Colin McCahon (1919-1987)
Colin McCahon is undoubtedly New Zealand’s most well known twentieth century artist. For the majority of his career McCahon produced works that were either ignored or disparaged by a number of New Zealanders (including some powerful art institutions). His unique vision of the New Zealand landscape and his modern style of painting are now held in high esteem both here and internationally.
McCahon was born in Timaru. He studied with Russell Clark in Christchurch 1933-1935 and then at the Dunedin Technical College. After completing his studies McCahon moved to Nelson where he was introduced to the work of Toss Woollaston.
During the 1940s McCahon produced Regionalist landscapes and works in which biblical scenes where set within the New Zealand landscape. His depictions of landforms were in part influenced by a book on the geomorphology of New Zealand, which he and his wife received as a wedding present. McCahon’s strong spirituality influenced his love of the New Zealand landscape and was also evidenced in his contemporary portrayal of events from the life of Christ. In these early works he depicted figures with ‘crude’ black outlines and flat blocks of colour in a deliberately awkward fashion. He also introduced the use of text in his paintings, making his biblical figures speak by means of cartoon-inspired speech bubbles.
In the 1950s the McCahon family moved to Auckland where McCahon joined the staff at the Auckland City Art Gallery. During this time he produced cubist-inspired paintings of his West Auckland surrounds. In 1958 he was awarded a Carnegie Grant and spent four months painting and studying in the USA.
McCahon returned to New Zealand with a new appreciation for the scale of modern American paintings (something that had hitherto been diminished by his only contact with them via photographic reproductions in journals and magazines). He decided to paint ‘paintings to walk by’ and produced the ‘Northland Panels’, large landscape abstractions on panels of unstretched canvas.
From 1964-1970 McCahon taught at the Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland and was a profound influence on a new generation of painters. During this time McCahon developed series such as ‘Gates’, ‘Numbers’ and ‘Muriwai’; works that were often large in scale and increasingly pared back in visible content whilst remaining explorations of identity and faith. McCahon continued to incorporate text, both in English and Maori, in his works as well as poetry – particularly that of John Caselberg.
His works are in private and public collections throughout New Zealand and abroad.
Shane Cotton (1964-)
Shane Cotton has mastered a rapid ascent to the top of the New Zealand art market, and is now widely regarded as one of New Zealand most talented and respected contemporary artists. He was recently celebrated by the Auckland Art Gallery with a retrospective exhibition of his work; Shane Cotton Survey 1993-2003. His paintings are highly sought after by both private collectors and national institutions.
Shane completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the Canterbury School of Fine Arts in 1988. His early work involved abstract-biomorphic imagery but this was superseded in the early 1990’s by the style and subject matter that shot him into the limelight. His Maori and Pakeha (New Zealand European) heritage has fuelled the prevalent theme in his art: the colonisation of New Zealand and the experiences of Maori and Pakeha sharing in a bi-cultural society.
During the 1990’s Shane developed a language of symbols and iconography, which made reference to significant historical events and issues such as land ownership and confiscation (following the New Zealand Wars). The early twentieth century figurative painting at Rongopai (a Maori meeting house near Gisborne), which combined traditional Maori arts with European colonial influences, had a marked effect on this development of iconography. The pot plant was a motif Cotton adopted, symbolising differing cultural attitudes to land/whenua: nurture versus containment. Clocks, symbolic of time, and text were also recurrent motifs in Cotton’s painting. The restricted ochre palette Cotton employed reiterated the sense of history in these works.More recently Cotton's iconography has undergone a reduction, whilst the scale of his paintings has increased, and the palette dramatically changed. These newer works continue the concerns of the earlier paintings yet in a bolder, simplified manner. Symbolic motifs remain, such as the bulls-eye target, native birds, and upoko tuhituhi (decorated human heads). These paintings have a sparseness and clarity that no longer clouds the contemporary issues of bi-culturalism in a sense of history. The use of bold, flat colour may seem an aesthetic departure, along with the move from oil paint to acrylics, but despite the necessary evolution of Cotton’s techniques these works are clearly and concisely a continuation of his prevalent theme.
Gretchen Albrecht (1943 -)
photo of artist
Gretchen Albrecht studied at Elam School of Fine Arts in the early 1960’s. The most significant amount of her work is abstract, though her inspiration for forms and colours are based in nature, architecture, and emotions.
Since the late 1960’s an interest in colour has occupied her practice. Albrecht utilises colour in a lyrical and poetic way. The use of colour as the main compositional element in painting has an enormous appeal to the emotions – in Albrecht’s case that appeal is usually one of joy and happiness. It wasn’t till the death of her father in 1995 that Albrecht reduced her palette to monotones of grey and black
Many of her works have a stained quality achieved through the application of washes of thinned-down acrylic onto unprimed canvas.
Influences in her work stem from what is termed ‘colour field’ painting, typical of American abstract painters such as Mark Rothko and more especially Helen Frankenthaler, whose technique of staining the canvas with acrylic paint to obtain a similar effect of a watercolour work on paper, is very close to Albrecht’s own practice.
Her earlier colour banded paintings, within a rectangular canvas, gave way to her lunette-shaped ‘Hemispheres’ to which she later added oval-shaped canvases. The scale of these works is often much larger than life.
Gretchen’s work is represented throughout New Zealand in our most important art institutions. In 2000 Albrecht was made a Companion of the Order of New Zealand for her contribution to painting and in 2002 the Auckland Art Gallery held a retrospective exhibition of her work.
Ralph Hotere (1931-)
Hone Papita Raukura (Ralph) Hotere was born in Mitimiti, Northland. He first trained as a specialist art educator and then at King Edward Technical College, Dunedin under Gordon Tovey (instigator of ‘The Tovey Scheme’ which sought to introduce the teaching of Maori arts into the New Zealand school curriculum). From 1953 - 1960 he worked as a schools art advisor for the Education Department.
Ralph was awarded a New Zealand Art Societies Fellowship for study in London at the Central School of Art in 1961. During 1962-4 he studied in France and travelled around Europe. His travels took him, among other places, to the war cemetery in Sangro, Italy where his brother, a member of the WWII Maori Battalion, was buried. This event, and the politics of Europe during the 1960s, were to have a profound effect on Hotere’s work, notably in the Sangro and Polaris series of paintings.
Hotere returned to New Zealand and moved to Carey’s Bay, just beyond Port Chalmers, about 12km from the centre of Dunedin. He was awarded the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship in 1969.
During the late 1960s, Hotere began the series of works with which he is perhaps best known, the Black Paintings. In these works, black is used almost exclusively. In some works, strips of colour are placed against stark black backgrounds in a style reminiscent of Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt.
His use of the colour black has come to be one of the characteristics for which Hotere is most well known. Black holds for us many associations - race, death, spirituality, severity, silence, nothingness and infinity - all of which can and have been implicated in readings of Hotere's work, and certainly are knowingly called into play and explored by the artist himself.
Known for its tactile and raw qualities Hotere’s work is presented in a wide range of media, from large iron structures, through to more delicate drawings and lithographs.
When Aramoana, a wetland near his Port Chalmers home, was proposed as the site for an aluminium smelter, Hotere was vocal in his opposition, and produced the Aramoana series of paintings. Similarly, he produced series protesting against a controversial rugby tour by New Zealand of apartheid-era South Africa (Black Union Jack) in 1981, and the sinking of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior (Black rainbow) in 1985. More recently, his reactions to Middle-East politics have resulted in works such asJerusalem, Jerusalem and This might be a double cross jack.
In 1984 Hotere, along with Colin McCahon, represented New Zealand at the Fifth Biennale of Sydney. In 1994 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Otago.
Hotere has worked in collaboration not only with other artists (most notably Bill Culbert), but also with many of our well-known poets such as Hone Tuwhare and Bill Manhire.
His works are collected both privately and publicly throughout New Zealand. The Govett-Brewster, Auckland Art Gallery, City Gallery (Wellington) and Te Papa all house exeptional examples of Hotere’s diverse and highly individual practice.
Tim Wilson (1954-)
Tim Wilson developed a passion for painting from a very early age. While establishing his painting career he worked as a jeweller and the disciplines of that profession instilled in him the importance of attention to detail. Tim later decided to dedicate himself to painting fulltime and today he is one of New Zealand’s leading landscape artists.
Tim’s skilful hand captures the subtle lighting effects and drama of the New Zealand landscape. Through layers of oil paint and glaze he achieves a depth; which draws the viewer’s eye into the picture plane. Mists and cloud formations seem to move across the canvas, creating subtle mood shifts within the painting itself.
Tim’s work is bereft of the presence of man; he chooses to paint remote locations only accessible by helicopter or by tramping through rugged terrain. This allows Tim to capture dramatic scenery from unique vantage points. While on location, Tim sketches and prepares compositions, which are finally realised back in the studio. His paintings can take many months to complete and he often works on more than one piece at a time.
Tim uses only the finest brushes, paint and imported linens; this attention to detail is typical of Tim’s character and is evident in the meticulous presentation of his paintings.
Tim Wilson’s work is widely exhibited both in New Zealand and internationally. A substantial number of paintings have gone to private and corporate collections throughout the world. One piece hangs in the Congressional Library in Washington DC, USA.
I am continually awe inspired by the glory of my country’s landscape. I am compelled to paint what I see. It is my life. – Tim Wilson