully watching his girlfriend wearing silk. Now "liquefaction" conjures thoughts of something thick, grey, slimy and dangerous.

At Two Rooms Gallery, Christchurch artist Julia Morison has sculpture that incorporates the dreadful product of this process.

In her long career, she has used many unusual materials from dog dung to gold and unusual forms such as mop heads for flowers. Here, in an exhibition called Meet Me on the Other Side, she uses drains, cages, stools and the detritus of an earthquake and shows them interacting with the unexpected crawling shapes of the grey mud. The results are fascinating in horrific, depressing ways, but here and there extraordinary art emerges.

The most fascinating sculptures are what she calls Things. One piece, called Small Triumphal Thing, is a block of concrete supported by two metal brackets, objects that might have been picked up from the rubble. A grey shape rears up from the concrete. Lithe as a cat, it is made of melted shopping bags and the silt of liquefaction. It represents a small triumph over circumstance.

Most of the other work is on a larger scale and involves the grey substance finding its way into cages and nets. Bare Forked Thing hangs by a twisted rope. Then there is a hayfork, a discarded tool and the silt of liquefaction that has found its way into a net dangling near the floor. One piece in particular captures the essence of the show - Curious Thing, mounted on an iron stool. On top of this are more melted shopping bags and a folding form that could only be silt mixed with cement that launches itself into space like a grotesque version of a winged Victory.

Not everything is as brilliantly conceived as these sculptural pieces. Ten abstract paintings are made from the remains of smashed bottles of liqueurs from the artist's home, their titles variations on Monochrome in Liqueurfaction: Silt and Amaretto. They do not achieve the force and pathos of the sculpture.

At the Bath Street Gallery, another artist from Christchurch employs liquefaction of a different kind.

Roger Boyce, a Californian teaching at Ilam School of Art, works on wooden panels and uses a thick, greasy paint in the foreground. The sky at the top is cleverly painted with thin pigment, scrubbed and rubbed.

Within this ensemble are figures, brown and white, male and female, who act out symbolic scenes from history. Having dealt with the history of painting in a long series of works bought by the Christchurch Art Gallery, he now turns to the history of New Zealand.

The first of these allegories shows a man and a woman swimming in an oily sea. This is an Allegory of Migration. Once out of the water the figures, mostly nude, are found in melodramatic situations. The situations are violent but the treatment is comic. The style of these allegories is the manner of Pop Art with shapely nudes and muscular men; bright and brash brunettes and blondes with ribbons in their hair.

For all their comic flourish, they treat serious matters. Another painting, Long Pig, refers to cannibalism: human flesh is supposed to taste like pork. This has someone more Asian than Maori beating on a drum and two dark-haired women kneeling aggressively on a man they have staked out. Nearby there is a second group with a blonde woman tightly bound.

The note of bondage and porn surfaces elsewhere from time to time, notably in an Allegory of Redemption where a stereotyped aberrant vicar is spanking yet another naked woman.

Despite the erotic flavour, the artist is careful, rather comically, to have judiciously placed branches over the more explicit bits, notably in the playfully piquant Erewhon: An Allegory, where the women disport themselves alongside a tui.

The result of all this is not shock, horror and dismay, even in a work called The Rape of Aotearoa. There is something to offend everybody but there is also undeniable wit and a completely individual perception of tensions underlying history's facts.

The gallery is shared with Mariko Susu, who does abstract work in soft rectangles of pastel colour. These achieve luminosity because the under-painted colours appear as a haze around the edges of the blocks of colour that often have a delicately scumbled surface.

At the Warwick Henderson Gallery, Amy Melchior also uses rich colour. The subject of her work is mostly flower patterns. The basis of these patterns is encaustic, an ancient technique using melted wax. The transparency of the wax allows it to dissolve the lower layers of the painting and its malleable quality also allows her to etch lines on the surface. Each painting seems to have at least three levels of perception. The result is a charming and rich decorative quality, at its best in the flower pictures and slightly less so when skeins of forms flow in waves.

Battles from the past are recalled by a show of Peter McIntyre's work at Artis Gallery. In many circles, his work was considered the antithesis of what contemporary art should be although conservatives always admired him. Dick Frizzell's recently published book pays tribute to McIntyre's extraordinary skills in handling paint. This is evident in this show. It is high-quality illustration but the painting of the Rangitikei River is a fine one by any standards.

At the galleries
What: Meet Me on the Other Side, by Julia Morison

Where and when: Two Rooms, 16 Putiki St, Newton, to November 26

TJ says: In her long career, Morison has often transformed humble material but making art out of liquefaction is her biggest challenge.

What: Aotearoa : A Pictorial Allegory, by Roger Boyce; A Place for Colours, by Mariko Susu

Where and when: Bath Street Gallery, 43 Bath St, Parnell, to December 17

TJ says: A Californian Pop Art view of New Zealand history just saved from being offensive by its clever jokiness, alongside small, intense, minimalist abstraction from Japan.

What: Scratching the Surface, by Amy Melchior

Where and when: Warwick Henderson Gallery, 32 Bath St, Parnell, to November 26

TJ says: The ancient technique of using coloured wax allows the artist to work patterns into the surface and achieve levels of decoration within her colourful floral patterns.

What: Paintings, by Peter McIntyre

Where and when: Jonathan Grant Galleries, 280 Parnell Rd, to November 26

TJ says: This shows how skilful a painter McIntyre was when his heart was in it.

Check it out
For gallery listings, see nzherald.co.nz/gallerylistings