On a Thursday before Easter in 1992, photographer Mark Adams put his large format camera up on a tripod in the wettest place in New Zealand. In three parts, he re-created the well-known panoramic view of Milford Sound looking northwest from Freshwater Basin. But something is missing from the resultant images. The centrepiece of this glacier-carved fiord (and its quintessential geological feature) is obscured by mist. Gone is the distinctive marker which elevates this landscape above the picturesque to iconic status as a World Heritage Site. The sublime Mitre Peak has become a haunting absence.
Although Wayne Barrar’s ongoing exploration of the landscape is primarily executed through the lens of a camera, it is from the vantage point of both science and art that he pursues his ideas. Barrar first graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of Canterbury in 1979 before later completing a Postgraduate Diploma of Fine Arts at Elam School of Fine Arts in 1996 and an MDes (2005) from Massey University.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
The University of Auckland Art Collection was quick to take an interest in the work of Richard Killeen, purchasing two paintings from Barry Lett Galleries in 1969 and a monotype print-on-canvas from his first solo exhibition at Barry Lett the following year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.