Sunday, June 10, 2007


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-)

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.

Ralph Hotere (1931-)

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.

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.

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.

Artist Statement:

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

No comments: