Art Seen: July 14

This this week's Art Seen, James Dignan looks at works by Mervyn Williams, Manu Berry, and Maggie Holmes.


In the Shadows, by Mervyn Williams.
In the Shadows, by Mervyn Williams.
"Rear Vision'', Mervyn Williams (Milford Gallery)

Mervyn Williams is a New Zealand master in the field of op-art, a school with its roots in 1960s popular culture and best known for the illusions in which stationary patterns are perceived to move or vibrate.

The movement reached its heights with the work of artists such as Bridget Riley, whose looping parallel and near-parallel lines produced strange shimmering, three-dimensional effects.

Williams has long combined this basis with older trompe l'oeil styles, using his ability to beautifully render precise surface markings to produce works that baffle the eye.

His paintings, all done on sheer, flat canvas, have the sensual roundedness of cushions, of droplets on glass, and of faint folds and corrugations.

In this latest exhibition, Williams shows that his skill is not only as strong as ever, but is in fact increasing. Many of the pieces in this display are diptychs, in which disparate illusory textures are placed alongside each other.

In works like the leather-like dual-canvas Quest and the rippling Orion Blue, one wants to touch the canvas just to be reassured that the work is really flat. The faint circular pattern and wavelike undulations of Rival - possibly Williams' most Riley-like work - are remarkable in their psychological effect.


238 High Street, by Manu Berry.
238 High Street, by Manu Berry.
‘‘Prints of Basil Hooper Homes'', Manu Berry (Mint Gallery)

Manu Berry has paid tribute to the work of early 20th-century Dunedin architect

Basil Hooper, whose buildings still stand proudly among Dunedin's finer old houses. Using his signature woodblock printing style, Berry has produced a fine series of images that do these buildings, and the architect, justice.

Berry has long had a fascination with old houses as an artistic inspiration. In previous work, he has produced Japanese-tinged images of local buildings and skylines, and strong, early Port Chalmers townscapes based on historic photographs.

In this exhibition the buildings are not just part of the scene, however, but take centre stage as the stars of the show. Many of the small circular works on display focus on one building, while the two larger diptychs beautifully capture the same Aramoana building and its scenic surrounds in mirroring day and night settings. The night piece, in particular, is a major work in the artist's oeuvre.

The most fascinating feature of the pieces is perhaps the skills of Berry's printmaking, particularly the excellent subtle blending of tones using a process best known for producing solid colour.

The delicate vegetation of 8 Lynwood Avenue and the sky behind 47 Allandale Road are splendidly done, and a sure sign of Berry's ability.


Savoy — West Panorama, by Maggie Holmes.
Savoy — West Panorama, by Maggie Holmes.
‘‘Reflections of Princes Street'', Maggie Holmes (Moray Gallery)

Like Manu Berry, Maggie Holmes is fascinated by Dunedin's built heritage.

After leaving the city for some years, the artist returned, only to be shocked at the loss of some of its finer buildings. Rather than keeping the charming mix of late Victorian and Edwardian architecture along its main streets, many of these buildings had been replaced with an anonymous and bland modernist style.

To highlight the loss, Holmes has produced a series of images of an idealised Princes St. The buildings are all real, but each has been shown as it was at its most architecturally appealing, with original facades, and some long-gone retail names returned to life.

The works have been deliberately presented in a false perspective, allowing the works to be viewed alongside each other in two long panoramas.

The effect of the works, especially seen in these two long strips, is impressive. They evoke strong feelings of nostalgia for the city as it was and as it never was (given that the frontages were never all as depicted in the same era).

There is also the whimsical ability to compare the paintings with the real buildings seen out of the gallery's window, giving a chance to assess both the artist's abilities and what we might have lost.



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