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.
The unlikely pairing of wine and filament light bulbs has long been a recurring motif in the highly sociable work of Bill Culbert, as has the fluorescent tube, all of which act as metaphor and evidence of the ways we think about light, energy and materials.
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.
A childhood in Dunedin gave painter Frances Hodgkins a life-long aversion to cold weather. The south of France was her usual destination as soon as dreary English winters began to bite, but in the middle of the Depression she ventured instead to Baleares, the third largest of the Balearic Islands off the coast of the Spanish town of Valencia in the West Mediterranean. Better known now for the dance parties and rave culture that made it iconic in the late 1990s, the Balearic capital of Ibiza was fascinating to Hodgkins for its Roman, Phoenician and Carthiginian remains, and its famous whitewashed architecture.
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”.
Made out of bitumen-impregnated paper, this cruet set of concertina fans won’t cool anyone off. Hanging like three little piupiu on the wall, patterned by kowhaiwhai shapes and titled after an American torch song, the installed work gives a wave in the direction of the artist’s Ngai Tahu ancestry while fanning the flames of land loss grievance. Contributing to a content trickling down from the Māori love story explaining the origin of the Waiau and Clarence Rivers in the South Island, the artist works the construction association inherent in her material. Once called tar paper, the basic black builder’s paper cut-out is simultaneously doing steel-capped heavy duty and pirouetting as lightweight decoration. It is meant to form a waterproof membrane in a roof or walls but, carved up by a stanley knife, it makes an alluring play of light and shadows.
Painted the year after Douglas Robb was knighted for services to medicine, this work shows the maverick medico at ease in his study, surrounded by his precious book collection. Light falls on his facial features and creates a kind of halo effect behind his head. If the painter seems to have visualised this medical statesman as the patron saint of the New Zealand health system, it was with good cause – he had been campaigning for better public health for over 20 years.
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.
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.
Born in Sydney in 1951, Auckland-based artist John Lyall became a New Zealand resident in 1983 after a three-year period in the late 1970s working on archaeological digs in the UK.
part of a BA at The University of Auckland, and published his first illustrations (done to accompany "Paris", a poem by C.K. Stead and published by Auckland University Press) in 1984. After graduation that year, he published his own poems in literary journals in Australia, including Meanjin and Scripsi, as well as in Island, Sport and Landfall in New Zealand. These poems were brought together with drawings in a single book, Location of the Least Person, which was published by Auckland University Press in 1987, and led to him winning the Frank Sargeson Fellowship the next year. This award brought with it residency in the flat above the George Fraser Gallery, and occasioned his first meeting with the Hungarian photographer Mari Mahr, who exhibited there in 1988.
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.
Compelled to begin this contemporary history painting when war broke out in the Middle East in July 2006, Jude Rae also used this painting’s scale as an opportunity to explore a new, more liquid, painting technique. Israel was retaliating against a Hezbollah missile attack on border settlements by launching air strikes and artillery attacks on Lebanon, extensively damaging infrastructure and killing over a thousand civilians, and wounding many more. Jude Rae had arrived in France to take up the Moya Dyring Memorial Fellowship at the Cité Internationale des Artes directly from Dunedin where she had been painting large architectural interiors as the artist-in-residence there. She was planning to make similar studies in Paris, but coverage of the July war in the French media was extensive, and, absorbed by the imagery, she began to make drawings and watercolours of the conflict from the internet coverage.
Lisa Reihana is a New Zealand pioneer of media art, utilising technology to create new ways to explore Mäori culture. Reihana graduated from Elam in 1987. Her practice has encompassed video, animation, storytelling, sculpture, textiles, performance, sound and photography, increasingly with a digital emphasis. In 1997 she created Native Portraits n.19897, a large gateway comprising 11 video monitors, commissioned for the opening of Te Papa Tongarewa and forming the waharoa of her ongoing Digital Marae project. From these 11 videos, Reihana created five projected dramas and six granite portraits, which form part of her Memoranda project, first shown at the Singapore Art Museum in 2003.
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.
There is a lot that is familiar in Peter Siddell’s landscape paintings. Long horizons, Victorian architecture, waterways and volcanic cones. They all look like bits of Auckland we know, although you can’t quite finger where. Probably not the suburb you grew up in but possibly one you visited a few times. Perhaps it was before the old mansion was pulled down, or the new tower went up? Even the way the light plays across the landscape. This is the artist’s city and his scenes have become so familiar that the real Auckland sometimes looks a lot like his paintings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As part of the third Auckland Triennial, Chinese art collective the Long March Project has raised questions around the importance of having a Chinatown to create a sense of community and identity for a growing community of Chinese migrants living in Auckland. But New Zealand also has a significant community of Chinese people who were born here and for artists such as Wong Sing Tai (aka Harry Wong) and his younger brother Brent Wong, cultural identity never played an obvious role in their work.
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.