Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Māori colours and the Māori alphabet

I thought you would enjoy some Māori words for ko nga kara [Māori colours].

Mangu, pango
Black


White

Whero
Red

Para, karaka
Orange

Tuapōkere
Violet

Purū
Blue

Kikorangi
Sky-blue

Kākariki
Green

Kōwhai
Yellow

Pūma, kerei
Grey

Parāone
Brown

Whakahekeheke
Striped

The Māori alphabet has the following letters:

A E G H I K M

N O P R T U W


Remember G is used with ‘n’ (ng) only.

Aalto Colour, one of the Gallery's paint sponsors, developed with Toi Māori Aotearoa, a bespoke palette of Māori colour.
http://www.aaltocolour.com/colour/default.asp?p=7

Friday, 24 December 2010

Horatio Ross and Son by Roger Fenton

Horatio Ross and his son, the winner of the Queen's Prize, Wimbledon, July 1860.
From left: Charles Lucy, Horatio Ross, J.H. Parker, Mr Ross Jnr.


Horatio Ross and Son, the teacher and pupil, Wimbledon, July 1860.


Mr Ross Jnr. the winner of the Queen's Prize. Wimbledon, July 1860.

Of all the English photographers of the nineteenth century, Roger Fenton is among the most inventive. Fenton (1819-1869) is a key figure who really intrigues me. He was a pioneer in many of the genres of photography - portraiture, still life, architecture, topography, orientalist subjects and war reportage.

Fenton’s coverage of the Crimean campaign (1855) is without equal; he somehow managed to make over 350 wet plate negatives there. The images he took of collection items held in the British Museum - including the articulated skeleton of a Moa sent from the Canterbury Museum – are the first impressive photo-records taken of any museum’s collection. His portraits of Queen Victoria’s family are more intimate than those taken by his competitors.

This group of three family portraits is especially interesting because it mixes up Fenton’s portraiture with his knowledge of military prowess and the use of small arms, with formal portraiture. There is nothing else like these portraits in early English photography. They are almost like prototypical news photos.

Horatio Smith and his son were the most distinguished proponents of small arms fire in England. Their skill in target shooting was legendary. Fenton's ability to mix formality and informality is astonishing. This was one of the reasons that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were such avid collectors of his photographs.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

A wonderful letter from Titore

In 1818, two young Māori men, Titore (Nga Puhi, 1795?-1837) and Tui (Nga Puhi, 1797?-1824), visited Professor Samuel Lee of Cambridge University. They assisted him in the preparation of a grammar and vocabulary of Māori.

On 28 October 1818, he wrote to May Ann Ferriday at Madely.

This may be one of the earliest letters written by a Māori in English.

My Dear Girl Mary Ann
I hope you very well, I very well myself. I very sorry that time I come away and leave kind friends behind. I hope you remember me I remember you. Please give my love to Mary Ann Patrick, and your father and mothers and brother and sister. I hope you pray for me, I pray for you. I pray Jesus Christ our Saviour to teach me to read God’s book. I give you small bit of my hair: you very kind girl. I hope you no broke the swing. When I get home my country, I send you a New Zealand mat, please the Lord. Very kind people up the country, I no like London, I like Madely, plenty of room to walk about. We go by the “Baring” but no yet. I send you bit of New Zealand twine and flax, you never seen one before. Mr Hall took me to see the Tower; I see plenty guns, thousands. I see lion and tiger, and cockatoo; I talk to cockatoo he know me very well. I see Elephant quite astonished my countryman no believe if I tell him. Mr Hall sends kind regards to you and your Father and Mother and all your family and friends. God bless you.
Teeterree [Titore]
P.S. I hope you write me a few lines
.

Source:
Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand/Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa.
MS-Papers -0288. Tuai, 1797?-1824. Correspondence, 1818-1819.

So So Modern

This is my first post so I’ll make a brief introduction. I started work at Auckland Art Gallery in October as Assistant Curator/Project Coordinator. I’m interested in New Zealand Modernism and I’m going to look at various works in the Auckland Art Gallery’s collection, starting with urban views of industrial sites….


Industry and Modernism


The 1930s and 40s was a period of profound social and cultural change, marked by a national search for reassurance and stability and a redefined understanding of modern New Zealand identity and art.


Many prominent New Zealand artists looked to natural landscapes as their subject in the fervent quest for a distinctive national culture - but a small group of modernist artists turned their attention to the architectural masses and silhouettes of the urban and industrial landscape.


Industrial paintings from the interwar years include Rita Angus’s Gas works, Christopher Perkins’ Brickworks Silverstream and Activity on the Wharf and the factory and fertiliser paintings by fellow Thornhill Group members Charles and John Tole. These works reflect the growth of industrialisation and urban change. They are significant works, even though it was mountains and hill country, not the factories, that would become the new emblems of modern New Zealand identity.


Industry, 1936 is a key work in John Weeks’ small oeuvre of industrial paintings. In a highly structured style incorporating a restrained use of colour and partial cubism, Weeks captures the factory in motion and transforms it into a celebration of technology. Inspired by the work of French cubist André Lhote and his experiments with colour and form, Weeks simplified the subject in a decorative and harmonious way.


John Weeks, Industry, 1936, oil on board
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1938

Industry, with its highly structured composition, evokes the elements of order, unity and rhythm found in the factory. However, it is profoundly humane, with figures as the work’s central focus and the role of people in industry as the primary concern.


The coming of the Machine Age and its effects on New Zealand society arguably interested Weeks more artistically than socially. His constant questioning of arts functions and methods was an expression of modernity.


Weeks’ representation of industrial forms emphasise the harmony of men and machinery, but it is unlikely it was an overt attempt to extol of a political faith in the working classes. Indeed Weeks’s modernism is more closely aligned with European Modernism than that of the Americans, whose industrial forms were central to their socialist message.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

With love to Emily Dickinson


The American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was already a recluse by 1870. Perhaps even as early as 1860, according to some accounts. She really did not like to leave the house much. She travelled in her head.

During her lifetime, she only published seven of her 1775 documented poems. Arguably, America’s greatest 19th century poet, Emily is also that period’s most mystical, lyric maverick.

She writes way beyond Walt Whitman’s taut sport of muscled and sinewy transcendentalism. Her closest ally in poetry is England’s/Ireland’s Gerard Manly Hopkins, another visionary outsider.

Emily is a wrenched out thinker with an agonisingly imaginative motor powering her mind. Her work is filled with tautology and shock-filled fear. Her poetry has a groaning need to reach way beneath surface to declaim the spectacular promises born out of love.

Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port, -
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! The sea!
Might I but moor
Tonight in thee!

When the first edition of Dickinson's poems was being prepared in 1891, Thomas Higginson sent a letter to Mabel Todd, the book’s co-editor, “One poem only I dread a little to print--that wonderful 'Wild Nights,'--lest the malignant read into it more than that virgin recluse ever dreamed of putting there. Has Miss Lavinia [Emily Dickinson's sister] any shrinking about it? You will understand & pardon my solicitude. Yet what a loss to omit it! Indeed it is not to be omitted.”

This remarkable poem has been transcribed and printed in another version, whose meaning is consequently altered by the typography and punctuation differences:

Wild Nights — Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile — the Winds —
To a Heart in port —
Done with the Compass —
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden —
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor — Tonight —
In Thee!

Emily Dickinson’s poetry raises that old notion of genius, again. For me, she is way beyond the genius label. This is not because her work, like that of Diane Arbus, is never boring. She puts out an age defying challenge that does not say, “Is this good?” but asks “Are you up to this work, it carries tumult within itself.”

Much commentary on Emily Dickinson’s poetry ignores how deeply she was influenced by the metrical character of the Psalms and their contrast of images, line by line. Here’s one such pairing:

He trusted in God that He would deliver Him
Let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him
Psalm 22:8-9

Emily Dickinson’s apocalyptic writing often uses out of the body experiences as a focus:

I reckon - when I count
At all -
First - Poets - Then the Sun -
Then Summer - Then the
Heaven of God -
And then - the List is done-

But - looking back - the
First so seems
To Comprehend the Whole -
The Others look a needless Show -
So I write - Poets - All -

Their Summer - lasts a Solid
Year -
They can afford a Sun
The East - would deem
Extravagant -
And if the Further Heaven -

Be Beautiful as they prepare
For Those who worship Them -
It is too difficult a Grace -
To justify the Dream -

Ted Hughes was fascinated with Dickinson’s work and edited a selection that Faber and Faber published in 1968. He wrote about her images as being constructed from “the slow, small metre, a device for hanging up each syllable into close-up, as under a microscope;…there is a mosaic pictogram concentration of ideas into which she codes a volcanic elemental imagination…the riddling, oblique artistic strategies…solid with metaphors, saturated with the homeliest imagery and experience, the freakish blood-and-nerve paradoxical vitality of the latinisms.”

Monday, 20 December 2010

W.D.Hammond

W.D. Hammond’s Sea Chest is a clever painting. It looks, at first glance, as if it is an example of antique maritime folk art, perhaps created by a whaler below deck during the 19th century.

The object is, in fact, an actual Baltic pine door that has considerable age. The stains and marks on all genuine and are not faux surface effects but actual evidence of its use over many years as a door to some long-lost cupboard.

Looking closer at this image of a wild and freezing sub-Antarctic ocean, one notices a sperm whale diving underwater. W.D. Hammond visited the Auckland Islands during 1991 and the experience shifted the focus of his work. The nature of animal life and the recollection of a distant past became intertwined. In Sea Chest, memory and the aura of whaling in what James Cook called ‘the Great Southern Ocean’ mix together.

While the painting is modest in scale, it renders maritime experience with a true wallop. This work has that great quality known as ‘wall power’ – once seen, it is never forgotten. Although we are looking at a painting created in the 1990s it does not feel like that at all. It speaks, visually, to the difficult life of early 19th century sailors and the reason why they risked their lives as ‘far as a man may go’. Cook’s words, again.

The Friends of the Gallery gave this painting to the people of Auckland in 1998.


W.D.Hammond
Sea Chest 1996
oil on wood
715 x 760mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki,
gift of the Friends of the Auckland Art Gallery Acquisitions Trust, 1998

Friday, 17 December 2010

MAI Review Journal

Are you aware of http://www.review.mai.ac.nz/, the important New Zealand based cultural journal edited by Professor Les Tumoana Williams of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga?

This site is produced as part of the work Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga at Waipapa Marae Complex, at The University of Auckland.

MAI Review Journal has been published since 2006 and is entirely web based. It includes an impressive selection of articles.

The December issue is now live. It features a section devoted to community research with a focus on new methodologies for whānau (family) research. Dr Fiona Cram who joined the editorial team as a Guest Editor for this special section has led the collection of papers.

Dr Vaughan Rapatahana and Dr Helen Sword edit the section on Māori and Indigenous Poetry. The poems draw attention to Māori and Indigenous realities.

Te Kokonga (the workshop corner) provides papers addressing questions about research, the place of “Tika” in teaching.

The Resources section provided access to nation-wide repositories of E-theses, a link to the MAI Central portal, glossaries for translations, selected links and a customised Google search that covers the journal and the wider MAI network.

One of my favourite articles was published in MAI Review Journal, 2010, 2, and is a moving account by Dr Patu Wahanga Hohepa titled Karanga Hokianga (Hokianga calls).

http://www.review.mai.ac.nz/index.php/MR/issue/view/16

Recommended!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Ron Sang’s house for Brian Brake


Recently, I was fortunate in being able to attend an event held at the house Ron Sang designed for Brian Brake in Titirangi during 1976.

It was a special occasion. Ron Sang generously discussed the genesis of the house’s plan and how he had worked closely with Brian to ensure that the building would accommodate all of the artist’s needs, as well as his exceptional collection of furniture.

Years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the Brake house when it still contained the original furniture. I was impressed at how seamlessly all the interiors integrated with the furnishings. Ron confirmed that every room was planned in terms not only of its use but also in consideration of what would be placed within it.

The Brian Brake house remains a spectacular experience. It has to be one of the great New Zealand domestic buildings.

The house is privately owned and is not open to the public.



Photograph: Chris Saines

Monday, 13 December 2010

The last portrait of Abraham Lincoln

This carte de visite portrait of Abraham Lincoln was made by Alexander Gardner in his Washington studio in February 1865.

Many people believe that this was the very last portrait photograph made of the President, taken a month before his assassination in April.

If you have never seen Ken Burn's 1990 documentary series The Civil War, please look for it at your local library. It remains the most effective production of the Public Broadcasting System. The nine episodes contain 16,000 archival photographs, of which this carte de visite is one.

The series has many on-screen comments presented by Shelby Foote, one of my favourite historians and novelists. Perhaps one of the most perceptive historians of America, Dr Foote can be listened to in an exceptional documentary portrait:
http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/165823-1

Caption:
Alexander Gardner Abraham Lincoln 1865
Private collection, United States of America

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Fearless Eye of Diane Arbus

I wonder how many people realise just how significant Diane Arbus was as an artist? She is a giant in 20th century American art. Her work just gets better every decade. And more terrifying. When other artwork from her generation appears to fade and retroface itself, her photographs grow larger and yawp with anger, fury and pain.

A traditional Jew, Diane Arbus was born Diane Nemerov in 1923. She knew talent when she discovered it, and decided to train with the scary Lisette Modell, arguably one New York’s most predatory street photographers.

Arbus is a quintessential urban American artist. Her photographs breathe with anxiety as if it is the predominant constituent of oxygen. I try to read everything good that is published about her. I came across a sensational review that lays out an argument that Diane is some brave artist. It gives the reader one of the best introductions to her work and profiles Lisette Modell and many other brilliant artists.

The profile of Where Diane Arbus Went was first written by Leo Rubinfien for Art in America during 2005 and is republished on the amazing weblog http://www.americansuburbx.com/

It is one of the most informative web logs on photography written in English.

Read what they say about Diane.

For access to the best text and video resources about Diane Arbus click here.

Let us know what you think of this review and americansuburbx.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The return of Call Waiting

The title of our latest exhibition comes from an artwork that was specially commissioned for the NEW Gallery's atrium space for its opening in 1995: Call Waiting, by Ralph Paine.

Getting the five long printed panels back up into place was no piece of cake. Check out these pictures of Ian from Rich Rigging and Red from Total Access installing the piece from their precarious perches:

Plenty of safety gear was needed to work up so high...



Unfortunately, one of the crew left his knee pads behind, meaning some uncomfortable moments out on the narrow ledge!


Come and see the finished result (and the rest of the exhibition) - it's an impressive sight, especially once you know what was involved in getting it there!

Friday, 3 December 2010

What is a Cyanotype?

A cyanotype is a photograph that has an overall blue tint. Technically their colour is described as cyan. It is a blueprint process created by coating paper with a light sensitive ferric salt. After the print is exposed, either through direct contact or through an enlarger, it is permanently fixed by washing in distilled water.

Anna Atkins (1799-1864) was the first artist to produce a book illustrated with cyanotypes. Here is a contact print of ferns that she made from a fern she gathered in the Great Conservatory of Chatsworth on 26 August 1851 (Private collection).

To learn more about the cyanotype process refer to:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyanotype

http://www.photography.com/articles/history/cyanotype/

To see how easy it is to make a cyanotype look at this set of YouTube tutorials:

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=cyanotype&aq=f

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The memory power of rugby photographs


I was in Hamilton that day in 1981. Roger Blackley, Dean Buchanan, Helga Strewe and I were there because of the Rugby match. The Saturday when Hamilton’s Rugby Park was invaded by ‘protestors’ – the scheduled Waikato versus Springbok game. Very first game of the Springbok tour, I think. The game was cancelled. The protest threw everything amok.

Here’s an aerial view of that superb sports ground:
http://wikimapia.org/26423/Rugby-Park

That was a terrifying day. We felt on the cusp of being murdered. An ugly incident for everyone. Pro-game and anti-game. I reckon none of us present has ever forgotten it.

It is a perplexing feeling for me to recognise myself in this photograph by John Selkirk taken 29 years ago. Looking at it feels like a cross between recovered memory and auto-forensics.

The memory power of rugby photographs:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/photos/2845036/Hamiltons-Rugby-Park-1981-Springboks-tour-protest

Being there has greatly increased my knowledge of the photographic history of Rugby. I enjoy watching rugby and encountering historic photographs of the game.

New Zealanders are exceptional at rugby. We play it in a brave and innovative manner like fearless and tactical brothers. Rugby bloods our identity better than game hunting ever could.

Sonny Bill Williams is proving that by combining his astonishing physical flair with a terrific response time, he is becoming a rugby emblem. Phil Gifford has already told us that in the best way possible:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/opinion/4368799/We-are-in-safe-hands

I wish I had learnt more about the photographic history of rugby, as it would be useful in my Gallery work. I immediately recognise images from the 1956 All Black/Springbok rugby match at Eden Park. In fact, I have exhibited some of the best of these pictures. During the 1950s Show Warwick Roger delivered the most informative talk on rugby photography I have ever heard. Warwick knows so much about the 1956 match.

I came across this brilliant and amusing Ans Westra photograph from 1971 of a rugby match in Wellington. Can anyone tell me the date of this game and who is playing who? Ans is not looking at the field. You do not need to see the players to feel the spirit of rugby.


Caption:
Ans Westra
Rugby spectators at Athletic Park, Wellington 1971
Black and white photograph
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1985
1985/5/3

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Angels and Aristocrats

It seems a lot of Kiwis still tend to dismiss New Zealand's collections of art as fuddy-duddy and parochial. But the handsome new book Angels & Aristocrats, by the Gallery's very own Mary Kisler (Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art) blows that idea out of the water.

Angels & Aristocrats: Historic European paintings in New Zealand Public Collections (to give it its full title) examines New Zealand collections of European art from the 15th to 19th centuries, with more than 240 works featured. It's a treasure trove of pieces from the
Auckland Art Gallery, Te Papa, Christchurch Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui.



Mary spent four years researching and compiling Angels & Aristocrats, which is neatly divided into religious art, landscape art, narrative and genre painting and portraiture. It's a true thing of beauty, being a decent size - weighty, but not intimidating, with heaps of gorgeous glossy pictures.

It's the kind of book one could read right through, or enjoy dipping into over a cup of tea (or a glass of wine). What i love is how her infectious passion for art and her fondness for the paintings she discusses shines through - especially in the book's conclusion, in which she likens them to naughty schoolchildren!

Angels and Aristocrats is getting great reviews. According to
NZ Herald reviewer Peter Simpson, "To read this well-produced book is to be educated not only in the treasures held within our collections but in the rich history of art itself."

Graham Beattie has also reviewed it - read his thoughts here.

And you can download a free podcast of Mary discussing the book with Kim Hill
here.

You can get a signed copy of Angels & Aristocrats: Historic European paintings in New Zealand Public Collections (Random House/Godwit) at the
Gallery shop for $70 (RRP $75). It'd make the perfect Christmas present for any art lovers/bibliophiles/students in your life. (Excuse me while I send my parents a link to this post - hint, hint...)

Mary has produced some great posts for this blog as well - catch up on her archive here. I'm hoping to persuade her to return to the blogosphere soon!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Eadweard Muybridge in motion


Was Eadweard Muybridge the first artist to predict cinema with his work?

If you are in London before 16 January, one show that you should not miss is the Eadweard Muybridge exhibition currently getting rave numbers at Tate Britain. While he was certainly a 19th century artist, the implications of his discoveries remain every bit as gripping and influential as they were a century ago.

Muybridge’s art is a visual template for how photography may combine research and with scientific discovery. His work is utterly innovative.

Background to the exhibit can be found at:
http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/eadweardmuybridge/default.shtm

Michael Wilson writes very well about the many inventions of the artist.

Was Muybridge a scientist, a photographer or an artist? Or was he all three at once?
http://www.tate.org.uk/tateetc/issue20/wilsononmuybridge.htm

David Campany has also written a fascinating essay about the on-going influence of Muybridge’s photo-sequences. You can access this text online:
http://www.tate.org.uk/tateetc/issue20/campanymuybridge.htm

If you want to find out a whole lot of information on Muybridge from one source, I recommend you go straight to:
http://www.muybridgeinkingston.com/

To understand the process of step frame photography check out:
http://muybridgizer.tate.org.uk/

The Muybridgizer is an astonishing user-based network of how the artist’s way of seeing can be applied to the world today. Utilise your iPhone; here is their blurb: “The Muybridgizer allows iPhone photographers to take pictures inspired by the iconic works of early photographer Eadweard Muybridge.”

Here is a link to the Apple itunes application:
http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/muybridgizer/id390894338?mt=8

Monday, 29 November 2010

Auckland Art Gallery 100 years ago

Here are two images of the Auckland Art Gallery 100 years ago. The first is a real photograph, the second is a chromolithograph. Interesting to note that the photographer has made a number of shots at the same time. The cart in the real photo has been moved from the corner entrance, to the Auckland Library, further down the street in the other card. The man in front of the window must have been asked to stand there for quite some time.



This third card shows you how the photo has been included as part of a collage. Apparently, from the writing on the back of the postcard, images of Auckland's buildings were a very common subjects for postcards in this city. But why is there a telephone pole in this shot? Has this been removed from the other images?

Friday, 26 November 2010

Free talk from filmmaker Vincent Ward

We have a truly talented New Zealander speaking at the Gallery tomorrow.
Acclaimed Kiwi filmmaker Vincent Ward will be giving an illustrated talk about his new book, The Past Awaits: People, Images, Film.

He's best known for films like the recent Rain of the Children, as well as Vigil, The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, Map of the Human Heart and River Queen.

A trained artist, his films are noted for their powerful visual style, and his work has been recognised by many awards - including an Oscar for visual effects in 1999 for his film What Dreams May Come.

The Past Awaits explores the imagery in Ward's films to date as well as functioning as a "part-memoir", discussing the background behind each project and his thematic interests.

Ward says his book is "about the search to stay whole through making films... being inspired by the people I have worked with and made films about, and how by seeing these lives it is perhaps easier to see more clearly into my own".

It's already receiving rave reviews. Here's Sir Peter Jackson's opinion:

"To read The Past Awaits is to take a journey, not just into the wonderfully gifted imagination of Vincent Ward, but into his heart and soul. These images have a power and strength that goes way beyond the context of the film they belong to. They present the spirit of New Zealand - and this remarkable New Zealander."

Vincent Ward will be speaking at 12pm tomorrow in the Art Lounge - full details here. You can also hear interviews he's conducted with Radio NZ film critic Simon Morris and RadioLive.


And after Vincent Ward's talk, stick around as curator Alexa Johnston gives a free tour of our new exhibition Call Waiting: A Celebration of the NEW Gallery 1995-2011.

A brilliant essay by Charles Brasch

In 1958, the Gallery’s then Director, Peter Tomory, prepared the important exhibition – A Private Collection of New Zealand Paintings - which sampled the collection of artworks that Charles Brasch and Rodney Kennedy had gathered over many years at Dunedin.

Here is a link to the exhibition’s catalogue held in the E.H.McCormick Research Library. This is one of the earliest catalogues to document a private art collection in New Zealand:
http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/media/166436/cat21.pdf

I thought that it is now time to profile Peter Tomory’s introductory remarks and re-present the excellent essay that the Gallery commissioned from Charles Brasch. He raises issues about contemporary art that are still being discussed.

Professor Paul Millar is currently preparing the official biography of Charles Brasch and Dr Peter Simpson has recently published a terrific account of the association that this esteemed poet, editor and collector had with Colin McCahon.

M T Woollaston, Charles Brasch from memory
1938, charcoal

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Mr Colin McCahon, 1961
I am very grateful to Alan Roddick and to the Estate of Charles Brasch for permission to re-publish Brasch’s essay. They generously agreed with me in recognising that Charles’ essay needed to be more accessible.

FOREWORD
Charles Brasch and Rodney Kennedy have been acquiring pictures for many years so that now their collection is certainly the most extensive and carefully chosen in the Dominion. Like all private collections it exhibits the collectors' taste, but apart from this it is a matter of some gratification both to the artists and all those interested in the furtherance of serious art in New Zealand to find at least one collection which demonstrates both the judgement of its owners and the confidence they have in the painters of their own land. We are most grateful to Mr Brasch and Mr Kennedy for selecting the pictures and very generously lending them for this exhibition.

P. A. TOMORY
August 1958

INTRODUCTION
The first foreshadowings of what we may now venture to call the New Zealand imagination, although as yet we can only perceive it dimly, began to appear some thirty years ago. A century of European settlement had laid at least a foundation of history and experience in our small contained world; more than one generation had grown up accepting this foundation as their own, and thinking of life on these islands, poor though it might be in the amenities of civilization, as in no way unusual, but simply as life itself. On that foundation of the ordinary and everyday, New Zealanders at last began to build themselves a shelter for their as yet homeless imagination.

A country or a people does not properly exist until it has created its own imaginative world. Men need that world if they are to live fully and well in
the everyday world, for the everyday alone never satisfies them. They are impelled to seek, in the imagery of words, forms, colours, rhythms, a perfected
life more shapely and profound and intense than their outward daily lives, one in which they may discover recollections and prophecies, visions and fulfilments, of all that they think and feel and imagine, all that they hear and see, in those moments when their sense of life is at its deepest and keenest.

In the best New Zealand painting of today we may recognize some of the first works of imagination conceived in terms of the experience of life in New Zealand. They are not what we might have expected; but then works of imagination do not answer expectation — that is not their function; on the contrary, they habitually confound expectation; they are born to surprise and delight, to remake the common world instead of merely rehearsing it over and over again, to show us all we thought we knew in a wholly fresh light and with strange and moving significances; in short, to create, not to repeat.

The best contemporary painting (and literature, and music) is in fact creating New Zealand as a world of the imagination. This is a new development among us, which makes the present a particularly exciting and hopeful time to live in, because in these first stirrings of the native imagination an undiscovered world seems to be waking and opening before our eyes. In that world we may look for an expression of our spiritual identity as a people.

Earlier painting in New Zealand shows the country through the eyes of painters who saw the world as Europeans; their work forms what might be called our imaginative pre-history. Then come the painters who grew up in New Zealand yet painted like Europeans because they had been taught to approach painting as a European activity. It is only within the last thirty years or so that painters have taken for granted that painting is a New Zealand activity too, so that they interpret the world, literally everything they see, in New Zealand terms.

The pictures in this show include work of all three phases, but most of them belong to the last. They were not got together on a particular plan, with the idea of forming a collection; we bought such work as happened to come our way, and that interested us because it seemed to possess a certain imaginative quality; much of it was the work of our friends, which we were best able to follow. The show is thus in no way a representative one, and it includes no drawings; several of the best New Zealand painters of today (not to mention the past) are not represented in it, because we have not been lucky enough to come across good examples of their work.

Charles Brasch

It is useful to keep in mind what Charles Brasch wrote nearly eight years earlier about Colin McCahon’s landscapes of the immediate postwar years:

Their harshness, their frequent crudity, may seem shocking at first; but if we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that these qualities reflect with painful accuracy a rawness and harshness in New Zealand life which are too easily passed by or glossed over; a parallel may be found here with some of Frank Sargeson’s stories – and not his alone. There is a bitter and unpalatable truth in these paintings: they tell us something about ourselves which had not been made plain before.(Charles Brasch, ‘A note on the Work of Colin McCahon’, Landfall, volume 4, number 4, December 1950, page 338.)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Tangi – a poem by J. C. Sturm

With the terrible news of the tragedy at the West Coast, I wondered what words could be of comfort.

I telephoned John Baxter to ask if I could place here the poem Tangi written by his mother Jacquie Sturm. John kindly agreed and I am most grateful to him. Jacquie’s literary executor, Professor Paul Millar, generously allowed me to print this powerful poem in its entirety.

Tangi

Think of the many dead, you
Who would lie with your dead
In the whare nui
Beneath the kowhaiwhai
Before the tukutuku
Below the tupuna
Who watch over
All who lie here,
The living and the dead.

Think of him who lies
Beside you, separate now.
Mihi to him
He is lonely,
Tangi for him
He does not want to go.
Tangi for those
Who tangi for him.
Tangi with those
Who tangi for you.
Mihi and tangi
Will bind you,
Bind you together.

Remember your dead.
The very young
Taken so soon,
The strong axed down
In their pride,
The very old
Who simply slipped away.
Mihi to them
Tangi for them
Be bound with them.

Imagine those before
The ones before
The ones you knew.
Think and imagine:
How it was for them,
So it will be
The same for you.
Tangi for them
Tangi for you
Lie there, lie there
Bound with the living
And your dead.


J.C. STURM

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

digital.nz – 3

Thanks to everyone who responded so helpfully to my postings about data on digital.nz. Trailing through their responses, I wondered why there is so little material brought up about Toss Woollaston while there is a great deal more about other artists like Colin McCahon? It appears that not all of Toss's artwork in our public collections is being delivered yet to digital.nz portal.

Thinking about it further I realised that the data accuracy issue is always connected with what is visual versus with what is textual. Visual material always seems to bring up issues related to an image that are more associational. Consequently, more haphazard. For instance, Tilly Frankl is not associated with Toss Woollaston other than he had lessons with Robert Field at Dunedin, who was the sculptor of Tilly’s head in stone.

I undertook another search on digital.nz about Brian Brake (do not miss Athol McCredie's Brian Brake show!) and this brought up 3608 images, many of which are now in the care of Te Papa. Three of my favourite results from this search directed me again to some of the terrific films that Brian made for the New Zealand Film Unit. His personality and interests come through strongly in these short samples and I recommend them. You can see how Brian looks at people very clearly here:

http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/prelude-to-aspiring-1949

http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/snows-of-aorangi-1950

http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/the-snowline-is-their-boundary-1955

Incidentally, thanks to Art + Object, last weekend I joined a group tour of the house that Ron Sang designed for Brian Brake in Titirangi . Ron gave a moving account of how he came to design this home, which has to be one of the finest houses in New Zealand.

I was lucky enough to visit this miracle of a home many years ago while it still retained Brian's original furnishings and art. I have never forgotten that experience.

Ron commented on how he had to include a consideration of all of Brian’s furniture in his blueprint designs.

For two of Becky Nune’s images of the house’s later interior see this posting from Home New Zealand’s blog. It is not the original furniture, but you will see why this is one great example of Ron Sang’s astounding ability to relate interior to exterior.

http://homenewzealand.blogspot.com/2010/11/brian-brakes-book.html

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Family fun at the Big Day Art

The Gallery's annual Big Day Art was held at the weekend - and it was a roaring success! A total of 738 people poured into the NEW Gallery for a whole day of art-making, workshops, performances and family fun, making it our biggest Big Day Art event ever.

People took part in weaving workshops:
Drum lessons:
And made their own stick towers...
... after a workshop with artist Peter Madden (pictured with his work Necropolous from our current exhibition, Call Waiting)
They watched dance performances....
... listened to music by the Sri Chinmoy choir...
... and hung out with the presenters of Sticky TV, who were a big hit!
Our director Chris Saines says it was fantastic for the Gallery to be so "comprehensively family friendly" - and it sounds like the public agreed! We received so much positive feedback from visitors who enjoyed the atmosphere and the way the whole family could experience everything on offer.

Check out this pair - part of a group of four young adults who decided it'd been way too long since they'd had their faces painted. They even encouraged this guy to get made up as a girl panda, complete with bow!
Did you attend the Big Day Art? Let me know what you thought! And for anyone who missed out, remember we have KidsClub activities every weekend at the Gallery - more info here.

- Amy Williams

digitalnz - 2

Here is the link to a copyright photograph taken by Mel Hodgkinson on March 10 2007 at Government House in Wellington that has been loaded onto flickr.com

http://www.flickr.com/photos/domino_nz/417066925/

The photograph is credited at digitalnz as being an image related to Toss Woollaston, one of whose paintings is displayed on the rooms of this reception room.

It could just as easily be indexed as an image of numerous British royal family portraits displayed on the grand piano at Government House. In fact, the photographs are more recognisable as an image. To discover which Woollaston painting was on display at this official residence in 2007 would require cross-referencing with the Te Papa collection.

How one catalogues source data connected to documents and images always determines how they are electronically indexed. This was the point of my posting the inaccurate Auckland Museum documentation related to my father’s experience as a soldier in Italy. When wrong information is associated with images then it is not always simple to correct it.

Another search result from seeking “Toss Woollaston” at digitalnz brings up Robert Field’s Head of Tilly Frankl in this Gallery’s collection. It gives no reason for the association with Woollaston and only those in the know would realise that he had met her. Yet, how did this sculpture get placed within a “Toss Woollaston” search?

http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/the-collection/browse-artwork/5242/head-of-tilly-frankl

A surprising result is this - if you search digitalnz for Toss Woollaston you only get 98 results. This means that the majority of Woollaston artworks held in New Zealand’s museums are not yet appear to be indexed by digital.nz.

Correcting incorrect data means going back to the source institution and informing them of their error and requesting that the information be updated.

Monday, 22 November 2010

digitalnz and my Dad!


digitalnz is a portal to many museum collections that are online in New Zealand. I never expected to be not only informed but shocked when I consulted it recently and found a bit of information that is not only incorrect, it is also inaccurate. So, now I have to get the on-line information altered. That may not be easy so I will give a report back.

Here is what I looked at. I give both the Auckland Museum collection portal:
http://muse.aucklandmuseum.com/databases/Cenotaph/36710.detail
and the digitalnz portal:
http://search.digitalnz.org/nzetcsearchdigitalnz/search?search_text=brownson

This is the entry:
FULL NAME
Ronald Charles Brownson
FORENAME
Ronald Charles
SURNAME
Brownson

WAR
World War II, 1939-1945

SERIAL NO.
443580

FIRST KNOWN RANK
Private

OCCUPATION BEFORE ENLISTMENT
Butcher

NEXT OF KIN
Mrs E. Brownson (mother), 13 Mamie Street, Remuera, Auckland, New Zealand
MARITAL STATUS
Single

MILITARY DISTRICT
Auckland
EMBARKATION UNIT
Infantry Reinforcements
CAMPAIGNS
Italy
DESCRIPTION OF IMAGE
Cartoon/painting of Joe Glenn in Rome in September 1945. Shown lying under a wine cask drinking from the tap.
Cartoon/painting of Jo Glenn and Ronald Brownson. Both men shows holding onto posts, carrying wine and gin bottles, with red noses, saying to one another "Are you Joe", "Are you Ron'. These drawings may be with work of Ronald Brownson - to be confirmed.

What is wrong is this: Dad was not a butcher and he never drank gin!

Friday, 19 November 2010

An introduction and Call Waiting

I'm very excited to be making my first post here as the Auckland Art Gallery's online communications coordinator. I've spent my first week on the job making the rounds of all the AAG staff (so many faces and names to remember!), getting trained up and and covering screeds of paper with lists and plans and brainstorming.

I'll be looking after the Gallery's official website, the Whakamīharo Lindauer online site, this blog and our Facebook and Twitter accounts along with all sorts of other web-based projects - stay tuned for updates, and drop me a line if you've got any feedback!

It's an exciting time to be joining the Gallery, with the building redevelopment coming along in leaps and bounds and planning for the grand reopening exhibitions in full swing. Right now staff are putting the finishing touches on our next exhibition, titled Call Waiting: A celebration of the NEW Gallery 1995-2011. It's opening tomorrow and runs until May next year - make sure you get along to see it!

This is my favourite kind of exhibition: an eclectic, quirky collection of well-loved pieces with a couple of surprises thrown in. Curated by Alexa Johnston, Call Waiting takes us on a journey through the history of the NEW Gallery building and the exhibitions it's held to date.

Here are a couple of behind-the-scenes shots of the works being installed yesterday:

Works by Judy Darragh and Gretchen Albrecht are already up

The preparators and designers at work

Colourful tivaevae artworks

So much colour and texture!
Will you be coming along to see Call Waiting? Or do you have any requests for what kind of content you'd like to see more of on this blog? Share your thoughts in the comments - I look forward to hearing from you.

Photos by Jennifer French




Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The New Zealand Room 1

I am never asked why there are so few snapshot photographs of the interior of New Zealand’s domestic rooms from the years 1900 to 1910. There are some interior views but these were made by professional photographers. Amateur ones are scarce. The technology of the time just did not permit candid photography within interiors.

The most recent source for early photographs of New Zealand Rooms is Anna K.C.Peterson’s book New Zealanders at Home: A Cultural History of Domestic Interiors 1814-1914, University of Otago, and Dunedin 2001 [ISBN 1877276146]. In this book, Anna gives the most comprehensive overview yet produced of the ‘look’ of domestic life during this period.

During the years 1900-1910 there was an interesting practice of ‘house portraits’. You begin living in a new home, or you rent one, and then have it photographed. Sometimes the house portrait was made by a talented amateur or by a local studio photographer that offered on-site work.

If we look at 5 examples of these exterior house portraits we can see much about what it was like to live in the these houses. They were much darker inside than how we now live. The evidence is from their window treatments.

Firstly, we see from Anna’s research that New Zealanders in the years 1880-1920, preferred to keep the light levels in their homes very low. Windows other than lead-lights were never free of drapery. Often there could be four types of blind – rolled Holland or rattan blinds, fixed or flounced lace side-curtains, pairs of side drapes that were always 100% opaque and made with in either a plain weave or chintz pattern, the newly fashionable wooden Venetian blinds and, more rarely, folding Roman blinds.

Anna Petersen notes: “Curtains played a large part in helping to regulate the amount of light allowed into a room by day. Lace inner curtains over Venetian blinds gave…a dappled look, with the heavy outer curtains probably used at night to help retain the heat of an open fire.” (page 96).

Not everyone could afford a medley of curtain types over their windows and would mostly cope with two window treatments for their main windows, particularly for the parlour and bedroom.

Here are sample of five house portraits from 1900 to 1910.

The first has the ubiquitous brown rolling Holland blind surrounded by side curtains. The brown Holland blinds are drawn to the middle of the double-hung window frame, probably as a fashion, as all windows have their blinds positioned exactly at half-mast.

This worker’s cottage has the most modest blinds possible – furled lace curtains draped tightly across a wire only in the bottom half of the window.


With a more substantial family home, lace window treatments were preferred as they represented a greater sophistication than Holland blinds could provide. Here, they cover the entire window frame.

Country homes would sometimes be more elaborate as the inhabitants were often more wealthy than townspeople. This imposing villa has half-mast Holland blinds, lace side curtains and half curtains covering the Holland blinds drawn to the centre of the window frame. The Holland blind not only reduces daylight into the room by 50%, it presents much more privacy for evenings. They never had any thermal purpose.

Perhaps the most modest of all these houses is this one with its unpainted weatherboards. With the half-drawn Holland blinds on windows and exceptionally thick lace, this house would have been the darkest of all five examples here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Edward Weston

Unfortunately, this Gallery does not have an extensive, or even, representative collection of international photography. This results from the fact that until some decades ago international photography was not part of the gallery's acquisition policy. Prior to 1979, international photography was rarely ever shown.

Nevertheless, some interesting photographers work is held in the collection. I have written previously on artists like Florence Henri and Cecil Beaton. I thought you should see images of the four Edward Weston photographs we hold here. They are not vintage prints made by the artist but are posthumous prints made by his son, Cole Weston. Cole was as careful a photographic printer as his father, but these photographs do not have the same stature as prints created on vintage photographic paper by the artist himself.



Weston's print San Francisco has always intrigued me, it actually like it might have been a strangely cropped picture from the 19th century. Yet, this cropping which reveals that it could never have been from that period. The cropping further makes this picture fascinating to me. The combination of a 19th century barque, with its striking figurehead and the electric power poles is typical of Weston's surreal juxtapositions.


Hill and Telephone Poles has always been a favourite. It feels like a Grant Wood landscape made in the mid-West. Set amongst rolling hills, it has aged and rickety fences next to a bitumen road. It is hot and dry; a lonely place somewhere in middle America. Weston was one of America's most committed independent photographers between the World Wars. He was obsessed with telling stories about places by revealing a location's unique reality.

Weston believed that his approach to image-making was 100% objective. His large format camera and negative supported his own notion that he was securing evidence of the way things 'looked'. The fact is, Weston was not so neutral about his subjects. His photo-eye is filled with metaphorical parallels, vegetables represent sensual experience and simple landscapes propose complex Zen-like responses to nature's energy.


Iceberg Lake has all the ambiguity that I expect from a great Weston photograph. Almost prosaic, with no real centre to the image, this photograph breaks from its edges in the ways that an Arshile Gorky drawing does.


Cypress, Point Lobos comes from Weston's last period in an isolated area of California. The wind, sea, rocks and trees of that battered coastline become symbols of the war years. Chaos is everywhere and the landscape is shown to be suffering. Wilderness and wartime become disturbing parallels.

When art student Paul Armstrong first showed me reproductions of Edward Weston's photographs I had a priggish reaction. I thought they were so bland that they were almost inert. I 'saw' nothing evocative in them. How much my regard for Edward Weston has changed. He will never be angsty like Robert Frank or despairing like Diane Arbus, but he had one of America's searing eyes. His tendency to mix his life with his art makes him, for me, a somewhat romantic artist. Like a John Wayne with camera.

Captions:
San Francisco 1925 (printed later)
black and white photograph
1978/2/1

Hill and Telephone Poles 1937 (printed later)
black and white photograph
1978/2/4

Iceberg Lake 1937
black and white photograph
1978/2/3

Cypress, Point Lobos 1944 (printed later)
black and white photograph
1978/2/2

Friday, 12 November 2010

Taryn Simon’s Forensics of America

Taryn Simon is a camera artist that I admire with trepidation. Her work is challenging and it is brave. It is also disturbing for how it sees America. This is very serious photography at a high level of public ambition. One that is as much to be wary of, as it is to be admired. In a word: significant.

I am intrigued with the echoes operating out of Taryn Simon’s photo-essay An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. Not through any explicit dialect but via her Ultra-American twang. I enjoy Taryn’s visual affirmation of America’s ‘homeliness’. Her images share America’s story with images that we have never encountered before. Their carefully chosen titles determine how we react. Without the titles, we can overlook this artist’s intent.

Most of her photograph’s titles are seemingly banal. They infect us with an unknown America – Live HIV, Playboy – Braille Edition, Death Row Outdoor Recreational Facility, "The Cage". Taryn’s project is additive and it is also sequential. Any photograph from the series, American Index, comes across as evidence at some trial caused by the location. When juxtaposed with other images, they mix a lethal cocktail.

Here is an artist who disrupts how we comprehend America by revealing places we not only have never visited; we have never even imagined existed. She couples her forensic research with the allure of America. Her images render that nation as if it is seen through a perverse public mirror.

Taryn utilises extensive research for both the identification and background of her subjects. She works much like a Pinkerton detective, selecting subjects never encountered by the public. None of her images exist in a ‘to be expected’ category. Rather, they scare us with their take on ugliness. Does America actually look good here? No, but does a country’s ‘good looks’ really matter?

OK - I said this already but I must emphasise it again. Taryn’s project shows us what we have never seen. She does not want us to react to her images with a wimpy response but through our gut. The Index reports on the uncanny. There is a hook to these images, the titles capture one and force you into becoming an involuntary voyeur.

Robert Frank’s The Americans (1958) remains the greatest modern photo-essay about what being ‘American’ means. In this remarkable book, Roberts includes the essay which he commissioned from Jack Kerouac. Jack who later sent the photographer a card stating, “That photo you sent me of a guy looking over his cow on the Platte River is to me a photo of a man recognising his own mind’s existence, no matter what.”

Taryn Simon mirrors Robert Frank’s approach to the eerie, while she waits for America to reveal itself to us as filled with strange places. Her Index is an anatomy of America’s contemporary melancholy. It reports on the underknown. Oddity is as present in her images as it is in Poe’s tales of the mysteriously woebegone. With Index, an abject eye ponders what is disconsolate. Reality’s truths become plain creepy. Alienation walks away from the beautiful and cherishes the wretched.

Taryn’s art reminds me how pervasive our need is for cultural signposts. How to get to where we inhabit via signs pointing to the unseen, the unvisited, to places where we know nothing. We need signs to see where we are going in America. Yet, understanding signs is a separate matter. Secrecy is always close by in Taryn’s Index.

Taryn has an exceptional website:
http://www.tarynsimon.com/

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Andy Leleisi’uao and the McCahon House Trust


Andy Leleisi'uao has just completed his term as the 12th McCahon House Trust Artist in Residence. This residency has now established itself as one of the most significant artist mentoring programmes in New Zealand. It may well be our most important residency for visual artists.

As recent McCahon House artists Ava Seymour and Lisa Reihana have also proved, this residency has a record of bringing a group of supporters, based around the McCahon Trust, together to assist a contemporary artist to focus upon a new body of work.

In a report to the McCahon House Trust, Andy wrote, “I have always felt the profile of the McCahon House and selected artists challenges audience perspective and participation on multiple fronts. I hope I touched on some of these elements during my tenure... My interim at McCahon House was a wonderful experience punctuated with joy, purpose, satisfaction and duty.”

I attended the opening event at Whitespace where Deborah White had invited Terry Faleono, latterly of MAU, to perform in relation to the 18-part painting that Andy was showing a large segment from. All present new that they were experiencing an integration of Samoan art and dance.

Photograph of Terry Faleono: Courtesy of Whitespace

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Ben Cauchi

I have already secured two Ben Cauchi photographs for the Gallery’s collection. The Chartwell Trust have acquired three examples of his beguiling art. Looking at these images again, I realised I should invite Ben to comment on his work. Ben sensibly noted that artist’s statements have a “habit of becoming definitive.” So, these are not final words on his images, just some recent words to mix with mine.

Certain photographs remain within you long after they are seen before your eyes. Peter Ireland has alluded to this fact on a number of occasions in his telling writings about the image-driven impact that results from photography's presence.

For me, Ben’s images have an hypnagogic intensity – once seen, never forgotten. The quality I call wall power! They are gifts to place in one’s imaginative picture library. I look at Ben Cauchi’s Loaded Palm in this way. The photograph has a palpable and votive presence; it resonates just like sentences written by Samuel Beckett:

“Memories are killing. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.”
Samuel Beckett, The Expelled, 1946



One is offered the man’s palm not in a gesture of greeting but as visual evidence of a branding with text. Ethnic branding. Instead of pain, here is a tender declaration of the well-known word that carries so much meaning here in Aotearoa New Zealand – it is our word - PAKEHA.

I recall the first recorded written usage of Pakeha occurred in a letter written by William Hall to the Church Missionary Society on the 15 June 1814 -“They…expressed their joy by saying ‘Nuee nuee rangateeda pakeha – a very great Gentleman white man’.”

The sepia tone of Loaded Palm lets the work feel antique, like a visual relic from the 19th century. The photograph is imbued with another period by the hand being silhouetted against its seamless background. The hand’s action puts this hand's action in active conversation with the past.

Loaded Palm was one of a suite of 10 photographs I made shortly after deciding to leave tertiary study and attempt an existence doing what I wanted to do. I called the suite, none too subtlety, Building the Empire. It wasn’t just an exuberant attempt at positive visualisation; I was referring more specifically to various histories, both real and constructed, and trying to draw links between them. With this one, I was particularly interested in branded identity - both in terms of local historical traditions and also thinking of the well known Southworth and Hawes daguerreotype of a branded hand (something I revisited a few years later with a tintype called The Photographer's Hand). The left hand is significant as it afforded the right to print neatly.”
Ben Cauchi

Loaded Palm is doubly 'loaded' because of its dialogue with Southworth and Hawes sixth-plate daguerreotype of Captain Jonathan Walker’s branded hand of August 1845 (the hand is branded with SS, for ‘slave saviour’ or ‘slave steeler’ as Walker had helped 7 African American men to gain their ‘Life, Liberty and Happiness’). Ben's aspect of referencing a backstory, a parallel narrative, is what singles his work out for visual exchange. Loaded Palm is both a potent indictment and an affirmation, evidence and recognition. A palimpsest expressed by the action of an open hand.

Loose Canvas has an exquisite ambiguity. Are we looking at a miniature textile radiant with light? Or is it a larger weaving that is acting like a lamp, a veil of illumination. The canvas looks back lit, is this canvas hung against a window within a room shadowed by its own darkness? The canvas needs the surrounding murkiness to be what it is, a draped bright sentinel. Always the question remains, what is behind this light?

Light, as a subject and an effect, are always put to terrific use in Ben’s photographs. Never more eloquently than in Loose Canvas. Like the veil of Saint Veronica, this textile acts like a rectangular oriole and sacred nimbus. It reminds me of the meteorological effect known as the ‘occluded front’, where you are physically close to something but cannot ascertain the nature of its reality.

Loose Canvas is not about any one thing in particular – and more specifically, isn’t really about what it says it is. The object in the photograph has it’s own qualities, which is fine. Generally, though, what I am more interested in is how something works symbolically. With this one in particular, the main focus for me was Light as a subject in it’s own right. That and the lack of anything else.”
Ben Cauchi

It took me some years to find Ben’s Self-portrait. Not any self-portrait, as I have seen quite a few of them, but the one that had to be 'captured' for Auckland Art Gallery. The perfectly suited public instance of visual memory living on as a self-encounter. The Gallery has not collected many self-portraits and very few by artists who are living now.
I wanted one of Ben’s self-portrait’s that had the equivocation and enigma that I so admire in his images of himself. They appear to echo the compositional rules of a mug shot – close-up, somewhat confrontational, and physiognomic in their remit to record appearance before personality. Yet, there is plenty of personality in this self-portrait, because it is near to a meeting with the artist’s own doppelganger. Knowing the Self-portrait before I met the artist I surprised myself by not recognising Ben in real life. I thought "you are not your self portrait."
“In terms of the Self-portrait, it was one of two plates I made that day. I was in the middle of an 8-month residency in Whanganui. It was going well, although I think the temporary nature of that environment can play on one’s mind slightly (not that that's necessarily a bad thing). At the time, I was thinking of Salvator Rosa’s Self-portrait held in the National Gallery in London. I particularly like the inscription in the bottom corner of the painting Aut tace aut loquere meliora silentio which roughly translates as either be silent or speak better than silence, in other words, shut up or say something useful. It's a good motto. The sentiment eventually grew into this tintype Say nothing (2008), an alternative approach.”
Ben Cauchi

A Remnant, from 2009, shows, Ben tells me, "the cardboard base for a notepad." It seems old and fragmentary. A noble ruin in its most modest incarnation; here we encounter the remains of what has once been written on. As with all his photography, time pervades the image as if it is both weighted and weightless. This top-lit detritus has mysterious import. Why keep it other than to photograph it as cast-off residue? Of what?


The Way of All Things is suffused with what I call the melancholy of lost storage. My home is filled with such age, patina and sculptural presence which is always more important to me than mere function and daily practicality. Yet, these old cubbyholes have been useful to many people but have not seen any letters or messages for years. They wait like ‘saints and martyrs’, to gloss T.S. Eliot.
Ben’s point of view is always as potent as his presentation – here boxes self-repeat themselves within a box frame. It is a theatrical trope, as is much of his work, but this image is theatrical because it is not fabricated to be photographed, as some of his other photographs are. That old phrase "the dead letter" office comes to mind. Second from the left at top, one of these niches is inscribed with the number 34; none of the other units is numbered. What has have been the uses of cubbyhole 34?

I noted earlier the parallels I feel between Ben's photographs and the writings of Samuel Beckett. Sam is frequently misperceived as an absurdist but is, actually a realist infected with three interwoven creative strains, all of which are devoid of sentimentality: melancholy, nostalgia, memory.
It seems to me that Ben Cauchi’s wonderful images inhabit a parallel territory grasping life and bringing a mirror to its surface to declare imitatio vitae, speculum consuetudinis, imago veritatis. The drama within these images is a mirror of human behavior, an image of human truth.

Samuel Beckett put this visual affirmation of encounter another way, but it is equally convincing: “Enough. Sudden enough. Sudden all far. No move and sudden all far. All least. Three pins. One pinhole. In dimmost dim. Vasts apart. At bounds of boundless void. Whence no farther. Best worse no farther. Nohow less. Nohow worse. Nohow naught. Nohow on.”
Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho, 1983

Ben Cauchi makes photographs that I never ignore. They are already some of the key photographs made in Aotearoa.

Captions
Loaded Palm 2002-2006
gold toned printing out paper print
200 x 250mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
purchased 2006
2006/21/2

Loose Canvas 2007
tintype
240 x 200mm
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
purchased 2009
C2009/1/1

Self-portrait 2005
ambrotype
350 x 270mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
purchased 2006
2006/21/1

A Remnant 2009
wet collodion on acrylic
510 x 425mm
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
purchased 2010
C2010/1/29/2

The Way of All Things 2010
wet collodion on acrylic
274 x 360mm
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
purchased 2010
C2010/1/29/1