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.
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.
In contrast to the cult of personality that surrounds many artists, the artist collective et al. (a Latin abbreviation for “and others”) operates as an anonymous group, avoiding the effect an artist’s biographical details can have on the way their work is read. In fact, so effective is this insistence on anonymity, and so embedded is it in their work, that any attempt at biographical explanation quickly becomes a consideration of what they do rather than who they are.
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”.
As a child, Julian Hooper spent nine months living on Fakaofo, the main atoll of the three that make up the tiny country of Tokelau. His parents, anthropologist Antony Hooper, and linguist Robin Hooper, took Julian and his brother Matthew with them while they worked on a study of Tokelauan health for Ian Prior, Director of Epidemiology at Wellington Hospital.
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.
Teaching him at the Elam School of Fine Arts, Colin McCahon noticed that Richard Killeen’s compositions seemed assembled from separate parts, like jigsaw puzzle pieces. This one even takes its title from the three significant features in it, and orders them in a descending hierarchy of importance. Richard’s subject matter is both realistic and abstract, and his work allows a reading of both modes. Yet if painting in the Realist tradition was once considered a window onto the world, Richard is showing in this work that the opening is now closed. His stylised figure has become a flattened shape pasted over the background, casting little shadow. Is the Realist mode just the alibi for the investigation of figure and field with image and pattern, or does narrative linger on?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thousands of renowned (and aspiring) artists, curators, writers, collectors, and anyone else significantly interested in contemporary art recently converged from around the world for the opening of the 53rd Venice Biennale. In addition to the main international exhibition, Making Worlds, which features 90 artists, there are 77 countries with their own pavilions and 44 collateral events from a range of organisations. Included in the collateral exhibition Glasstress is Elam School of Fine Arts graduate Hye Rim Lee, who appears alongside such international luminaries as Louise Bourgeois and Mona Hatoum. This year Creative New Zealand has selected two artists to represent New Zealand: Francis Upritchard and Judy Millar. Millar’s project Giraffe-Bottle-Gun will be installed in Santa Maria Maddalena, the only circular church in Venice, which has existed on the site in various forms since at least 1222. Giraffe-Bottle-Gun, named from oddly-shaped long-necked canvases leaning against the walls surrounding the large looping installation at the heart of the installation, interrupts the spaces between the viewer, the architecture and the art.
Unlike with many of Alex Monteith’s other video projects, the critically slow pace of the event that forms the subject of her video work, 1020 metres in 26 minutes Waitangi Day Auckland Harbour Bridge Protest, grounds the viewer in familiar territory, allowing the location and the subject of the video to be immediately unravelled. Simultaneously however, the viewer is also drawn into the curious and somewhat dizzying landscape that is formed where the adjacent screens meet. Passages of the Harbour Bridge, segments of land, sky, clouds, sea and automobiles roll across two disparate yet intimately connected fields of vision.
Creating her largest art work to date, a huge 104-part painting to cap off her survey show, a loop around a loop, at Christchurch Art Gallery in 2006, Julia Morison titled the behemoth “Gargantua’s petticoat” after the garments mentioned in Francois Rabelais’ 1534 novel. Rabelais describes how the men and women of the religious order Theleme were appareled: “next to their smock they put on the pretty kirtle or vasquin of pure silk camlet; above that went the taffety or tabby farthingale, of white, red, tawny, grey, or of any other colour.”
Sarah Munro completed her Doctorate in Fine Arts at The University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts in 2005 and was the Frances Hodgkins Fellow at the University of Otago the following year. As a multi-media artist, she oscillates in her work between two and three dimensions and encompasses several art disciplines including painting, sculpture, photography and digital technology. Bought for the University of Auckland’s Art Collection in 2003, Socket successfully embraces many of these diverse facets of Munro’s art practice. The subject is a painted portrait of the artist’s half-brother, yet the materials and techniques employed by Munro leave Socket as an art object that lies far from the traditional notion of what constitutes a portrait. The shaped support of the work is constructed from finely shaped blocks of polyester foam overlaid with fibreglass that Munro applies by hand. The surface is then painstakingly ground back, puttied and sanded until it reaches a smooth, lustrous perfection. The painted representation of the subject’s face is applied to the shaped ground in a similarly technical but time-consuming manner with the assistance of a digital painting machine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Originary moments of modernism in New Zealand art are usually recounted anecdotally - Toss Woollaston in Nelson asking if he could copy Flora Scales’s notes taken in classes at the Hans Hofmann School in Munich or Colin McCahon encountering Mary CockburnMercer hobbling around on crutches in Melbourne in 1951.