Moroney's solo success

John Moroney’s Gates to Canaan, showing at Curve Gallery.
John Moroney’s Gates to Canaan, showing at Curve Gallery.

SEVERAL significant exhibitions are running in Newcastle galleries at the moment.

Joining the Sydney modernists at Newcastle Art Gallery is an arresting pairing of major survey exhibitions. Brett McMahon is a real Newcastle-based star, who marries extraordinary vision to innovative choice of materials.

His large, even enormous, works contrast with the small, intimate paintings of Peter Boggs - one of several artists to find layers of mystery and meaning in immobilised landscape, heavy with invisible human presence.

Since both these exhibitions will be on view until August 30, I will leave reviewing them until there is less on.

- THE exhibition until July 4 at Curve Gallery marks the first solo show of paintings by promising young artist John Moroney.

Though technically still a student, he has already established a reputation for tonal portraits, notably as semi-finalist in the national Doug Moran Prize for 2014. He also won the 2014 emerging artist prize at Newcastle Art Space.

Paintings of the figure, emotionally dense, are clearly based on a talent, honed at TAFE, for life drawing. Weight and mass also give his portrait studies an unusual gravity. A series of works takes the living portrait back through drawing process and promise to the blank canvas and inanimate blob.

Family rituals of birth and evolution inspire most works, intimate but emerging dramatically from the shadows, resolved but deliberately tentative in empty spaces and trails of paint. This creates drama and a tension learnt from the old masters. A large painting of mother and children curiously floats faces forward into the present from the drama of the dark.

Moroney is studying sculpture at the National Art School, Sydney. At this stage in his career all sorts of developments are possible. We will find out at his next exhibition.

- COOKS Hill Galleries are showing their selection of emerging artists until July 13, though several of them are already widely represented and their paintings are seriously priced. There is opportunity to speculate on what their future holds and whether any major new developments are on the horizon.

Ben Kenning has established a facility for all-over design, for screens of calligraphic incident. Will he discover colour and find more freedom for his vestigial figures? Maybe investigate a space behind the surface?

Jess Kellar, too, may create more depth, more layering. Nick Ferguson's insights into the personalities of his subjects may expand into a wider colour range. Maybe more life drawing?

Leith Hamilton should take his combination of photographic image and paint further into surrealism. It's hard to know which way Sophia Flegg's graffiti-based colour statements will jump. Will evident emotion seep to the surface? Kerri Kerley's indigenous portraits already achieve the appealing pathos she seeks.

- AT CStudios is a large group exhibition of predominantly landscape paintings. The painters call themselves Hunter Women Artists - a title suggesting a much wider grouping.

There is a strong association with the Newcastle Society of Artists and copious evidence of hard work and dedication, but despite evident successes, standards are uneven across the board.

Despite its limited parking, CStudios' series of gallery spaces is much in demand now that exhibition possibilities continue to diminish, with Greenway, Studio 48 and 4 Point currently dark.

There is a room of Mal Cannon's cheerful narrative paintings and individual works by many artists. Vera Zulumovski's work is always a welcome sight. We see too rarely the free-form ceramic pots of Helen Stronach, with their intricate incised and swirling decorations.

Rod Bathgate's celebrations of the sea are a regular feature and a constantly changing display of works by familiar artists is evidence that this gallery fulfils a real need.

- THIS year's exhibition of wonderful wildlife photographs is once again at the Lovett Gallery, until August 8. It is interesting to follow the evolution of subject matter over the years. On this occasion there are many reptiles, insects and some esoteric and inconspicuous life forms in brilliant, almost abstract compositions chosen from the usual hundreds of thousands of entries. However, there is a family of wary monkeys as well as a repose of lions and a reflected giraffe.