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Short Shrift

Dick Frizzell - West Coast
Rob McLeod Tom & Jerry at the Window Installation View, 2014
Evgeny Rastorguev
Gretchen So - NY 10048
Dick Frizzell - Orinoco Driveway
Mark Amery takes a different tack this week with a tour of the crazy paving diversity of Wellington’s dealer gallery scene.


By Mark Amery

So many galleries. In this column I’m deliberately taking a different tack, stepping up the pace. Unapologetically giving things short shrift. 

More typically when I write I tussle with one of two exhibitions under a theme that binds them to the world. Not this week. I’m going for an idiosyncratic spread - reflecting a more common browser experience. As an art writer I see far more than I write about. I sift through for the work that resonates (for good and sometimes bad reasons). But that doesn’t give you much illustration of the crazy paving diversity of Wellington’s dealer gallery scene. The endearingly odd nooks and crannies you experience on a wander in the Capital’s compact CDB. 
I cycle downtown past the new Peter McLeavey Pop-Up Exhibition space corner of Torrens and Webb Street. It’s busy in changeover, so I hand signal a right and head down Cuba. Leaving Roar, Toi Poneke and Matchbox (all solid non-dealer spaces for emerging artists) and the excellent Solander Works on Paper space to another day, I park up in a dealer nexus, Cuba and Ghuznee, outside vintage institution and nirvana Hunters and Collectors. Chrissy O’s got a stunning all-yellow installation in the window (always the leading window display in town) in which an a mannequin artist, surveys his work: a giant tablet imprinted with the words of Dylan’s stoner carnival parade like rave ‘Rainy Day Women #12 and 35’. 
Round the corner it’s the last days of Julia Morison’s Headcase at Bartley and Company. A set of seven exquisite yet disfigured-looking glazed stoneware heads, presented in the open boxes they travelled in. They slip darkly and poetically in their representation between being a culture’s venerated idols and its fired remains. Crisscrossed by spiderwebs of dainty line, the skulls are intricately cracked, and their orifices for communication musically mutilated to offer varied interpretation. Different surfaces and materials suggest any number of kinds of psychological or physical violence inflicted upon us, but also our ability to repair and remake to salve our wounds. Each head chatters animatedly with a fine, sharp wit. Wire, rust, porcelain, rubber and tin sees lips laced, sprays of teeth spat out, and eyes popped out as taps (with wee hanging buckets below them to collect tears). As ever Morison is elegant and surreal in her material treatment of some core innate human expressions of being in the world.    
There’s at least one outstanding painting in Tony De Lautour’s show at Hamish McKay upstairs on Ghuznee. In ‘Open Tower’ a reaching, toppling, sliding and overlapping set of conjoined hard shapes, mottled clouds and symbols totter from a slender milky white stem against a jet black background. With an exquisite balance of fresh colour combinations and textures, the whole composition is a well-oiled mechanical animation whose dynamicism suggests it might all have effortlessly shifted into a new form by the next time you look. The rest of the exhibition I feel surprisingly indifferent too – none of it sings for me this dynamically (although McKay notes in passing other works sold have left the building). 
Downstairs the Bowen Galleries window (currently held by Anya Sinclair) is as always a welcome burst of life in the street, sensitively curated by the gallery, with work often that sees art mediate between nature and human construction, and  the same is true inside: Tracey Croucher’s ‘Chiming Room’ (until 18 October) is all high key showers and blooms of impressionist colour and forms. Modest still life floral displays wildly spring out, and swim in a space full of painterly, richly textured screens featuring repetitive domestic patterns. I find their saturated intensity difficult to engage with in the space, and wonder if they need more room.   
Round the corner in Bowen there’s an unusual treat in the wee gallery space that adjoins Bowen’s open stock room (itself a joyous treasure trove of small works on shelves). Former New Zealand ambassador to Russia Stuart Prior has introduced a late series of watercolours and pastels by Moscow artist Evgeny Rastorguev (passing in 2009, he was apparently known in Russia for the humanity with which he depicted provincial life). The work isn’t that remarkable in style – the artist himself called them ‘nichevoshki’ or ‘little nothings’ - but these roughly sketched folk art figures are sweet rosy blushes of life, charming and full of whimsy. 
The white door of the main McLeavey gallery is also closed when I visit, but across the hallway Enjoy Gallery are setting up for the opening of Ebbing Tagaloa by Paula Schaafhausen and Suzanne Tamaki. It includes on the floor a series of small squat coconut oil and sand Tagaloa (Polynesian God of the Ocean) figures created by Paula Schaafhausen, representing Wellington’s 19 beaches and bays. In a nod to global warming, they are designed to both harden and melt with fluctuations in the room’s temperature (until 23 October). In their casting, sand has settled in the bottom of their round bellies, bases and penises. Already small oily pools are forming on the floor, and some figures look ready to collapse. A show to return to. 
Upstairs at Suite a Rob McLeod show has just been hung, and it’s the first time in many years McLeod has exhibited on canvas, rather than employing the wooden cutout. The shift has been made with Mcleod’s bright and spindly cartoon figurative take on our over-stimulated lives intact, but only a few (like the excellent ‘Sliding into the briar patch’) feel as resolved within the new confines. Other feel still loose in form and cramped, as if still settling in. A wall of small unresolved works is studded by the occasional strong stunner, like ‘Blocking goochi lies’. 
Leaving an excellent John Ward Knox show of moving image work at Robert Heald Gallery for another time (I will write on this soon for I swing by a Dick Frizzell show of paintings of Hawkes Bay country roads and driveways at Page Blackie on Victoria Street (next to the excellent applied arts gallery Avid). 
I wanted to dislike this exhibition (on until 10 October). So sellable (as the red stickers in the gallery affirm). So obvious. So literally middle of the road (the John Denver of NZ painters?). Other Frizzell shows of the banal have left me cold. 
Yet here Frizzell again proves that he can make the overly familiar fresh. The use of colour is constantly surprising, the compositions alive and full of rhythmic stroke-play. Typically the painting’s relish the complexity of shadows in relationship to the luminosity of light our eye is led to down the road.  They celebrate country scenes that could be anywhere in New Zealand, but feel utterly, awkwardly our own roughly hedge and fence-lined sense of travelling through rural space. Sentimental as all get out, as warm and alive as a good fire, these paintings will comfort you rather than challenge your perception of the world. They’re simply good painting.  
I cycle past Sarah Jane Parton’s lightbox installation on Courtenay Place, leave open source community gallery 19 Tory Street, The See Here exhibition window and the lively 30 Upstairs for another day. I’ve also missed any number of pop-up exhibitions along the way and, given faster wheels, I’d had made The Young up on Mount Victoria and Cecil Veda Gallery in Miramar – both of whom show excellent work. Instead, today, I end my wander upstairs at photography gallery Photospace (also home to Gilberd Marriot Gallery).
Timed to coincide with the anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towered World Trade Centre, Hong Kong based Gretchen So was presenting a large portfolio of black and white images shot in the early 1990s that feature in the background the towers (it can be viewed online here). Taken from surrounding suburbs, such as new Jersey, Queens and Brooklyn, what is of interest here aren’t the towers as markers themselves but the changing tide of the ground around them. How different in fortune they are - from the plush golf greens of Governor’s Island to a boggy barren wasteland on the edge of Liberty Park in New Jersey. Signs and temporary fences amplify these images as critics of the city’s social barriers -  the tagged word ‘late’ on the Brooklyn Bridge, or the word ‘liberty’ stencilled on a battered barrier. Looking back 20 or more years, they are imbued with a strong, wintry melancholic air, quietly rich in comment. The series is uneven in quality - it would have been far stronger whittled down to a smaller selection - but, as with the other exhibitions in my wander, you pick out the work that matters to you from a far bigger spread.   

Written by

Mark Amery

8 Oct 2014

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.