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.
After studying at the Elam School of Fine Arts in the 1970s, Stephen Bambury travelled to North America. There he encountered paintings by the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich who had undertaken “a desperate struggle to free art from the ballast of the objective world” by using basic motifs: the square, the circle and the cross. This last shape was a loaded sign but also an exercise in pure geometry, dividing the canvas into nine squares. As many geometrical abstractionists have observed, the cross is the mother of all grids.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Square, triangular and rectangular units in sections of wood and chipboard are nailed and butted together in this relief sculpture, forming an integrated collection of diverse components. The artist Paratene Te Moko Puorongo Matchitt was raised in Tokomaru Bay and is of Whanau-a-Apanui, Ngati Porou and Whakatohea descent. At Edgecumbe, near Whakatane, he was taught to carve by his father and grandfather. After leaving the east coast, he attended Auckland Teachers’ College in the years 1955 and 1956 and then spent a year at the Training College in Dunedin where he became one of Gordon Tovey’s art advisors.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Constituting a system that became a style, Ian Scott’s lattices remain his signature works. His “basic over-and-under pattern” paintings went into production in 1976, after a decade of Girlie paintings. Like an industrial product, each lattice suggests a limitless number of colour ways, but Scott drew the line on the series in 1982 after making over 200 sequentially numbered variations on the idea. Now that he is again investigating the pictorial possibilities of scantily-clad girls, Scott rarely makes a lattice painting. When he does, the resulting interlace is like a puzzle solved: a two-dimensional Rubik’s cube. The compositions are tricky but seem deceptively simple: a few bands of pure acrylic colour laid down over a square white canvas ground.
Drawn from material gathered over 14 months between 10 January 2004 and 4 February 2005, the snowflakes in Overcast are digital collages. There are 15 in total, and each one is made up of images harvested from the newspaper on a particular day.
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.”
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.
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.