Livening up Auckland Arts Festival are three exhibitions by artists who have totally different styles but share energy and imagination.
A driving force in the work by Judy Millar at Gow Langsford is in contrast to the classical restrained energy of her sculptural show at Te Uru in Titirangi. These paintings build on the gestural quality of her earlier work and the experience in conveying movement in her installations at two biennales in Venice.
The dominant direction of the movement is upward. The technique is mysterious. Possibly she uses the resistance of a mixture of oil and water-based paint and carding as well as brushwork. What makes these works so effective are glimpses of luminous colour seen behind the swirl, lift and drive of the intricate forms that push up on the surface of the work.
These shapes have a strong organic quality though they have no hint of flowers or even leaves. They grow forcefully against a background of light. The light is conveyed by smooth areas of pale colour, notably in the pale orange and blue of Proof of Heaven 5 and the greens and blues of Proof of Heaven 6. The energy comes from the special kind of action painting that has always been characteristic of Millar's work. This creates a vigorous tangle of dark pigments on the surface.
As always, viewers feel the tactile nature of the painting, which adds to its attraction. Although the forms suggest the gnarled growth of some primitive or primeval tree, the force that drives these intricate shapes comes from the feeling of the energetic hand at work. It produces detail such as the swooping loop at the bottom of Proof of Heaven 7. It is both base and driving spring.
This is a large group of paintings and the introduction of light in the background gives them a sense of mystery. They all have an individual character but bring together many of the things that have characterised the artist's work and achieve a compelling synthesis.
Another show with special qualities is Noumena by Matthew Browne at Orexart. His bright, witty abstract work seems effortless, almost as naive as a scribble pattern. This is deceptive because this spontaneous ease reinforces the lyrical quality of the painting.
Each work is individual, existing in itself with no outside reference. Yet there is a lot going on. Noumena 19 is uncharacteristically grey and brown. In the lower area of the canvas two rectangles and a buttress shape apply gentle pressure to push two springy lines up into a grey space. The piece is light and simple but full of energy.
More elaborate works share this springy quality as curving forms interact against fields of bright clear colour. In Noumena 15 one dark form is pushed upward through a field of colour while it pushes green and blue shapes away from a bright blue. In most of the works curving forces dance together and there is an elusive sense the shapes are in the grip of a lively force of special light-hearted music.
It is a collection of paintings of unpretentious delight.
The exhibition called Unstable Solutions by John Ward Knox is, according to his own account, made up of atoms that "vibrate their way" to forms that allow viewers their own interpretations. The unobtrusive manner of his works are inexplicably memorable. A typical piece in the past was simply a leaning bentwood chair supported by a walking stick and named no title, which is a prized part of the celebrated Chartwell Collection. Other works written in water were ephemeral. Yet, paradoxically, his tiny early drawings showed great skill in draughtsmanship.
In his festival show at Ivan Anthony one work consists of clusters of tiny pin-holes in a wall. You could easily miss them but once you have seen them and gone close they seem like constellations of stars.
Another, in a corner of a ceiling, is a web tensioned with the exact patterns of a spider's weaving but made of fine silver chain. Most radical of all, a stretched canvas of fine linen, is lined with the silver transparency of snail trails. Three nails hammered in the wall evoke the Crucifixion but as they are in a diagonal line a hill and a road are also indicated. It is called Calvary Street.
All these various things, which could easily be passed by without notice, are beautifully achieved but so subtle as to tease the viewer into thought and so commonplace as to challenge our ideas of art while hovering on the edge of quaint whimsy. A snail shell perched on the frame of a battered reproduction of a landscape by Monet makes a contrast between painted nature and a natural object. It is the slightest of gestures. It is typical of the work of John Ward Knox: a precarious balancing act but like no other.
At the galleries
Proof of Heaven
by Judy Millar
Where and when:
Gow Langsford Gallery, 26 Lorne St, to March 28
This is an impressive group of paintings filled with forms driving upward that gather together all the artist's experience.
What: Noumena by Matthew Browne
Where and when: Orexart, 15 Putiki St, Arch Hill, to March 21
TJ says: Deceptively simple lyrical abstract paintings that make clear colours and twisting lines dance happily.
What: Unstable Solutions by John Ward Knox
Where and when: Ivan Anthony Gallery, 312c Karangahape Rd, to March 28
TJ says: John Ward Knox's extraordinary imagination is expressed in works so subtle that at times they almost vanish, while others have a memorable simplicity.