When Reuben Paterson comes to the door of his sunny Symonds St studio-apartment, it is not surprising to find flecks of glitter glinting from his cheeks and hair.

Like the paisley sheets, and other retro-fabric furnishings inside, it has become a characteristic element in his paintings.

But you won't find him sprinkling it on the dance floor on a Friday night. "I couldn't think of anything worse," he says. "I live with it so I hate it on a social level. It's always getting caught in everything."

Paterson is in the final stages of preparing new work for his exhibition Narcissus, which sees him adopting diamond dust as a new material.

Unlike his brightly coloured koru and fabric-design paintings of recent years, which were filled with references to his whakapapa, these new works are starkly monochromatic, representing the energy and spirituality of the land with shimmering optical effects.

His use of diamonds refers to the politics of diamond mining in South Africa, from where he has imported the diamond chips, but there are also local resonances.

"There is also the connection of diamond and land to the diamond of Maungapohatu in the Urewera - the next prophet shall see the diamond as did Rua Kenana after it had been placed there by Te Kooti," Paterson says.

The way the diamonds spruce up the glitter without being immediately apparent is also metaphoric for the diamond hunt at Maungapohatu, he says.

"All these connections link closer still to the land and what breathes, rises and issues from it, of times gone by and times to come."

This new focus in Paterson's work was inspired by a residency in Queenstown, culminating in a large installation outside Riccarton House in Christchurch as part of the Scape Biennial last year.

"These [new works] have come from experiences of staying on land that had been occupied by Ngai Tahu, who had made temporary shelters and carved pounamu from the limestone cliffs I was living on. That energy was still there, it was resilient and it was really proud.

"I suppose these paintings are a way to make something, like energy or the absorption of the Maori history of land, visible - to make something ethereal visible."

The final installation involves a 157 sq m horizontal platform with swirling psychedelic shapes mirroring both the angular gables of the house and the surrounding hilly landscape, forming what he refers to as a narcissistic reflection.

"Narcissus is about the reflection of us on land, or the reflection of what exists today and what the land has truly absorbed; the histories of Maori people and how they inhabit New Zealand in a memory that doesn't exist for anybody. In comparison, you find English histories in monoliths and heritage site buildings."

The optical effects of his black-and-white geometric abstractions closely resemble those of British painter Bridget Riley, for whom he acknowledges some empathy.

"I was lucky enough to see Bridget Riley's show in Sydney," he says of the retrospective now showing in Wellington. "The day I arrived she gave a lecture about her work being about nature and I love the fact that my work is exactly that."

Another recent development in Paterson's work is the use of video. Narcissus features a horizontally displayed kaleidoscopic vortex, called Te Putahitanga o Rehua - "the very old and traditional word to describe the water used for blessing yourself after being exposed to the many realms Maori live in".

It was made with Bruce Ferguson, best known as founder of the Kog Transmissions record label.

Paterson admits to not being an expert on music but he has done the artwork for Anika Moa's forthcoming album, and one of his paintings graces the cover of a recent Herbs compilation, selected after the group searched the Auckland Art Gallery exhibition Purangiaho for an appropriate piece.

As well as being flat-out finishing work for Narcissus, Paterson has only two weeks before he departs for a year in Europe.

First stop is Greece, then a visit to the Venice Biennale. He has work in the Prague Biennale and is working on a forthcoming exhibition, Pasifika, at the University of Cambridge. He is also hoping to find time for some looking around.

"I just really want to see what is going on in the world. I think it only lasts so long, for us who are interested in the arts, before we're sick of looking at internet sites and books and catalogues. There is something to be said for the real experience of being with work."


* What: Narcissus, by Reuben Paterson
* Where and when: Gow Langsford Gallery, to May 7