For artist Billy Apple® (born Barrie Bates in Auckland) the mechanics of art, usually kept behind the scenes, have long been a focus for his work. Throughout the 1970s he executed activity and installation works that highlighted the significance of exhibition spaces to the work exhibited, cleaning windows, painting walls, adjusting lights. In contrast to the grandiose paintings made prior to the pop art movement, Billy Apple was more interested in everyday things and activities, such as shaving. He was particularly interested in the fact that it is the artist’s role in the work that gives it value, just like a brand name. In 1962, while studying at the Royal College of Art in London, he changed his name to Billy Apple, effectively making his own life a work of art, undertaking a re-branding that included bleaching his hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. In 2007 Billy Apple became a registered trademark and then a registered brand in 2008.
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.
Often using photographic processes to make her installations of images, Joyce Campbell has long been concerned with representing scientific knowledge in her art. While resident in Los Angeles in 2002, she made a series of images titled Marianas and Mindanao, referring to the submarine trenches situated in the north-west Pacific. Whereas the name Marianas derives from Queen Mariana of Austria, widow of Philip IV, as a reminder of the area’s seventeenth century Spanish colonists, Mindanao comes from Maguindanaons, the largest Sultanate historically.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
McCahon’s left-handed writing wins no prizes for neatness. In Let us possess one world, lower case letters crowd together, shuffled by punctuation into a tripartite scheme so that one world is hoisted proudly on a stem above the mirrored halves below. Whereas the staid pronouncements of his earlier word paintings (I Am and I and Thou) were freighted with significance by the use of cubist capitals, this looping script dips into the sensuality of the source, John Donne’s seventeenth century love poem.
Andrew McLeod is renowned for his magpie eye with complex compositions combining eclectic images into detailed arrangements. It is the sort of eye that can be richly nourished in the digital era of Wikipedia and Google image search, where anyone can be an instant expert and new obsessions can be quickly sated with a wealth of visual material, although all this is little use without the finely honed sensibilities of a mature artist. Combined with this ease of information accessibility is the ability to cut-and-paste or manipulate a variety of sources using computer-aided design programmes. All this may make it easier to be an artist with an eclectic set of influences, from children’s book illustrations to the gothic visual culture of black metal music, although an everexpanding set of options does not necessarily make work any easier.
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.
Mixed media artist Alexis Neal is consistently drawn to depicting objects of taonga as she sees them possessing a wairua or spirit beyond their physical presence. The treasures included in the semi-circular mezzotint entitled Treasured (1997) include ear pendants, a carved piece of bone and a shell necklace. These are not cheap, throw-away items of jewellery purchased from a ubiquitous mall jewellery store but are objects to be worn, treasured and adored.
Seung Yul Oh graduated Master of Fine Arts from Elam School of Fine Arts in 2005, one of a new generation of migrants drawn to study in New Zealand from South Korea, also including Jeena Shin, Hye Rim Lee and Jae Hoon Lee (no relation). Oh moved to New Zealand in 1997 and, at time of writing, has just opened his first solo exhibition in his home town of Seoul, where he is currently undertaking a residency in an artist-run space founded and managed by well-known artist Choi Jeong Hwa, who shares Oh’s playful sensibility.
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.
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.
Journeys have been a constant theme in the work of John Pule, who arrived in New Zealand at the age of two from the village of Liku, Niue, and has gone on to exhibit extensively around the world. A self-taught artist, Pule draws his influence as much from poetry as art history and a variety of Pacific traditions, partly due to his parallel practice as an accomplished writer with three published novels and much poetry to his name. Painting grew out of his practice as a writer and language continues to play an important role in his art, which is often interwoven with his own autobiographical texts.
Artist and 2017 Distinguished Alumna Lisa Reihana is currently representing New Zealand at the 57th Venice Biennale in Italy with a panoramic video installation entitled Emissaries. It is her most ambitious project in a long, illustrious and innovative career with digital media. Ten years in the making, Emissaries is a remarkably complex digital animation that has undergone a number of modifications for the Biennale since it was last shown in Auckland, including incorporating Aboriginal figures.
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.
Fearing Russian repression after the Hungarian revolt, Marté Szirmay’s parents emigrated, arriving in New Zealand in 1957. Her stepfather, Frank Szirmay, was a figurative sculptor in the academic tradition, but her own interests were in abstraction. Study at Elam School of Fine Arts in the 1960s brought an appreciation of the Russian constructivist brothers, Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, and their engineering aesthetic but not their literalism. In her own work she sought to naturalise manufactured materials including steel and resin, deploying them to describe shapes derived from nature such as the koru as well as to make purely abstract geometrical forms.
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.
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.
Winning a national art award in 2003, the year he completed his MFA at Elam, brought Rohan Wealleans instant notoriety. The judge described the winning work as a huge bright vagina that he wanted to crawl inside, ensuring that the sponsors, a Waikato electricity supply company, immediately turned it down for acquisition. Since then, Rohan Wealleans has carved out his own special place in the pantheon of male artists with dodgy sexual politics. The consensus, even amongst curators who like his work, is that the artist “flays his surfaces and opens them in a labial way”. Writers shudder at his “invasive, violent even misogynistic” incisions into acrylic paint as if it was flesh. Blade Healers 2008, recently purchased for The University of Auckland Art Collection, shows Wealleans five years on, still unrepentant in his wielding of the craft knife, apparently now ready to construe the cutting itself as therapeutic.
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.