The most complex of this week's shows is by Australian artist Laith McGregor at Starkwhite. What is varied about his practice are the contrasts between east and west, modern and ancient and the contrast in the media used to create the work.
His exhibition cannot be taken in quickly. It is in two parts. One wall holds 48 drawings, all the same modest size arranged in three rows. The opposite wall sports nine portrait drawings of the artist's friends and associates.
McGregor recently has spent time in Southeast Asia and many of the images reflect this. They all emerge from his obsessive need to draw. Each of the 48 images is a day's work and a feature is the extensive use of ballpoint pen, generally in blue. His work is the practice of an exceptional draughtsman, intricate and finely modelled.
The contrasts come when the heavily shaded, structured images, often of masks and sculpture with direct influence from Bali, are matched with more European images done in pale watercolour or fluid ink and often reductive and plain. The result is clever, never obvious, but rather uneasy and uncomfortable.
A work like Trance Dance is three figures: one is a solid votive statue rendered in detail in ballpoint, then comes a figure in eastern costume done in water colour then a dancing figure of a young, modern man in fine, pencilled line. Most of the work shows these sharp contrasts but it sometimes achieves a classical simplicity such as Anything Good Nothing Bad, a powerful, bearded face deftly conveyed in watercolour and ink.
Across the gallery, the series of portraits, beginning with a self-portrait, are complex in their making and impressive in their outcome. Photographs of friends have been given to street artists in Thailand who reproduce them in pencil.
These are the beginning for McGregor as he adds attributes that reflect their character and surrounds them with texts that relate what they do and what they think. He also adds patterns, which increase the sense of identity.
He has a preoccupation with eyes, often reduced to exact circles similar to the holes in the triangular banners that are also part of the show. The circles are forceful in Terry and, combined with a triangle, more serene in Emily.
This unusual show is personal but notable for thoughtful responses to a variety of characters and situations expressed with outstanding skill.
The work of Simon Kaan, printmaker and painter, at Sanderson Gallery, confidently maintains his established style. This confidence is reflected in a particularly large untitled work of six panels. The panels are a combination of boards painted in oils with small, carved motifs.
The motifs are a counterpoint to accumulations of horizontal bands with some geometric shapes to give a sense of depth. The panels have pale blues and a hint of green, which modulate the prevailing shades of grey, the artist's usual colourings.
Much of New Zealand painting falls into horizontals. The work here is all combinations of horizontals that inescapably read as horizon lines. On the lines are distant, offshore islands; above them occasionally we see solitary birds. Both the dark islands and the birds take on a special mythical quality that makes the vistas more than just seascapes.
The small motifs carved into the surfaces gain effect by being shown casting a shadow and are like a beached canoe after long voyaging. The simplicity of these vistas themselves hint at the Chinese heritage of the artist. The shape of the canoes refers to voyaging. Allied to the prominence of distant islands, these suggest his Maori heritage. The combination is linked to the insistence on wooden support acknowledged by some panels of bare timber. All these aspects of the work come together to make unique and expressive paintings.
In the gallery's second space the immaculate photographic prints by Kate van der Drift concentrate on landscape and water and are devoid of people, though in one case the presence of goalposts on a sodden field suggests past activity. It is called Everything Dissolves into the Sea.
There is an implicit message in all these photographs that is sometimes hard to trace but they are often simply beautiful. A tiny islet covered in flax in the midst of still water and approached by two swans is a case in point.
At the Gow Langsford Gallery in Kitchener St is a piece of history called Withdrawn at the Request of the Sue Crockford Gallery.
In 2005, Billy Apple was invited to contribute to a show called Frieze at the gallery's Lorne St venue. His contribution was withdrawn at the last moment. A blank space was left.
The painting and its idea have been resurrected. It alone occupies the gallery space. It was originally intended for a corner. It is the usual apples shown as a half, a whole and half again as befits a frieze. It makes a lively footnote to the Apple retrospective at Auckland Art Gallery.
At the galleries
Someone Anyone by Laith McGregor
Where and when:
Starkwhite, 510 Karangahape Rd, to July 4
A copious display of fine drawings of heads with contrasting effects of soft watercolour and ink with the hard decisiveness of ballpoint and mixing influences from east and west.
What: New Work by Simon Kaan; Changing Shores of Shadow by Kate van der Drift
Where and when: Sanderson Contemporary Art, 2 Kent St, Newmarket, to June 21
TJ says: Woodcuts and paintings mix Maori and Chinese with visionary images of beaches and islands in Simon Kaan's work while Kate van der Drift makes immaculate composite photographs.
What: Frieze (Red) by Billy Apple
Where and when: Gow Langsford Gallery, 2 Kitchener St, to June 30
TJ says: A mixed show by many artists made a frieze around the wall of the Gow Langsford. Billy Apple's contribution was withdrawn at the request of a rival gallery and now resurfaces bright and red as ever.