Interviewed for the May 1966 edition of the Barry Lett newsletter to coincide with his Auckland Festival exhibition, Don Binney responded affirmatively when asked if there was a peculiar sort of light in New Zealand that influenced his way of seeing. The interviewer was summarising Auckland Art Gallery director Peter Tomory’s introduction to a catalogue of painting shown at the Commonwealth Institute in London in 1965: “in these islands, the Pacific light burns and bleaches, so that in high summer, black and white predominate”. Don had only been out of the country a few times to Australia, but he reported “seeing New Zealand for the first time after two weeks away…one had the impression of an iron land, strong and clear in this light.” As a fiercely nationalist painter, Don Binney laboured to try and convey the power and simplicity of that vision.
Lisa Crowley practises a peculiar type of landscape photography, one concerned with place, but place laden with human experience. She chooses politically charged sites with significant histories, yet her images offer little or no discernible evidence of locality, past events or current tension. Instead she invokes the conventions of romantic landscape painting and 19th century scenic photography, directly raising the question of the medium’s real ability to document a place and expose its history. A picture of a heap of felled trees can be simply a picture of piled natural debris; its significance can only be materialised by human experience, she suggests.
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.
Challenged by Art Collection curator Michael Dunn to make his best work for the Engineering atrium in 2002, Elam-graduate Paul Hartigan surpassed his earlier, multicoloured forays into neon. Named the best public sculpture in Auckland in 2006, Colony has its origin in the artist’s memory of drifting in a long boat beneath the vaulted ceiling of glowworm lights on a childhood visit to Waitomo Caves. Despite the quotidian nature of the commission, Paul's sculpture still impresses with its energy and impact, the hectic squiggles of persimmon-coloured light miraculously produced by bent glass tubes mired in cement.
By the time Gavin Hipkins staged his exhibition The Colony at The Gus Fisher Gallery in 2002, he had become well-known for his distinctive technique of printing entire rolls of film uncut in continuous strips, known as falls, hung together to provide a dense grid of images.
In 1986, Merimeri Penfold, Senior Lecturer in Māori, had just published the groundbreaking Penguin book Women and the Arts in New Zealand with Elizabeth Eastmond in the Art History department. Reproducing works by forty women, of whom six were Māori, this influential book took an unashamedly feminist approach, redressing the absence of women (and Māori) artists from previous histories of New Zealand art. The authors’ statement on the imprint page stated the political intent of the project explicitly: “We should also like to acknowledge the crucial importance of the women’s movement for the basic conception of this book and for many of the perspectives adopted.”
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.
Deriving her name from the Korean word for a rabbit, TOKI is the creation of 49-year-old Elam graduate Hye Rim Lee. With her huge, limpid eyes and tiny mouth, TOKI borrows her looks from the world of cartoons and computer gaming, and is herself an animated creation. Despite her associations with Western bunnies, she is less Thumper than Bambi, suggesting not goofiness, but a cutesy innocence and vulnerability with her wide open gaze. The impression of sweetness in TOKI’s expression can be quickly dispelled by some of her behaviours, or by a cleverly subversive accompanying soundtrack. At the Gus Fisher Gallery in the exhibition Powder Room, for example, TOKI appeared in a short animation entitled Lash, blinking to the accompaniment of the sound of a whip cracking each time her lids closed.
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.
The success of Roy Alston Lippincott (1885-1969) and Edward Fielder Billson (1892-1986) in the competition to design Auckland University College’s Arts Building in 1920 was undoubtedly assisted by the contribution of Marion Mahony, one of the most gifted architectural renderers of the twentieth century.
In June 1949, the School of Architecture hosted Milan Mrkusich’s first-ever public showing of paintings and drawings. Sixty years later The University of Auckland is again the venue for a new milestone in Mrkusich’s career. The exhibition Trans-Form: the abstract art of Milan Mrkusich has been curated for the Gus Fisher Gallery by Ed Hanfling and Alan Wright, research associates of the Art History Department, to mark the publication of their Auckland University Press book, Mrkusich: The Art of Transformation.
When Mäori-Chinese artist Buck Nin died aged only 54, the high-ranked turnout of representatives from many tribes, along with a who’s who of the contemporary Mäori art movement, was testament to the larger-than-life presence Nin had established in the community. Renowned as an artist, entrepreneur and teacher, he was not only among the first generation of Mäori artists to make their mark in the Western world of contemporary art; he actively nurtured the talent of many more who followed.
After two years in New York, preceded by study at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Richard Orjis returned to New Zealand in 2004 and began a Master of Fine Arts at Elam School of Fine Arts. Flower Idol featured in his 2006 graduate exhibition but was already familiar, having appeared on the invitation card for that year’s postgraduate information evenings. Purchased for The University of Auckland Art Collection in 2008, Flower Idol continues its close association with the University, hanging prominently in the NICAI Student Centre.
Pregnant with mystery, this huge image of a hei tiki glowing against a dark background is magnetically attractive. It is one of a range of Cinderella artefacts – those deemed by curators as too imperfect to exhibit – brought to light by Ngai Tahu photographer Fiona Pardington. Working towards her MFA at the Elam School of Fine Arts in 2002-2003, she trawled through collections of her iwi’s taonga at Auckland Museum and Okains Bay Mäori and Colonial Museum on Banks Peninsula. It took her up to 18 months to seek and obtain permission from each relevant hapu to photograph their taonga for this project.
The daughter of a realist painter, Jude Rae was enrolled in art classes at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney at the age of 11 years. Despite the school being located in The Rocks, near the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Julian Ashton approach to art education is traditional, with strong emphasis on drawing skills. Introduced to the work of the Old Masters there, Jude Rae went on to study for a degree in Art History at Sydney University which she completed in 1981. Soon after, she returned to painting, working in a style influenced by the artists of the Northern European Renaissance and seventeenth century French still life painting, as well as by the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s ideas about the phenomenology of perception.
Printed by Theo Schoon in Kees Hos’s studio in Auckland in 1965, this collograph was made by gluing the cut-out patterns onto wood, and then applying ink with a paintbrush before pressing paper down on top. Captured by Bauhaus ideas which emphasised the equality of art and craft, Schoon had studied only briefly at the Rotterdam Art Academy and Canterbury College School of Art, before beginning his own journey of intrepid exploration of artistic media.
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.
As well as meaning a destroyer of religious images or sacred images, the word “iconoclast” can be used to describe a person who contravenes established or traditional principles and laws. A champion of vernacular design in architecture who has lived in Massachusetts since 1958, Maurice Smith has been described as “too radical for [New Zealand’s] conservative establishment” by his former colleague Tony Watkins.
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.
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.
Two Auckland brothers, John and Charles Tole, are the northern equivalent of Rita Angus. Neither of them had any formal art school training although they both associated with the Elam painter John Weeks (1886-1975). The Tole brothers lived together at 12 Seaview Road in Remuera and developed their own credo in art which they revealed to University of Auckland’s Kurt von Meier in 1964: “We have always been intensely interested in modern developments in style and technique, yet we think these elements should not be arbitrarily or consciously striven for but should emerge and flow freely from the subject matter and from the artist’s creative intuition towards the expression and communication of his message.”
It was in the mid-1960s that Barbara Tuck studied at the University’s Elam School of Fine Arts. And during her time at art school, Tuck developed her skills and stylistic approach to art. Fifty years on, this style combines multiple narratives, aerial perspectives and eye-catching, dreamy colours. Her heady landscapes are magically mystical, glinting at magpie onlookers.
The iconic upturned boat form of the Fale Pasifika is a landmark on campus. Designed by Ivan Mercep of Jasmax Architects at a cost of $6 million in 2004, the Fale has won several architectural awards. Collaboration with architectural theorist Albert Refiti ensured that Pasifika artists were involved in its construction adding layers of cultural meaning. Traditional Tongan lashings in brown and black coconut coir from Fiji by Filipe Tohi conceal steel plates and bolts at the main intersections of the roof structure on the interior. Outside the building, the work of Tongan artist, Tumoi Kaloni, forms a high archway entrance to the malae or greeting area, which is paved with a grid of tiles with applied arrows by Tania Euruatua Short to form a work entitled Accidental and Deliberate Voyages in the South Pacific. Described as a cartographically inspired pattern, this treatment of the malae’s surface was intended to evoke the presence of the ocean connecting Pacific peoples.
Variations of the curving stem and bulb form of the koru made their earliest appearances in Gordon Walters’ work in the mid-1950s. Joining the Government Printing Office in Wellington in 1954, he prepared gouache studies after work and at weekends. A decade earlier, Dutch Indonesian artist Theo Schoon (1915-1985) had introduced him to Ngai Tahu rock art and invited him to South Canterbury to view the drawings in Weka Pass. What he saw there inspired the later Mäori designs in Walters’ work.
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.
Established in 1964 by Auckland gallerist Kees Hos and philanthropist Dr Walter Auburn, the New Zealand Print Council flourished for over a decade before slowly going into eclipse. Guaranteed exhibitions in the nation’s major public galleries as members, artists quickly joined. Mervyn Williams, a Whakatane-born artist who had studied painting at Elam part-time in 1957 and 1958, but who never completed his diploma, was one of the first to take up membership. Working as a dinnerware designer for Crown Lynn in West Auckland alongside Frank Carpay, he had met immigrant artist Ted Dutch who taught him how to make serigraphs or silkscreen prints.