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In this week's Art Seen, James Dignan looks at exhibitions from Pati Solomona Tyrell, Chris Heaphy and Jason Greig.
''Fagogo'', Pati Solomona Tyrell (Blue Oyster Gallery)
''Fagogo'' is a Samoan word referring to the oral tradition of sharing and passing on fables and folk tales. It is a way of keeping a tradition and a culture alive, especially in the context of that culture being a minority within a more overbearing society.
In Pati Solomona Tyrell's exhibition at Blue Oyster (and the accompanying video presentation at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery's Back Window) the fables are those of a double minority: the Samoan community within New Zealand, and the genderqueer and transgender community within what is a predominantly straight society.
Tyrell is a prominent artist within this intersection of minorities. A founder of the Auckland arts collective FAFSWAG, he has chronicled the city's Pasifika LGBTQI community, and many of the cultural and spiritual threads which run through this community have been influential in the photographic narratives and interpretations of traditional Samoan myths which run through the current exhibition.
The photographs are strong, dynamic images, with the dark, surreal works from the main "Fagogo" and "Coven" series being particularly impressive. Tyrell's exhibition was voted the top event in the just-completed Dunedin Fringe Festival, and its Auckland presentation is a finalist in the prestigious Walters Art Prize.
''Supreme'', Chris Heaphy (Milford Gallery)
Chris Heaphy world is one of silhouetted symbolism, in which motifs build in reflection and repetition to create a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.
An initial inspection seems to suggest a facile simplicity. We are presented with an array of seemingly disparate objects in stark coloured silhouette presented against a featureless background. As with the related work of Richard Killeen, however, this interpretation does not scrape the surface of the artist's work.
Heaphy's silhouetted objects reflect and create a narrative which touches on subjects ranging from the culture clash of early colonialism to conservation. The messages are not blatant, however, and are left open to the viewer's interpretation.
The images in this exhibition form two groups - simple mixed media works on paper with motifs drawn over rich gold and ultramarine surfaces, and works in which transferred and stencilled silhouettes are presented against a deliberately bland flat surface.
In the latter works, the negative space of the background becomes a character in the stage-play, a looming presence rather than an absence of motif. This is particularly true in the artist's piece de resistance, the astonishing mandala-like The Floating World, a work which could be viewed for hours on end and still not reveal all its hidden secrets.
''The Oblivion Seekers'', Jason Greig (Brett McDowell Gallery)
Jason Greig continues to impress with his gothic-tinged symbolism. In his annual exhibition at the Brett McDowell Gallery, he presents moody oil paintings and astonishing monotypes which resonate with a haunting, haunted presence.
Greig is a student of late-19th century symbolist art, and references to Redon, Dore, Ensor, and Rops are never far from the surface of his work. To this grounding he adds his own touches of an implied macabre.
As with the works of his influences, there is a funereal air to the pieces - we could be looking at real people, or at the spirits of the departed. The sombre air is often deliberately undercut by a dry wit, however, frequently surfacing in the titles of the works.
It is the artist's skill which makes this more than just a paean to gothica. In works such as See into the trees, the full range of the printer's abilities come to the fore in a work which makes use of soft and hard forms as well as subtle shading, and also features an impressive use of colour.
The artist's abilities are also shown in paintings such as Atmosphere of Titan, in which roiling rock surfaces form an almost liquid counterpoint to the stark shadows in the angel-astronaut's face.