After studying at the Elam School of Fine Arts in the 1970s, Stephen Bambury travelled to North America. There he encountered paintings by the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich who had undertaken “a desperate struggle to free art from the ballast of the objective world” by using basic motifs: the square, the circle and the cross. This last shape was a loaded sign but also an exercise in pure geometry, dividing the canvas into nine squares. As many geometrical abstractionists have observed, the cross is the mother of all grids.
As a young science teacher living and working on the Auckland volcanic field, Len Castle made great use of lava tubes and caves, and took field trips to Rangitoto. He was delighted when Ruapehu’s boisterous activity for several months in 1945 briefly eclipsed war reports from the Pacific theatre. Like the painter Colin McCahon who was studying the line drawings of landforms produced by Charles Cotton at this same time, Len married aesthetic sensibilities with an interest in geomorphology.
New Zealand painter Max Gimblett, based in New York since 1972, spent his childhood living above a shop in Grafton and exploring the paths and gullies at the bottom of the Auckland Domain. The site of many of those boyhood haunts is now the home of The University of Auckland’s Owen G Glenn Building where a magnificent mural by Gimblett was completed in January.
In 1986 Auckland University Press published (jointly with Oxford University Press) a collection of ten poems by Allen Curnow titled The Loop in Lone Kauri Road (poems 1983-5). The cover illustration echoes the title and features a circular gleam of blurred metal in motion. The image is in fact a photo of Len Lye’s kinetic sculpture Roundhead, which includes a whirling wedding band at the centre.
Liverpudlian by birth, William Mathew Hodgkins followed the goldrush from Victoria to Otago in 1862. His marriage in Dunedin three years later produced six children, including a daughter, Frances, whose fame and artistic success have eclipsed her father’s accomplishment. Yet in nineteenth century New Zealand, Hodgkins senior was an artistic colossus, exhibiting widely at art societies throughout the country and publishing his lectures on art in the daily newspapers. As a self-taught watercolourist, his concern about his lack of drawing skills led him to concentrate on atmospheric effects, taking his cue from Joseph Mallord William Turner whose work in the National Gallery in London he described as “a mine of artistic wealth”.
Believing that fruit depicted on tomb walls would become real in the afterlife and give the hungry inhabitant something to feast on, the Egyptians inaugurated the still life tradition in painting. It endures to the present day. By the early twentieth century, bowls of apples, oranges and pears had become the testing ground for new ideas about flattening pictorial space for the Cubist artists Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris. Waikato-born Frances Hunt follows their lead a half century later, deconstructing a few wine bottles into a tangle of geometric forms, planes and black outlines in this excursion into Cubism.
Cutting out photographed sets of printer’s type with embroidery scissors to form the names of New Zealand’s biggest corporations in 1986, Megan Jenkinson presciently depicted the flimsy basis for the sharemarket speculation which would lead to the crash of October 1987. As Brett Wilkinson, a young executive with Rainbow Corporation, would later explain, “The listed companies [were] geared up and reported valuations largely based on dubious valuations. It was one giant pyramid game.”
As a teenager, Shigeyuki Kihara was sent in the late 1980s from the balmy climes of Samoa to the Marist school, St Patrick’s Silverstream in Upper Hutt, for secondary education.
Established in 1998, the Elam International Artist in Residence programme has often chimed in with exhibitions and events around Auckland. The first Triennial, Bright Paradise, curated by Allan Smith, brought Justine Kurland to the city in 2001, and she made this art work during her stay.
Along with a substantial number of fellow art students such as Seung Yul Oh and Hye Rim Lee, Jae Hoon Lee (no relation) arrived in New Zealand to study at Elam School of Fine Arts as part of a new generation of South Koreans migrating to New Zealand in the late 1990s.
Helensville-born folk singer - and erstwhile editor of Craccum - Peter Cape was as famous for his beautifully produced art books as he was for the classic kiwiana songs “Taumarunui on the Main Trunk Line” and “All Black Jerseys”. In the last decade of his short life he published four surveys of New Zealand painting and crafts based on interviews done with artists as part of his job as arts and religion editor at Radio New Zealand. Prints and Printmakers in New Zealand was published in 1974, during the heyday of printmaking in New Zealand.
Google noted New Zealand artist Roger Mortimer’s name and you will disappear down a rabbit hole into a tale of medieval manoeuvering. His 14th century ancestor, Roger de Mortimer, was an English nobleman who was strategically married off at 14 to the equally youthful Joan de Geneville. She later had the good fortune to inherit property in the Welsh Marches and Ireland as well as the 11th century Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. With this wealth behind him, Baron Roger started the Despenser War, leading Marcher lords in a revolt against King Edward II. Unfortunately for him, the attempt to overthrow King Edward failed, and Baron Roger found himself chained up in the Tower of London. Helped by his mistress Isabella, King Edward’s queen consort, he managed to escape to France where he rallied troops to invade England and depose Edward, having him murdered at Berkeley Castle. Three years later in 1330, Edward’s eldest son got his revenge, and Roger de Mortimer was taken to Tyburn where he was hung without trial at the age of 43.
Sited in the courtyard of the Population Health complex at Tāmaki campus are four bluestone basalt boulders with inscribed text. They originate from the Mount Wellington quarry, a 220-acre site in Lunn Avenue established by Winstones in 1936. Operating until 2001, it employed 120 people and was once the country’s main source for volcanic stones for roads and walls. Now G341, the ubiquitous Auckland kerbstone is quarried and manufactured in China, and mechanised, modern quarrying has shifted south to Bombay. A new residential suburb, Stonefields, has risen where stonecrushers once ruled.
Developing an abiding love for the natural and life sciences during two years of medical intermediate studies at Otago University in 1961 and 1962, Peter Peryer moved back to Auckland and finished his bachelor’s degree majoring in English and Education.
At first blush, this painting from Ian Scott’s Authentic Traditions appears to be textbook postmodernism. Combine “low” art (beer advertising) with “high” art (a photograph of Colin McCahon, twentieth century New Zealand art’s biggest gun) with a conventional painting of iconic South Island scenery and a cluster of punga trees for ironic effect.
Drawn from material gathered over 14 months between 10 January 2004 and 4 February 2005, the snowflakes in Overcast are digital collages. There are 15 in total, and each one is made up of images harvested from the newspaper on a particular day.
With a background as a commercial photographer and shop assistant in a wig salon, Yvonne Todd is well versed in artifice and masquerade. She completed her BFA at Elam School of Fine Arts in 2001, the year before she won New Zealand’s art world’s highest art accolade, the Walters Prize, awarded to her by Venice Biennale curator Harald Szeeman. Her Sea of Tranquility series from that year posed beauty consultants collected up from Auckland department stores against black backgrounds like so many Stepford Wives. She has continued to foreground the performance of femininity ever since, although her practice is centred more generally on the business of image-making itself.
DISTURBING AND ALLURING "Envy Log" is example of the way Yvonne Todd's photography can draw you in with the promise of a scandalous story but leave you with nothing more than unresolved plot twists. Here she presents us with a young girl sitting slumped and resigned in a wheelchair, looking towards us with an inquisitive, rather sullen gaze. Behind her stands a woman whose eyes we cannot meet, her face veiled in dark shadow.
The emergence in the 1950s of Gordon Walters as one of our most important pioneers of abstract art, along with the likes of Don Peebles and Milan Mrkusich, signalled an important cultural transition in New Zealand. As critic Francis Pound has argued, it was a shift away from the literary influences of the nationalist landscape painters towards the flat planes of architecture and design, from the rustic countryside to urban modernism.
Recalling Stephen Spielberg’s 1977 science fiction blockbuster Close Encounters of the Third Kind with its title, this large acrylic painting in ice-cream colours seems spookily familiar Maybe it is the vapid expression of the neatly coiffed fellow at centre? Resplendent in his walk Denys Watkins, Encounter of the Third Kind 2008, acrylic on linen, 1825 x 1525mm, The University of Auckland Art Collection shorts, sweatshirt and oversized sneakers, he seems proud to show off his hosing styles in the foreground. With his oversized head and tiny arms, he seems an earthly manifestation of something weird and otherworldly. He is way too alien to belong to the same species as the legions of smiling Dads who deploy garden equipment in the hardware store catalogues that populate the mailbox around Father’s Day. Despite his attempt to win us over with a grin, we can only pity him his lack of water pressure, as the thick sinuous snake of green that he grips overpromises and underdelivers.
Dame Robin White’s portrayals of New Zealand and the Pacific are instantly recognisable. Although the word is often overused, these are iconic images, especially because her subject matter is usually anything but. Rather than grand buildings and sweeping landscapes, she prefers quiet unassuming structures like the Maketu Fish’n Chip Shop or the Portobello Pub; simple architecture that is ubiquitous. But they’re always specific settings that bring a personal response to a place, usually including a local occupant, such as the painting of Sam Hunt at Bottle Creek that hangs in the General Library, or the more autobiographical This is me at Kaitangata. They remind us that these are social places used by people and bring a human scale to the landscape. Mana Railway Station continues in this vein and perhaps pays homage to the famous painting of Cass railway station by Rita Angus, an artist whose clarity of depiction was an important influence on White.
Artist Robin White and poet Sam Hunt met in 1968 when they were both 22 years old. He was visiting Auckland to perform at the University Arts Festival and she had finished her Diploma of Fine Arts at Elam and was training to be a teacher. When Robin was offered a job at Mana College in Porirua in 1969, Sam found her a cottage to live in next to his at Bottle Creek on Paremata Harbour north of Wellington.
Living and working in Italy for six months in 1984 immersed Jane Zusters in the NeoExpressionist works of the Italian artists of the Transavant-guardia as well as the triptych format of the Renaissance altar painting. In particular she admired the success that Mimmo Paladino had in establishing the connections between disparate elements in the same painting.