A short while ago John Ward Knox made a beautiful sculpture and showed it high in a corner of a dealer gallery. An intricate spiderweb made in fine silver chain, it was much admired.
Now the Auckland Art Gallery is showing three such works by Knox, linking their sculpture terrace with Albert Park, but these webs have needed a kilometre of commercial chain. One connects a massive old oak to the terrace. Another is an arch between two trees, and the third is closely linked to the structure of the building. The chains have the magic of surprise hidden in the leafage of the park. They are done with scientific accuracy and unexpected natural variations in the net pattern. The basic chains that are the anchoring strands are brass in contrast to the bright shine of the web.
Together they make the most stunning and imaginative public work of art to grace the city for some time.
Two galleries in Arch Hill are showing work made with strikingly contrasting techniques. At Fox Jensen, Tomislav Nikolic paints abstractions for our age. He calls them Vestiges of Now, the result of a considered, elaborate process that produces pale areas of colour with remarkable qualities.
Painted with acrylic on canvas, the works are the result of layer upon layer of paint. The layers show at the edges of the surface, complementing and framing the principal surface. This ultimate form is matt and as solid as stone yet it has a dim luminosity, at once opaque and translucent.
This quality comes from the addition of fine marble dust to the pigment, which makes the final painting more a stone-like tablet than a plain surface. It is something lasting and deep. That is the culmination of the abstract process but the tablet-like surface is surrounded by other devices in depth that enhance its emotive effect and preciousness.
A typical work is Vestige of Now: 1 where the subtle pale pink of the principal surface is edged by a frame in gold leaf, then a deep recess in red which complements and isolates the painted work.
The whole becomes a richly precious object. Any photograph inevitably flattens the work and denies the effect of the surrounding recesses.
In Vestige of Now: 2, a larger painting, the deep outer frame has elaborate moulding typical of another era but brought up-to-date by being vividly blue. Sudden intrusions of violent blue or hard yellow break the studied elegance of much of the work. Furthermore, the exposed edging of 20 or more underlying colours stops short to reveal the bare canvas, making evident the process. The combinations of colour are unorthodox and reinforce the idea of the painting as an individual object by taking the colour around the sides of the canvas rather than setting it in recesses. Each canvas has a different personality. Some are diffident and others grand.
Judy Darragh, at Two Rooms, is a highly respected artist because of her ingenious transformations from the democracy of commonplace materials. In her exuberant work she has used stickers, posters, pots and pans, crockery, bubble wrap and much else that was immediately handy. One wall of this new show is given over to small works done on coarse linen. They all juxtapose solid glass prisms with fluid forms in transparent silicon. The hard material of the prisms has been dragged through a thick application of silicon that has subsequently dried and solidified the movement. The telling interaction of fluid movement shifting what is solid may be born out of the artist's recent experience of an earthquake in Nepal.
The rest of the show contains Darragh's more customary arrangements of objects photographed by Sam Hartnett, enlarged and made into large PVC banners. The enlargement is the key. A small ceramic dragon on a rug becomes a fierce demon on the shore of a fiery desert. In Smear, an image of a finger dragged through cream against a background of liners from chocolate boxes becomes a monument to movement and contrast.
The extreme case of the use of everyday objects is the trio of prints called Wisdom where the artist's wisdom teeth are the centre of a blue cloudy background. Brown rather than white and dotted with blood or decay, they are images of loss rather than the emergence of wisdom with age. This mixed exhibition could not be concieved by anyone except Judy Darragh.
At the galleries
What: Hardly Held Lightly by John Ward Knox
Where and when: Auckland Art Gallery, Kitchener St, until June 5
TJ says: Commissioned by AAG, with a title referring to one of his father's songs, Knox has left his usual small, delicate works and made three splendid giant spider webs to link the gallery with Albert Park.
What: Vestiges of Now by Tomislav Nikolic
Where and when: Fox/Jensen Gallery, 10 Putiki St, Newton, to November 19
TJ says: Subtle abstract works done with complex techniques to unify, colour, form and frame around a dense but luminous surface.
What: Kiss the Ground by Judy Darragh
Where and when: Two Rooms, 16 Putiki St, Newton, to November 28
TJ says: As ever Judy Darragh transforms commonplace objects - glue, prisms, a hearthrug and her extracted wisdom teeth - into startling images and banners.