What: Walk with Me by John Reynolds
Where and when: Starkwhite Gallery, 510 Karangahape Rd, to September 24
TJ says: A deeply touching large-scale work in words and drawing about Colin McCahon, elderly and ill, becoming lost in Sydney is genuinely tragic.
John Reynolds' painting stands at the intersection of art and literature. He uses drawing and words and much of his work is on a large scale. The central part of his deeply moving epic, Walk with Me occupies a whole wall at Starkwhite gallery. It is not pictorial but made up of signs, notations, symbols and quotations.
It tells a tragic story of a powerfully intellectual artist's decline into dementia and a vivid diagram of a stage in that decline where the artist is as lost as King Lear on the heath in a storm without even a Fool for comfort.
In 1984, Colin McCahon, New Zealand's most profound and original artist, was in Sydney to attend a retrospective show of his painting that should have been a high point of his later years. He got lost and out of touch with his friends in Sydney's wide Botanical Gardens. He was found the following day, disoriented and with no identification, five kilometres away in Centennial Park and taken to hospital.
Reynolds' central painting - that speaks of the wandering - is in four parts and has McCahon first in the Gardens in the blue of evening. Then a long, black middle section charts his wandering, followed by a green panel about being found in the park and the last warm brown panel is the hospital. A map of streets between the two parks, with the streets dissolving into confusion between, is a separate preliminary work.
In the first panel there are transcriptions of bird songs, and quotations from McCahon's paintings, "Let be, let be" and, at the edge, the ominous sign "Tourette," the name of the syndrome afflicting the traveller.
The first image in the dark section is of the Labyrinth, the legendary maze constructed on ancient Crete to hide a monster, the Minotaur, in the centre. Bits of languages are included, particularly Latin perhaps to universalise the experience. The many symbols of loss include the advertising slogan, "Where the bloody hell are ya?"
The wanderer passes a swamp and something like a river. On the other side, he confuses Sydney streets with familiar Ponsonby and Crummer Roads. The green area has quiet confusion and the final brown panel is headed, "easy, easy, easy, easy," just as a nurse might soothe a patient. There are also disjointed ganglions and blood red hands and a general fading of signs and lettering downward.
The whole is a touching elegy by one artist to another. It is not a work that can be taken in easily, but asks for - and deserves - long and careful attention.
The paintings that are a coda to this big work are on the opposite wall. Two of them are all lettering in tight patterns; one is centred by the Buddhist chant "om mani padme hum" which indicates the road to obtain peace. Both of these word works are a Joycean interior monologue and indicate, in an aphoristic way, the depth and width of McCahon's knowledge and insights. They help make up an exhibition exceptionally powerful in its depth and compassion.
What: Freestyle by Natalie Guy
Where and when: Fox/Jensen Gallery, 10 Putiki St, Newton, to September 17
TJ says: A delightful exhibition of sculpture where solid brass geometry is hung from contrasting springy, natural tree branches.
The stringently simple show by Natalie Guy has seven sculptures that all make the same point in a number of delightful variations. Called Freestyle, its basic concept is the contrast between graceful, springy natural forms and precise geometrical shapes that are human creations. Ikebana meets minimalism.
They divide into two presentations. There are arching floor-standing pieces and others that reach out from plinths. All of them have a slim but sturdy arching branch, polished and lacquered but retaining its natural characteristics of form. In most of the pieces, a polished brass ring hangs from a brass chain making the contrast between the glittering metal and perfect circle with the natural curves and irregularities of the tree.
In one impressive piece called Soe (Earth) the ring is poised within a curve of a branch as it reaches upward. All of the works have Japanese simplicity though the piquant stylishness is universal and makes for a show that is limited but has considerable charm.
What: Subliminal by Elizabeth Thomson, subtilis by Joyce Campbell
Where and when: Two Rooms Gallery, 16 Putiki St, Newton, to September 17
TJ says: Evocative, luminous works by Elizabeth Thomson with intriguing use of materials sometimes with strange undulating surfaces evoke sea and sky while upstairs, Walters Prize nominee, Joyce Campbell shows the strange spreading patterns of bacteria in large monoprints.
As in her other recent exhibitions, Elizabeth Thomson has filled Two Rooms gallery with luminous rectangles of blue and white that evoke deep sea and wide sky. In this show, called Subliminal, all boundaries are dissolved but the surfaces, at times made up of tiny glass spheres, make for dazzling effects.
The work is not entirely uniform. Zona is a softly chequered pattern of blue on an undulating wooden panel. Like everything else in the show, it constantly changes in subtle ways as the viewer moves. A group inspired by memories of the Mahia Peninsular has sweeping wave patterns contrasted with a vertical structure that indicates the outlook is from a vertical structure while retaining the luminous dream quality.
Generally suggestion triumphs over anything specific. It means the large work, Subliminal Blue, is the most impressive piece in a consistently evocative, technically inventive suite of paintings.