The exhibition called Kingfisher Blue/Kikorangi Kotare by Star Gossage at Tim Melville Gallery is largely devoted to women: Maori women, staunch, yet pensive and closely associated with the earth and stars.
The drawing in these paintings is not conventionally strong but it is compelling. The waif-like quality, the heavy dark hair, the downward look, elongated fingers on exceptionally long arms, the heavy clothing - all play their part in the emotional impact of these melancholy images.
My Name is Star must be a self-portrait but neither this nor any of the other figures, though enigmatic and private, suggests one particular woman. In the great tradition of symbolism, they express in their moodiness and connection to the earth a generation of Maori women. These are not the women painted by Robin Kahukiwa, triumphant and formidable, but have a quieter presence that is richly evocative of a strength that is equally powerful. When they gather together in a group in front of the marae, as in Your Place in the Sky, they are monumental. The simple gesture of assertion and protest of a woman quietly raising her hand in Piki Te Ora is a gesture of strength. The force comes from intensity of emotion and colour rather than from detail.
The emotional tone is set by the prevailing shades of blue. This is strongly reminiscent of Picasso's Blue Period early last century but, where Picasso used his blue to suggest the plight of beggars and wandering performers, Gossage's women are grounded in rural Aotearoa. Yet the elongated fingers and long limbs have the same force.
Gossage also makes use of birds as symbols of the flight of thoughts and the spirit. They surround the head of the pensive figure in Manu Ao and are given a painting to themselves in All the Little Birds in My Garden. This work, with a splendid sky shot through with the orange/red of a setting sun on clouds, is one of the occasional flashes of intense colour that sparks through some of the landscape paintings.
Star Gossage's reputation in this exhibition has built on the work shown in the Five Maori Painters exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery. The force and appeal of her work is reinforced by the show almost selling out very quickly.
Where Gossage's paintings are predominantly blue, the large photographs by Lisa Reihana at Allpress Gallery are startlingly white, unusually since her works are customarily multihued. The images in Pelt all have at their centre a tall, elegant, classically nude woman set in a sterile white landscape where only a rare fern struggles to exist.
Manu Ao by Lisa Reihana.
Despite the nudity and modernity, these women take on the quality of a Snow Queen. They are as remote as a chaste goddess.
The setting is not actually snow but a landscape of white stones, mist and mountains taken in the Volcanic Plateau. The reference is not directly New Zealand. They recall Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen and his unrequited love for the singer Jenny Lind.
Contrasting with the overall whiteness is the sudden, startling black of pubic hair and the long hair that falls over the faces of some of the figures. It is this sudden blackness of hair that surely gives rise to the title of the show, with all the implied references of fur, hunting and captured animals. One of these remarkable women is called Aquila, Latin for eagle, and she is the only one who casts no shadow. The other three figures, all hovering between myth and a modern reality, cast dark shadows. Camarillo, who sports ostrich feathers, is set against faceted stones that resemble ice, with the only life a native fern that is often displayed at a tangi.
Sabino is on a wind-blown landscape. Her accompanying fern is under pressure and her face is obscured by her black hair. Piloscis, against a scene of storms and mountains, is blonde, with a black cape of long fur across her shoulders and Aquila, right below a massive cliff, has a pelt of hair enveloping her head.
These images all pay tribute to the power of women but, for all the danger implied, the contrast between black and white suggests good and evil in these remarkable images of enigmatic Eves.
The paintings by Gareth Price at Pierre Peeters Gallery are filled with obscure references to religion and philosophy. These are popular images. The artist was People's Choice winner in the 2012 Wallace Awards. The show is called Acatalepsy and the work is a variety of surrealism. It has the closely worked fine detail of magic realism but lacks the dreamlike feeling that is true surrealism. It is really a series of apocalyptic visions. Melodramatic visions of rolling clouds of red bolts of lightning dominate the sky over foreboding landscapes, with curious towers, a tsunami-stranded ship, peacocks, a centaur with a suitcase and Egyptian gods, all excellently drawn and painted and spectacular but not adding up to any coherent theme.
At the galleries
Kingfisher Blue/Kikorangi Kotare by Star Gossage
Where and when:
Tim Melville Gallery, 11 McColl St, Newmarket, to September 27
Moody, symbolic images of Maori women and northern landscapes which are earthy and touching.
What: Pelt by Lisa Reihana
Where and when: Allpress Gallery, 8 Blake St, Freemans Bay, to September 27
TJ says: Large staged photographs of Snow Queens, whose sterile whiteness is contrasted with intense black hair and fur, mix modernity and myth.
What: Acatalepsy by Gareth Price
Where and when: Pierre Peeters Gallery, 251 Parnell Rd, Parnell, to September 28
TJ says: Strange objects and people exist in strange landscapes under skies wracked with eruption and storm.