By T.J. McNAMARA
It's a record. For the first time a list of shows available for review exceeds 20 for one week. That is an astonishing amount of art activity in a city of this size and the amazing thing is that the quality is so high.
What is a critic to do? The only answer is to take the extreme ends of the spectrum.
At the infrared end is a show of paintings by Jacqueline Fahey at the Judith Anderson Gallery. This is expressionist painting with quick, deft brushwork, bold composition and a commitment to social comment.
The subject is particular and close to home: Down at Grey Lynn Park - but not all of Grey Lynn Park, not the footballers or the cricketers, but the lovers, the drunks, the children and the dogs and, above all, skateboarders in flight as they leap at the end of their ramp. The big curve of the half-pipe ramp dominates all these compositions with its swish of shape that delivers the skateboarders to the air.
Above even the skateboarders are apocalyptic sunset skies which may prophetically signal the end of life as we know it and the arrival of a new set of values.
The things common to all these paintings are energy and flight. In one painting birds beat their wings as symbols of freedom. In almost all the paintings there are dogs full of instinctive energy, except perhaps in the curious painting with long shadows (No 7) where the painter yields to the temptation to paint dogs as appealing toys.
Elsewhere the tone ranges from the pastoral (No 3) with a little girl and three dogs and a pattern of leaves through No 8 with beer bottles and raving drunks to another that is Gauguin in Grey Lynn and a painting that shows a deeply disturbed man baring his torso to the elements.
All the paintings show careful collection of detail: graffiti, the rail at the top of the skateboard ramp, the brand name under a skateboard. All this plays a part in the composition but what gives these works their fascination is a sense of flight.
In No 9 (the works are untitled), there is a skater separated from his board at the top of his flight and both are in the air. Alongside, a dog leaps for a blood-red ball and he, too, is way off the ground. In the corner of the painting is the artist herself as witness and she has her feet firmly on the ground.
No one is quite like Fahey in the way she seeks to come to terms with contemporary life and to record it. And no one is like her in the way she energises her work beyond illustration into true painting.
This show is her best work for years and, accordingly, does not need her customary speech balloons to make an effect.
At the ultra-violet end of the spectrum are the chaste, still, stone sculptures of John Edgar at Artis gallery in Parnell and the minimalist paintings of Stephen Bambury at the Jensen Gallery.
The works by Bambury are interchangeable with the paintings in his big exhibition at the New Gallery but the minimalist sculpture of Edgar is less familiar.
Most of works in the show are ovoids of stone intersected by narrow crosses. The craftsmanship is flawless. The joins between the different-coloured stones are immaculate.
The result is something that is completely natural, emphasising the qualities of the stone. Yet it is also completely artificial because the contrasting strips of marble are clearly the precise result of human intervention.
What this paradox does is focus our attention on the nature of the stone - hard, sometimes opaque, sometimes transparent, but pure, unblemished and polished.
As well as the oval stones and landscapes of marble with vertical strata there is a tall shape supported by thick brackets. This column is broken at the top but two-thirds up there are layers of glass. The glass reveals the rod that sustains the structure and it is debatable whether this clear explication of structure adds to the effect.
Yet undeniably this dark column, called Transformer, has a solemn, dignified presence.
This is art at its most abstract; reliant on the simplest of forms and the qualities of its material - no symbols, no story-telling, no social comment, just purity like alpine air.
Hovering between these extremes of purity and raw human experience are the paintings of Colin Luxton at Oedipus Rex Gallery. He works with conventional techniques of oil on canvas and he makes beautiful surfaces, cloudy, varied and subtle. Emerging through the surfaces are figures, mostly recognisably human but hazy and indeterminate.
Only one canvas is almost abstract and in it little dashes of red emerge like flames of the spirit. Then we move to dance where the figures move in the round prescribed by Matisse. Then there is tred where the figures are all walking, not purposefully but drifting along through acres of cloud.
There is a quotation from the late Allen Curnow inscribed on the gallery wall which speaks of a small pile of shells fortuitously making "happy patterns".
In these attractive paintings human figures, sweetly, delicately, cleverly make charming patterns in the cloud of unknowing.