Art Seen: September 21

In this week's Art Seen, Robyn Maree Pickens looks at exhibitions by Michael Greaves, the Milford Galleries, and Lucinda Bennett.

 

Assay, by Michael Greaves
Assay, by Michael Greaves
''Parcel'', Michael Greaves (Inge Doesburg Gallery)

With his current exhibition, ''Parcel'', at Inge Doesburg Gallery, Michael Greaves presents a suite of small, elegant abstract paintings (acrylic on linen) that continue his experimentation with form and spatial arrangement. This suite of paintings retains a dialogue with Greaves' earlier body of work, ''Excessive Memory'', particularly the use of circular shapes and negative space.

One of the key developments in this latest body of work is the way in which Greaves layers up the canvas with thin washes of acrylic. Beneath washes of yellow or fleshy peach the viewer can perceive earlier painterly landscapes gleaming through. In some instances, Greaves has ''cut out'', as it were, shapes in the top layer of paint.

These negative shapes function as a type of portal through to other painterly worlds and create an unexpected quality of depth to what would traditionally be flat abstract surfaces.

''Parcel'' includes paintings that were exhibited in July at Takt Kunstprojektraum, Berlin, alongside new works, which are striking in their use of textured, murky grey washes over colourful backgrounds. Ultimately, what coheres this body of work is a family resemblance of repeated shapes and a skilful modulation of colour. When these two attributes are combined with Greaves' technique of multiple layers, he is able to achieve a dynamic sense of space that shifts between worlds.

 

Rakaumangamanga, 20th October, 1980 by Robert Ellis
Rakaumangamanga, 20th October, 1980 by Robert Ellis
''Studio 18D'' (Milford Galleries Dunedin)

A visit to ''Studio 18D'', Milford Galleries' current group exhibition, is like visiting giants, in many senses of the term. ''Studio 18D'' brings together some of the biggest names in New Zealand 20th-century art such as Ralph Hotere, Bill Hammond, Jeffrey Harris and Robert Ellis, among others, and recent works by Dick Frizzell and Lisa Reihana.

The exhibition is largely a male affair, but this can partly be explained by the historical angle, with many works made in the 1980s. ''Studio 18D'' provides an excellent opportunity for younger viewers to see these works in the flesh and for older viewers to reacquaint themselves.

This is undoubtedly an exhibition that privileges an experience of scale - and another reason for the term ''giants''. Each beckons the viewer in a different style, from Ian Scott's meticulous geometric abstraction to Hotere's scorched Black Union Jack on corrugated iron, Hammond's frenetic figures on wallpaper and Dawson's intricate fractal steel. Among the energetic works are quieter paintings by Michael Hight and Dick Frizzell, and Reihana's enigmatic photograph.

It was a large unstretched canvas by Robert Ellis from 1980 (Rakaumangamanga, 20th October), however, that captured my attention. Ellis combines elements of topography, grids, abstract matte shapes in blacks and greys and gestural brushwork in two different colour palettes that nevertheless cohere to produce a singularly unique painting.

 

‘‘Loveliness extreme’’ (installation view), Dunedin Public Art Gallery
‘‘Loveliness extreme’’ (installation view), Dunedin Public Art Gallery
''Loveliness Extreme'', curated by Lucinda Bennett (Dunedin Public Art Gallery)

Curated by Lucinda Bennett, the gallery's 2017 curatorial intern, ''Loveliness Extreme'' is a considered exhibition that does not look like a debut. It is at once grand and quotidian, historical and contemporary, familiar and strange.

It looks like an intervention, which, in some instances, it is, given that Bennett worked closely with artist Charlotte Drayton, who designed the architectural sequence that quite literally frames Bennett's pleasingly spare selection of works from the gallery's collection.

Drayton's architectural intervention is situated in a corridor on the first floor of the gallery. The intervention creates a space that is bookended by a sequence of four arches at one end and a partially pulled floor to ceiling swing blind at the other. In between the aspirations of both features, Drayton has installed a faux marble lino - another aspirational decor. Yet none of this feels mocking.

It is, however, a challenging environment to introduce works from the collection into, yet Bennett's astute selection makes for some unexpected, if surprisingly affective, juxtapositions between the introduced works themselves and Drayton's architectural intervention.

A cityscape painting by Peter Siddell echoes the way Drayton's arches ''open'' the exhibition, while a detail from Kim Pieter's painting - a small 3-D cube drawn in pencil - produces a similar spatial movement. ''Loveliness Extreme'' is replete with many such conversations.

-By Robyn Maree Pickens

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