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In this week's Art Seen, James Dignan looks at exhibitions from Jane Shriffer, FE29 Gallery, and Ewan McDougall
''Choose Your Battles'', Jane Shriffer, plus Cheryl Oliver (The Artist's Room)
It is surprising but a good abstract painting is often harder to achieve than a good representational work. With representational paintings, the viewer is guided by their preconceived ideas about a scene. With abstract work, colour, texture, and composition become the only cues to the image's dynamism and aesthetics.
Jane Shriffer's abstracts have power and aesthetic worth. The bold impasto and strong hues drive the square and circular canvases, providing glimpses of half-imagined scenes. Landscapes are suggested by the simple, yet effective use of light, airy colours in the upper parts of the canvas and stronger, earthier colours in the lower halves. We are left with the impression of viewing the outside world as seen through frosted windows. The paintings' seemingly random titles provide mental hints and cues to suggest possible meanings to the powerful, attractive works.
Accompanying Shriffer's paintings, The Artist's Room is displaying a fine collection of Cheryl Oliver's charming, strange and lovely sculpted caricatures. The works were among pieces in the artist's studio at the time of her death, and have not been on public display before. As an overview of the artist's work - one could almost say a retrospective - they provide a fine glimpse into Oliver's oeuvre.
''Duo'', Marian Fountain (Fe29 Gallery)
FE29 Gallery is presenting an impressive exhibition of work by master bronze sculptor Marian Fountain. The display, with its heady mix of forms inspired by traditional cultures worldwide is a fine selection of Fountain's work.
Fountain is inspired not only by world cultures, but also by the cycle of nature. Many of her bronzes feature elements relating to conception, growth, and metamorphosis, with none of the works showing this better than the only non-bronze work on display, a large paravent screen displaying stylised images representing the moment of egg fertilisation and the structure of chromosomes. Bronze works surrounding this piece show organic forms, some of them inspired by microscopic life.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, several of Fountain's best-known sculptural series, Three Graces, are on display, with their exaggerated female forms bringing to mind ancient Greek sculpture and prehistoric carvings such as the Venus of Willendorf. The works are beautiful, with their detailed patterning and heavy patination. Other items on show include some pieces more clearly inspired by Pacific culture, such as the Easter Island Bird Woman forms.
The bronze sculptures are well complemented by cases containing smaller ''medals'' and similar-sized works, of which Winged Medal with Legs is a standout piece.
''Giddy Up'', Ewan McDougall (Gallery De Novo)
Visiting a Ewan McDougall exhibition is always an enjoyable, fun experience. The artist's naive, expressionist works, populated by gleeful multicoloured caricatures, bring to mind a never-ending boisterous party, or a visual representation of a Goon Show episode.
McDougall's latest exhibition is no exception. Defying the health problems which have beset him in recent years, the artist has produced another kaleidoscopic collection of mad characters swimming at the beach, travelling by boat and ship, fighting a bear, and generally partying. The seeming randomness of some of the images is deceptive - there is well thought-out composition in the groups in works such as The House of Blue Light, with its solid triangle of figures dominating the centre of the scene.
While the exuberance of the stick figures and impossible brightness of the colours makes it hard to trace McDougall's influences (Haring crossed with Lowry on LSD, perhaps?), in this exhibition he lets one clearly slip - Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly is among the passengers In th' Ditch, and the Australian master's shadow can be found in the two titular Giddy Up works.
It's In th' Ditch, though, which forms the centrepiece of this exhibition, a near-fluorescent, sassy piece of tongue-in-cheek joy, it perfectly epitomises all that is great in McDougall's art.