By T.J. McNAMARA
Way to go" is an affirmation suggesting you know exactly what you are doing and what your aim is. One aspect of Love & Death, the superb exhibition of Victorian painting at the Auckland Art Gallery, is that the artists knew where they were going because they shared common aims and knowledge with the people they were painting for. One and a half centuries later, artists have established their right to go whichever way they please but often lose their audience on the way.
There is a tremendous hodge-podge of art in Auckland this week, with artists all going their own way, but the one who comes closest to sharing a purpose with the public is Australian Anne Wallace, whose work is at the Ivan Anthony Gallery until September 17.
Even then, her clear purpose is to be ambiguous. The painting is subject painting almost as the Victorians knew it but where they painted legends, the Bible, history or illustrated old ballads, Wallace is concerned with tensions between people, social situations and the psychology of sexual interaction.
The paintings seem explicit, but read the signs they offer and all sorts of oblique suggestions appear. A man and a woman are going up a staircase. The woman is leading. The tension in the work is almost palpable. It is called Higher Education.
The woman is young. Her lower back is exposed above her jeans and the man's gaze is fixed on it. He is being led by the hand; in his other hand he clasps his briefcase and his lecture notes, the tools of his trade. He is bespectacled, greying and obviously older. Who is the leader? Who is doing the educating?
A second painting, Then He Kissed Me, is reminiscent of Edvard Munch and, more recently, the American Eric Fischl, but very effectively done.
Most potent of these paintings is Beautiful Soul, which shows a housewife, eyes turned heavenward like a Baroque saint, wearing a modest blouse and a checked pinny and offering a plate of raw, shiny, bloody, red meat. The painting also shows her duster, the sign of her sex and role. Vegetarians will find the work unbearable.
These paintings are a potent and penetrating comment on life, and their humanist interest makes a welcome change from conceptual goings-on.
The exhibition is shared with works on paper by Michael Harrison who draws cats simply but beautifully, trees very well, and birds not quite so deftly, but it really does not matter because most of the birds are in the minds of the cats. It is an oddity of an exhibition but in their own way these works create a tense but elegant, darkening atmosphere and show that art does not always need vehement gestures to succeed.
Just across the road at Artspace there is a show called Dirty Pixels until September 14. Pixels are the bits of light that make up a television screen.
The seven artists all go their own way but it is a very short road. All the works have a one-off quality. It is hard to see a body of work being developed from them; they are clever but uninvolving.
The single most effective work is by another Australian, Tim Ryan. He manipulates footage of car crashes to make a turbulent mass of colour in violent movement. Projected on a large screen this video sums up the awful, unmanageable essence of vehicle smashes.
Another video, by Michael Gondry, recreates images of a rock band in Lego and films the result. It makes for a lively piece in primary colours, with mad, disjointed movement linked to music. Surely some advertising agency will take up the technique and run with it.
The rest of the work lacks this wild animation. There is a desktop icon slowly transforming from white to black. It will, we are told, take trillions of years, but 30 seconds of watching it was enough.
Martin Thompson does intricate designs on graph paper. There are photographs of mould growing by Joyce Campbell and an obsessively worked tapestry by Stella Brennan who put the show together. The tapestry does not conventionally show flowers or fruit but rather the screen on the artist's computer, pixel by pixel, stitch by stitch. It certainly does the art thing of making the transient permanent but is unutterably banal and fails to excite admiration for anything except persistence. It could be a way to go if you have time on your hands and need an obsession.
A similar immense effort of making goes into the way Michel Tuffery rivets together innumerable sardine tins which, with the addition of copper fins and tail, make giant fish in his exhibition at the Milford Galleries. (See story, B5).
Tuffery knows his fish well. The cans provide suitable colour and he articulates the aggressive shape of the animals with extraordinary skill. They lack something of the frisson of his bulls made from corned-beef cans but they are still very impressive.
In the work of his brother Sheyne Tuffery at the Lane Gallery (until September 7), Pacific Island motifs are much more evident. The structures he depicts are a Pacific variant on the urban landscape.
The tall structures are supported by rich and decisive colour such as the blue that gives a surge of energy to Paopao Power Station and the spiral structure of Birth of a Nation.
This is easily Sheyne Tuffery's best exhibition yet. He has attained a clear, accomplished style and found a fertile way to go.