These days, when art uses all manner of media (ranked among them, many might recall, a Wellington artist who used burnt toast), the lure of good old-fashioned paint is hard to beat.
One thing about paint is how amazingly different it can be in the hands of different artists, the selection a veritable smorgasbord.
To make it more interesting for comparison and to narrow the field, marginally, the three artists discussed here are all realists, and the artworks are smaller studies, domestic sized, scaled most not more than about 400mm wide or high.
At Te Manawa ART, the exhibition Thirty-Three, by Wanganui Quay School graduate Matt Couper, runs until October 21. It features identically sized squares of painted tin, each representing a year in the artist's life.
They are lined up around the walls of the gallery in sequential order, moving right, back to birth or, left, to the current date, rather as if following the frames of a comic story.
Each frame is a narrative depiction of the events that figured with importance in that year - common life experiences of birth, money problems, career dilemmas - a laid-bare summary of the artist's life.
Stylistically, it is a mix of a Baroque Spanish/Mexican religious devotional style of painting with a cult comic illustration (artists like Crumb come to mind). So mixed in with Couper are religious figures and crude, and often slightly gory, gags.
There are Christ figures and crucifixes, humour with irreverent episodes depicted - a monk eating human limbs, a man on fire with a fire extinguisher and the coarse rendering of a birth. Undoubtedly, there is a deliberate attempt to perhaps not shock, something verging on the near impossible these days, but to register as disagreeable.
He paints this with small brushes and highly detailed backgrounds, phrases and sentences included to help collate the events.
In contrast with Couper's visual diary, across the street and down a block Elspeth Shannon, the feature artist for September at Zimmerman contemporary art gallery, specialises in portraiture.
Everything about her use of paint is different from Couper's, from the broad, expressive and generous use of thicker brushes, the thinner paint and lighter hues. They are portraits of people, some known like dealer Peter McLeavey with those tell-tale folded hands, others unknown identities, many with animals, and some with animals without people, one of Shannon's points of difference in her subject matter.
This is the second large display she has held at Zimmerman.
These works are much smaller, of a domestic size that can happily be accommodated and in a range of framing styles, with a mixed hanging format following a stylistic trend of a group of matched mismatches that is certainly aesthetic.
The smaller works encourage an intimacy that was missing in the former larger stretched canvas works.
Local artist Raemon Rolfe has an exhibition called From the Tide Pool to the Stars at Taylor-Jensen Fine Arts until October 2 . She has a well- recognised history in the city and is a careful worker in her use of paint.
If we were going to set up these three in the spectrum of expressive and free to the more studied, Rolfe would be placed on the far right, with Shannon on the left and Couper somewhere in the middle.
In this exhibition, she uses a range of media - photographic montages, sand and rust with the paint, oils and some with encaustic, which use pigment in beeswax. The imagery is inspired from a cosmology book that she illustrates with seashells (those wonderful spirals, I suppose), astrological charts, DNA helixes, rocks, limpets and callipers.
It is a dramatic change in subject from her previous exhibition two years ago, which traced a history of the railway. But in the way Rolfe approaches her subjects using various icons that stand for some part of the theme assembled onto an image, it gives the works some continuum.
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