Two galleries that share the same building offer a piquant and paradoxical contrast this week. Both are showing sculpture, one by a veteran working in abstraction; the other by a much younger artist doing figure sculpture.
The younger artist, Sam Harrison in the Fox/Jensen Gallery to the right of the door, has a traditional manner. His considerable reputation has been founded on modelling human figures, often life-size in plaster and, when possible, casting them in bronze. His style owes a good deal to the great French sculptor Rodin, in that his surfaces show evidence of the work of hands and attitudes of form that express emotional states.
The most Rodinesque work is Female Study, a torso balanced and tensioned as an arc between shoulders and back. The effect is of a woman in severe stress. An emotional charge is provided by the straining of the musculature, the prominence of the ribs and the fall of the breasts across the chest. The torso is a sculpture existing in its own right and completely expressive without head or arms.
Heads are not always absent. The compact piece Crouching Woman has her hands to her head in abject fear and misery. A similarly expressive work, Rolling Woman, needs a head to balance the work but here the face contributes to the joyous energy of the complex pose. The tall Twisting Woman has a turn of the head that reinforces the questioning nature of the figure.
The show is not as large as Harrison's previous exhibition at this gallery, which was a whole group of highly individualised naked torsos, but it places more emphasis on the emotional expressiveness he has at his command.
His knowledge of the structure of the human body and his skill in foreshortening from thinking in three dimensions as a sculptor is shown in the decisive lines of the large, spare charcoal drawings that accompany the show. There is also an example of his large-scale woodcuts. Called Vincent Seated, it is notable for the energy of the complex depiction of hands and feet. It completes a small but masterly show.
Turn to the left at the door and you are in the Tim Melville Gallery with the sculpture and painting of the Spanish-born Alberto Garcia-Alvarez who taught for more than 20 years at the University of Auckland's Elam School of Fine Art.
The sculptures go back as far as the 1970s. They are all abstract wall relief works in brightly coloured wood. They are the kind of academic abstraction that relies on the interplay of forms for their energy and decorative appeal. They are open and linear yet, possibly because of the artist's Spanish heritage, the cross is everywhere but never an explicit crucifixion.
In a typical work painted vividly red, Cross Section, one of a number of works with the same title, forms are set at right angles in three dimensions intersected by a slender diagonal that leaps through and beyond them. One work is 25 variations on the cross shapes, all related but never the same. It has some of the character of the modular ceramic mural he created for the science building at the university.
Exceptions to inventive variations of the cross are a piece (No 87) that has the spiky energy of red, white and blue triangles. The same colours, with the addition of black, make up an untitled work that is a balanced and cantilevered pattern of rectangles done in 1977 and reminiscent of the painting of Mondrian. It adds to an exhibition full of invention and quiet formal thought.
The Sanderson Gallery in Newmarket is showing some very accomplished paintings by a newcomer on the scene, Anita Levering. Her work, Morphism, is abstract in the sense of not being identifiable as an image of any particular thing or place. Instead, her work is filled with a variety of forms, interesting in their own right, but leaving much to the imagination of the viewer. The variety is achieved by remarkable manipulation of paint and surface. The mystery is the artist's own, but the natural runs of dark paint suggest manoeuvring of the canvas to let the fluid paint find its own way. In the prevailing green of No 611, additional patterns of drips have run vertically but are shown horizontally. It ends up as a strong yet subtle painting. The quality does not depend entirely on chance. The works all have an individuality linked to the prevailing basic colour.
No 609 has a dark surface that appears almost leafy with gaps that show light and space beyond. The matching Nos 595 and 596 are green and red with heavy forms that recall glaciers and lakes blocked by moraines.
The principal appeal lies in the complexity and variety of painterly gestures that have created these moody images.
At the galleries
What: Crossings 1972-2014 by Alberto Garcia-Alvarez
Where and when: Tim Melville Gallery, 11 McColl St, Newmarket, to November 1
TJ says: Over many years accomplished painter and lecturer Garcia-Alvarez has done parallel work in small, abstract sculpture, mostly based on the motif of the cross and many are shown here for the first time.
What: Sculpture and works on paper by Sam Harrison
Where and when: Fox/Jensen Gallery, 11 McColl St, Newmarket, to October 18
TJ says: Fine young sculptor making expressive figures, some already cast in bronze, others marquettes, all finely modelled and accompanied by strong charcoal drawings.
What: Morphism by Anita Levering
Where and when: Sanderson Gallery, Osborne Lane, Newmarket, to October 12
TJ says: Strong paintings, each with an individual character arrived at by manipulating colour and forms that range from transparent veils to apparently rocky landscape linked by fluid lines.