Sam Harrison is one of a rare breed, a figurative sculptor. He works in a classical manner that recalls the precedents of Michelangelo and Rodin yet with a special contemporary flair.
His exhibition at the Fox/Jensen Gallery also includes his extraordinary large woodcuts and his remarkable drawings, seen for the first time, which he calls Inks.
His work is the result of intense scrutiny. The largest sculpture is of a crawling woman. It offers a vision of an unusual reality. With two hands on the floor, the left arm, closer to the body, lifts the left shoulder to a shape like a mountain. We are intensely aware of the bone structure. This awareness extends to the ribs made evident by the posture. The work evokes a strong response but through recognition of the nature of the body rather than by recognition of a victim needing pity.
One Michelangelesque work is a seated woman with one knee drawn up and her arms wrapped around it. The solidity of the mass has classical precedents and also recalls Michelangelo's compact statue of a youth pulling a thorn from his foot. Unclassically audacious though, is the way one leg shoots out to prop the mass of the body and give energy to the figure.
More complex in composition than either of these is a small figure cast in bronze called Rolling Woman. This figure is rolling gymnastically on her back. As she rolls, both hands are grasping her left leg. Her face, which is very delicately modelled, is ecstatic. In concept and detail this is a wonderful work.
Another female torso in the entrance to the gallery is, in the manner of Rodin, left without a head to concentrate attention on the body.
Even more close to Rodin are the energetic recent drawings done vigorously in ink.
Here there is an effective combination of medium and subject. The figures have been caught in movement in varied poses with deft washes of near-transparent ink, which captures the action in an immediate way that still conveys clearly the deft action of the artist's hand. as it moves in response to what he sees.
This fine show is completed by several of Harrison's powerful woodcuts.
These are exceptionally large, life-sized figures of naked men and women printed in black with the forceful cutting of the image into the wood clearly apparent. As well as character, attention is also drawn to prominent detail: back muscles, the knobbiness of the spine, toes taking the weight, all become really impressive.
These woodcuts are not the largest or the most dramatic of his work in this medium but they have a dark grandeur all their own.
The work of Jim Cooper at Whitespace is unique, but its quality is more hysterical than grand. Hitherto his work has almost all been ceramic but he is a sculptor, not a craftsman potter. His practice has been to express himself with wild irreverent ceramic figures, all glazed in bright, vivid, dissonant colours, laughing, dancing and all extremely odd.
His inspiration has remained the same in this show but his means of expression has changed. The frenetic colour and the figures with prominent teeth, eyes and wild expressions remain but here they are created in the midst of psychedelic waves made by taking cloth and wrapping it into tight coils all stitched together. These coils of material are packed together with, occasionally, the addition of sequins, and mounted on board.
The effect is of dense textured colour in incessant movement with images swamped by irregular shapes. Faces are green, red, brown and yellow and packed tightly in borders, attended by titles from records, mostly by Jimi Hendrix. They screech like a guitarist jamming his guitar against speakers to get the howling effect of feedback. It all harks back to the 1960s and it holds together spectacularly.
The images are inspired by jesters, clowns, record covers and even a domestic pet. The mournful Every Homeless Cat is one of the outstanding images.
The exhibition is like nothing except Cooper's other work. It will appal some and fascinate others. Yet it is full of invention and excitement and has the coherence of a single-minded passion for things, people and attitudes with the power to move emotions.
The work of Veronica Green at Black Asterisk may also evoke a mixed response. Her world is all sweetness and innocence and children isolated in the strangeness of it all.
A typical large painting is White Cloud, Golden Horizons. It takes place on wide misty plains with watery clouds and a countryside dotted with slim, lonely trees. The surface is bright with gold leaf and its space has drips of paint, innumerable butterflies and a silver bird.
Each painting has one small figure of a child collaged on it and tiny notices such as KEEP CALM KISS ON or, in Fishing for Stars, CATCH AND RELEASE FISHING ONLY.
The naive atmosphere has a special feature. If the gallery is darkened and blue lights on the floor are switched on, the paintings dissolve to a night sky hung with stars, comets and a moon.
At the galleries
What: Inks/Woodcuts/ Sculpture by Sam Harrison
Where and when: Fox/Jensen Gallery, 10 Putiki St, Newton, to December 19
TJ says: Sam Harrison shows outstanding examples of his figurative sculpture along with his large woodcuts and vigorous drawings.
What: Up From the Skies by Jim Cooper
Where and when: Whitespace, 12 Crummer Rd, Ponsonby, to December 24
TJ says: A colourful exhibition using a particularly unusual medium of rolled cloth to evoke the wildest excesses of rock and roll in a special way.
What: White Cloud, Golden Horizons by Veronica Green
Where and when: Black Asterisk, 10 Ponsonby Rd, to December 23
TJ says: A beguiling show of innocence wandering amid wide fantastic landscapes that can be transformed into night sky by a change of lighting.