An exhibition related to the Rugby World Cup is Personal Heroes by Regan "Haha" Tamanui at Orexart. "Haha" refers to the artist's street name because, although he is a New Zealander, he is well known as a wall artist in Australia - an artist who makes recognisable images rather than graffiti.
The heroes of the title are All Blacks who played before the professional era. The works are done by a skilled process of stencilling with spray painting. This produces a recognisable portrait but dissolves the familiar face into a stylised icon. The stencil process, up to 30 for any one image, makes the works reproducible. These images are in editions of three.
The spray painting has the effect of blurring edges so each face hovers between a photograph and a 19th century portrait. They are a gallery of shining heroes with a kind of innocence about them that is different from the realm of publicity photographs.
The images are particularly successful when you get square jaws and a direct gaze culminating, of course, with the portrait of a young Colin Meads with wide, challenging eyes.
The exhibition is at its best with the full-face images. Turn the head away or down and the force is lost. As a whole, it evokes a past era when heroes were heroes without the intervention of marketing.
It's possible to go from heroes to the genuinely silly. Making DVDs of artists performing some rite of their own invention has become a fashionable means of expression. At the Sue Crockford Gallery, you can see three Nature videos. The most entertaining is by Christian Jankowski called The Hunt. The artist takes his bow and quiver to a German supermarket and fires his arrows into the produce, generally in easy-to-pierce packages. The packages bristling with arrows are loaded into his shopping cart and taken to the checkout. No doubt he was hunting for bargains.
Expatriate New Zealand artist Boyd Webb has a video called Horse and Dog where actors in costume blunder about putting up a tent. It seems dreadfully clumsy compared with commercial animation but perhaps that is the purpose. It is redeemed only by one or two shots of a ridge as horizon with the characters appearing over the hill.
Local artist Richard Maloy spends 11 minutes posturing about by an ugly garden fence. He is wearing something looking like a cardboard version of a bug or perhaps Ned Kelly's armour. He falls about in what he calls Twenty Eight Compositions. It is deliberately banal and monumentally absurd.
Art and a degree of oddity continue in the work of Lianne Edwards and her show Ordering Nature at the Antoinette Godkin Gallery. It is oddity allied to aspects of remarkable craft and unexpected beauty. The artist in the past made her reputation by accumulations of stamps arranged in ways that made little temples to nature and historical imagery represented in postage.
One work in this show follows this pattern. It is a diamond shape made of New Zealand stamps from 1970 that showed garfish leaping. The overall shape is made of hundreds of the stamps in sections made of four stamps cut and joined in such a way that the fish seem to be jumping in a loop. The patterns made by the stamps stand clear of the background on the kind of pins used in insect collections. Under lighting, there is an abstract pattern of shadows on the white background.
Newer works, such as Sky City Monday, are made of stamps from all over the world that feature birds, all vividly coloured. The birds are cut out of the middle of the stamp with a scalpel in a way that retains the deckled edge of the perforations so their origin is clear. A huge variety of birds cluster together, while around the edge of the patterned grouping some birds are flying free.
The work produces a genuine sense of wonder at the beauty and enormous variety of the birds and the careful craft that assembled them into the patterns. Other works do the same transformational thing with stamps showing butterflies.
The exhibition is filled out by a new direction for the artist, who has carefully dissected otoliths from fish carcasses. These bones are found in all vertebrates. They are connected with the hearing and balance mechanisms of these animals. The ones the artist has collected and carefully mounted in pairs, looking rather like butterflies, have individual characteristics showing age and growth patterns rather like the rings of a tree. They are fascinating. Unlabelled and without commentary, they are more than a cabinet of curiosities evoking the beauty of natural phenomena. The idea has the potential for quite singular development.
One of New Zealand's oldest artists is Jan Nigro, now in her 91st year, who has a show at Jane Sanders' gallery. The exhibition, called Lady Chatterley's Lover, has colour and energy which belie the artist's age. Most of these paintings are nudes done with the rich colour possible with oil pastels and often adorned with a collage of flowers.
Collage is also used in a special way by cutting out the figure shapes, then gluing them to the paper in a way that separates them a little from the background, giving them a sharp edge without drawing lines. A feature is the natural backgrounds done as patterns of leaves or as intricate patterns of bare branches. This background works particularly well in a piece called Nude in the Forest. The works are frequently explicit with flowers woven into pubic hair but the best of them suggest rather than describe.
Lady Chatterley's Dream of her Lover creates an atmosphere supported by the emotional use of colour that suggests imaginings romanticising her rough lover. One very effective work called Domestic II - Stocking shows no more than a leg with a shoe on it with the other leg shoeless and a hand pushing the stocking clear of the ankle. It is more erotic than anything else in the show.
At the galleries
What: Heroes by Regan Tamanui
Where and when: Orexart, Upper Khartoum Place, to November 5
TJ says: Popular wall art meets official portraiture in these lively stencilled and spray-painted images of heroic All Blacks from before the professional era.
What: Ordering Nature by Lianne Edwards
Where and when: Antoinette Godkin Gallery, 28 Lorne St, to November 19
TJ says: Clusters of images of birds and butterflies intricately cut from masses of postage stamps make hymns of praise of the natural world.
What: Nature videos by Richard Maloy, Christian Jankowski and Boyd Webb
Where and when: Sue Crockford Gallery, 2 Queen St, to November 5
TJ says: Three short videos by artists of consequence trying for wit and achieving little beyond a whiff of fashionable irony.
What: Lady Chatterley's Lover by Jan Nigro
Where and when: Jane Sanders ART Agent, cnr Queen-Shortland Sts, to November 19
TJ says: Veteran figure painter uses nudes in landscape in colourful paintings and collages that are more romantic than shocking.
Check it out
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