Tuesday 19 October 2010

Miss Stella Adler

Stella Adler, the famous Yiddish New Yorker, was one of the most influential mentors of actors to ever work in America. She transformed acting in a way that was more influential and enduring than even Lee Strasberg. She was tough, tenacious, incisive and frank enough to put the theatre’s results before any consideration of her manners. She was a knowing player, as a stage performer she was braver even than the amazing Tallulah Bankhead. Stella was a trooper with no patience for either cant or cunning.

Terrifying as a teacher, she had no time for ordinary actors. She wanted to encounter the extraordinary at all times. I have studied a number of videotapes of her in master classes. If you survived a session with Stella, you were a survivor at the front line of danger.

Here are some of her statements. She had a PhD in one liners! In person, she was a fatally effective presence.

Don't criticise, recognize.

Acting, creating, interpreting, means total involvement; the totality of heart, mind, and spirit. Acting is the total development of a human being into the most he or she can be and in as many directions as you can possibly take.

Do you know what you did, sweetheart? You interrupted the whole scene with your one throw away line. That's very American of you.

There is a certain kind of excitement in the theatre -- Nobody's completely sane!

Take a chance children, you're not going to jail.

It's a drama. You're playing it like you're picking up a magazine in a beauty parlour.

You're acting the hell out of it. You're giving the performance of ten thousand actresses!

I was at a rehearsal once and an actor yawned -- The rehearsal was dismissed.

Listen where the ideas come, darling. Listen quickly, grab the ideas... Like the C.I.A. does.

Darling, the theatre is not as small as you want to make it

Do it! Don't talk about it.

When an actor meets another actor, he doesn't have to say, 'How do you do?,' he says, 'Oh, you're in the same trouble I'm in.’

Sweetheart, she's going to commit suicide in the next scene, and you want to powder your nose!

If tears were talent, then my Aunt Sadie has more talent than anybody in the world.

You have to make magic out of lines.

Leave the audience alone. If you want them, they won't want you. If you ignore them, they'll like you.

You're playing an actress that's pretending to be pretending to be whatever you're pretending to be.

You could be good if you gave up acting.

Naturally he is destructive, because the nature of art is to destroy you -- look at me. If I were an artist, I would be at least ten times more destroyed. I'm just a teacher...

The theatre doesn't permit all that inner psychological acting without an insane asylum being attached to it.

It's great! The arrogance of modern man, who says everything and knows nothing!

Cut out nine-hundred and ninety-nine percent and we'll still have you acting to much.

Louder! for God's sake, before we all die!

That's not acting! That's lunacy!

Take a chance children, you're not going to jail.

It's a drama. You're playing it like you're picking up a magazine in a beauty parlour.

You're acting the hell out of it. You're giving the performance of ten thousand actresses!

Listen where the ideas come, darling. Listen quickly, grab the ideas... Like the C.I.A. does.

Darling, the theatre is not as small as you want to make it.

Do it, Don't talk about it.

When an actor meets another actor, he doesn't have to say, 'How do you do?,' he says, 'Oh, you're in the same trouble I'm in'.

Sweetheart, she's going to commit suicide in the next scene, and you want to powder your nose!

If tears were talent, then my Aunt Sadie has more talent than anybody in the world.

You have to make magic out of lines.

Leave the audience alone. If you want them, they won't want you. If you ignore them, they'll like you.

You're playing an actress that's pretending to be pretending to be whatever you're pretending to be.

You could be good if you gave up acting.

Here is the eulogy written by Burt A. Folkart for the Los Angeles Times:
"Stella Adler was an icon of drama and a mentor to actors whom Marlon Brando once called 'not just a teacher of acting but of life'."

"Adler, a devotee of Konstantin Stanislavski, father of the dramatic concept called the Method, was among the last survivors of those few but significant experimental American theater groups that will continue to influence actors and playwrights into the next century and beyond."

"Although she had been on stage since she was 4, appearing in her parents' Yiddish theater productions in New York, she did not become prominent until the 1930s as a member of the Group Theater co-founded by Lee Strasberg.

Dominated by the Russian Stanislavski's emphasis on inspiration from within, the Depression-era experimental company attracted some of the finest dramatic talents of its day, and they in turn passed their experiences on to Brando, Robert De Niro, Lee J. Cobb, Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Geraldine Page and many more."

— Los Angeles Times 22 December 1992

To see Stella Adler in action see:

Yvan Rodic and The Sartorialist

Fashion and photography are inseparable. Just as sport and photography are utterly in accord. In fact, fashion could not even exist without photography working as both its marketing and research tool.

You might argue that fashion exists solely because of photography’s ability to present comparisons between how people utilise their attire as an expression of how they live their life. Photography proves that fashion is always in the ‘look’.

Ages ago, social demographers in the form of ‘cool hunters’ commented that fashion begins in the street rather than inside a Parisian sanctuary belonging to some famous couturier. Start looking at the photography of Yvan Rodic and you will immediately see that fashion has become very reactive to contemporary photo-reportage. By existing half way between documentary and fashion photography, Yvan’s images make personal style the key characteristic of contemporary costume.

Yvan’s blog is one of the most influential fashion blogs. It is well mannered so I expect that we will soon see more punk rampant (to quote Shakespeare’s take) visual alternatives. Nevertheless, this is a fashion essential:

Elle magazine published a feature on How to Become Hip in 15 Steps. The first step was “Have your photograph taken by Facehunter.”

As an online persona of Yvan Rodic, Facehunter is shifting how fashion is promoted by photography. He has recently published an edgy book:
Facehunter – Yvan Rodic, London, Thames and Hudson, 2010.

In America, Yvon’s discoveries has a parallel in the photographic work of

As the much-accessed blog of Scott Schuman, The Satorialist is equally streetwise. Scott notes: “I thought I could shoot people on the street the way designers looked at people, and get and give inspiration to lots of people in the process. My only strategy when I began The Satorialist was to try and shoot style in a way that I knew most designers hunted for inspiration.”

What started as an innovative and independent project, has now reached centre stage. Isn’t Satorialist such a rad word? Hardly used nowadays, most people would not know that it is actually focuses on the tailoring of men’s clothes.

Monday 18 October 2010

photography-now.com and upcoming exhibitions

caption: Anton Heyboer (1924-2005)
Marike March 1975
gelatin silver print, 40 x 30 cm
Collection Heyboer-Malomajo VOF

One of the most effective ways to keep in touch with what is happening anywhere with photography exhibitions is to subscribe to e-announcements from photography-now.com. They are always illustrated, they contain fascinating PR material back grounding the exhibit and inform you of the multiplicity of both project and venue. There are mail-outs virtually on a daily basis, sometimes a number of times a day.

Photography-now.com keeps me up to date:


A fascinating recent e-release notes the new show at The Hague Museum of Photography, Stadhouderslaan, 43. 2517 HV, Den Haag, The Netherlands.
You can contact the Fotomuseum den Haag and ask to be placed on their e-mail list by writing to: info@fmdh.nl

Their website is: http://www.fotomuseumdenhaag.nl/

Their new exhibition, The Tireless Epic, profiles the work of Gerard Fieret, Miroslav Tichý, Anton Heyboer and is on show from 2 October 2010 until 9 January 2011. It is one of the most innovative photography shows this year in The Netherlands because it is really puts the spot light on 3 fascinating artists whose photographs are not as well known as they should be.

Here is the text of the fotomuseum's press-release for their exhibition:
“Their personal universe and love of women were the starting points for an incessant stream of images showing the world as they saw it. All three were trained artists but entirely self-taught as photographers. This autumn, the Hague Museum of Photography is showing the work of a trio of eccentrics regarded by the photographic world as ‘outsiders’: Dutchmen Gerard Petrus Fieret and Anton Heyboer plus Czech artist Miroslav Tichý. The three are linked not only by their chosen themes, but also by an obstinately idiosyncratic way of life. This exhibition brings their highly singular worlds together. Its title, The Tireless Epic, comes from a poem written by Fieret.”

“Gerard Petrus Fieret (1924-2009) studied drawing and painting at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in The Hague immediately before and after the Second World War. From the mid-60s through to about 1980, however, he devoted his energies mainly to photography, a medium that enabled him to show off all his creative talents. Over that period he produced a constant and well-nigh obsessive stream of black and white photographs. He snapped whatever he saw around him: himself, girls, children, animals and street scenes. And women, lots of women. He photographed them during casual encounters, frequently catching them in uninhibited, intimate poses which give the pictures a slightly voyeuristic feel.”

“The work of Miroslav Tichý (b. 1926) is regarded as one of the most interesting photographic discoveries of the last decade. In the brave new world of digital photography, Tichý’s mysterious oeuvre – consisting of blurred photographs of women taken at a distance, sometimes surreptitiously, using ramshackle home-made cameras – is regarded as the last, magnificent death throe of the age of analogue photography, which dated right back to 1839. Although Tichý has not set foot outside his home town of Kyjov (Moravia) for the last half century, recent years have seen major retrospectives of his work at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the ICP in New York.”
caption: Miroslav Tichý (1926)
MT 1-30 undated
gelatin silver print, 15 x 19 cm
Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean

“Anton Heyboer (1924-2005) is better known for his paintings and unconventional commune-based lifestyle than for his photography. Following the horrors of the Second World War, he resolved to turn his back on society. He established a commune, where he lived entirely according to his own rules, achieving a highly productive artistic life with the support of his four ‘wives’. This exhibition focuses on the black and white photographs taken by Heyboer in the 1970s to document his day-to-day life at the commune in Den Ilp, where he lived until his dying day.”

“The exhibition will include photographs, negatives, cameras and sculptures, as well as continuous showings of three documentary films: Photo & Copyright by G.P. Fieret (Frank van den Engel, 2009), Miroslav Tichý: Tarzan Retired (Roman Buxbaum, 2008) and Anton Heyboer: in kleur bij God thuis (Frank Wiering, 1974).”

“Two publications accompany this exhibition; a bilingual exhibition catalogue, The Tireless Epic, with texts by Wim van Sinderen, Ianthe Bato, Myrte Langevoord and Yonit Aronowitz (English/Dutch, €32,50), and Foto & Copyright by G.P. Fieret Vol. 2, a trilingual publication with an introduction by Wim van Sinderen (English/Dutch/French, €25).”

Congratulations to The Hague Museum of Photography for organising what is going to be an amazing exhibition!

caption: Gerard P. Fieret (1924-2009)
Untitled 1965-1975
gelatin silver print, 18 x 24 cm
Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
courtesy the Estate of Gerard P. Fieret

Friday 15 October 2010

Walters Prize 2010 Gala dinner

At the Walters Prize 2010 gala dinner on Friday 8 October the International judge, former Tate Modern director Vicente Todolí awarded the prize to Dan Arps for his installation 'Explaining Things'. A warm congratulations to all the 2010 finalists: Dan Arps, Fiona Connor, Saskia Leek and Alex Monteith.
                                                                     Chris Saines

                                                         Miriamo Kamo

                                                                                    Vicente Todoli

                                                                          Amanda and Chris Saines

                                                                       Dame Jenny Gibbs, Dan Arps

                                                                                       Dan Arps

                                                                       Dan Arps and Kristen Carlin

                                     Vicente Todoli, Erika Congreve, Dan Arps, Dame Jenny Gibbs

                                                Erika Congreve, Dan Arps, Dame Jenny Gibbs

                                          Dan Arps, Fiona Connor, Vicente Todoli, Saskia Leek

                                                      Alex Monteith, Chris Saines, Saskia Leek

                                                                   Robin Congreve, Dayle Mace

 Robin Congreve, Dayle Mace, Dame Jenny Gibbs, Vicente Todoli, Erika Congreve,
Chris Mace, Amanda Saines, Chris Saines, Miriamo Kamo

       Dr Francis Pound, Sue Crockford, Dame Jenny Gibbs,
   Robin Congreve, Jenny Harper, Erika Congreve

                                                Sarah Munro, Alex Monteith, Jill Keystone

                                                 Caroline Vercoe, Erin Griffey, Sue Gardiner

                                                             Linda Tyler, Hamish Coney

                                                     Miriamo Kamo, Prof Jonathan Mane-Wheoki

                                                                        Dan Arps, Fiona Connor, Jim Barr

                               Photography by Geoffrey Heath

Thursday 14 October 2010

Brian Brake – Lens on the World

In one week, the Brian Brake exhibition opens at Te Papa. I am looking forward to seeing this first monographic show of our most internationally renowned photographer.

Brian began his career working with Spencer Digby at Wellington. It was in this portrait studio that he learnt how to visually understand the amount of light falling on something. Ever after, he never seemed to need a light meter.

Going on to work at the National Film Unit was a shift in direction for Brian where he made some very interesting documentary films. Some are included in the Te Papa exhibition.

Brian had an easy eye for photographic composition that broke out of the more conservative Camera Club mould. The fact that he got on well with people he did not know and that he also had a genial manner made his candid portraiture easy to achieve.

I have read the associated publication. It has some terrific essays with wonderful new research. Congratulations to editor Athol McCredie and his Te Papa team. This is, finally, the book that the late Brian Brake deserves.

Check out the excellent website:

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s words

One of the most surprising survey exhibitions that I have ever encountered profiled the artworks of Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

Born in Cuba in 1957, he moved to Madrid for 3 months in 1970 and then relocated to Puerto Rico where he stayed with his aunt and uncle. In 1979, Felix gained a fellowship from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and in the following year attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. After graduating from Pratt he met his life partner, Ross Laycock.

Between 1987 and 1995, Felix created artwork that continues to be tactical, motivating and amongst the most fluent art from that generation. There is an intense questioning of melancholy in Felix’s work.

Felix’s comments about his art process are revelatory:
“Perhaps between public and private, between personal and social, between fear and loss and the joy of loving, of growing, changing, of always becoming more, of losing oneself slowly and then being replenished all over again from scratch. I need the viewer, I need the public interaction. Without a public these works are nothing, nothing. I need the public to complete the work.”

“Someone’s agenda has been enacted to define ‘public’ and ‘private.’ We’re really talking about private property because there is no private space anymore. Our intimate desires, fantasies, dreams are rules and intercepted by the public sphere.”

“Described in spatial terms, this narrative takes the form of a continuous journey in which one travels away from the self-as-referent to the social-as-mirror and back again.”

“As with all artistic practices… [my work] is related to the act of leaving one place for another, one which proves perhaps better than the first.”

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Lucien Freud's words

Whenever I encounter an exhibition of Lucien Freud's paintings - and I have been fortunate is doing this twice - I am overwhelmed by his ability to make paint into living flesh. Like alchemy, he takes paint to a place where it doesn't just reflect life, it feels as is it is living right there before your eyes.

Freud has never said much publicly, unlike his late friend Francis Bacon who loved to both talk and shock. He is a modest man who prefers to make his statements with images rather than words.

During the 1980s, Lucien Freud made a large quantity of etchings and these reiterate the purpose of his paintings: to render flesh. In the etchings he does this with hatching and cross-hatching. As in the paintings, it feels as if we are looking at breathing flesh.

In the marvellous Museum of Modern Art catalogue, Lucien Freud's Etchings, (New York, 2008) curator S. Figura quotes Lucien Freud on page 26:

"I'm really interested in people as animals. Part of liking to work from them naked is for that reason. Because I can see more; also it's very exciting to see the forms repeating right through the body and often in the head as well. I like people to look as natural and as physically at ease as animals..."

Monday 11 October 2010

Dan Arps – Walters Prize 2010 awardee

The Walters Prize 2010 has been awarded to Dan Arps for his installation Explaining Things.
At the Walters Prize 2010 gala dinner on Friday 8 October the International judge, former Tate Modern director Vicente Todolí, said that he wanted to acknowledge each of the four artists; as their artwork was of an exceptional merit.

Vicente then described what he admired about each project. Here is what he said about each of the artists’ work:

Alex Monteith
“For what could be described as a hyper-real road movie
as well as a tightrope walking performance.
In her twin video projection,
Alex presents an amazing choreography
between two huge engined centaurs -
as they interpret their geometricised dance
to the music of horsepower.”

Dan Arps

“For the transformative power of this artist’s vision -
Dan’s alchemical display
involves all our senses.
Reversing Jules Verne’s story
Around the World in 80 Days
we could say that his installation
takes us on a metaphorical trip
around the day in eighty worlds.”

Fiona Connor

“For the dialectical transference and occupation
of gallery space.
Through the use of meta-spatial trompe l’œil
her sculpture both rejects us and attracts us
as spectators in what constitutes a comment
on the ambivalent relationships between the artist
and the art world.
In Fiona’s case, what you see
is not what you get.”

Saskia Leek

“For turning the heroics of the modern avant garde
into a very intimate and contemporary painting exercise
where the structure of colour
becomes a threshold between
four intersecting worlds -
the abstract and the figurative
the real and the imagined.”

In awarding the Walters Prize 2010 to Dan Arps for his installation Explaining Things, Vicente Todolí stated:

“I have awarded this prize to Dan Arps because he has created a total work of art in the Wagnerian sense of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’. His work is a development of a concept first created by James Joyce in Ulysses, which is the epiphany of everyday life.

This idea was highly influential on Duchamp, when he developed the concept of the ‘Readymade’, and was transmitted into the present through movements like Fluxus and Pop.

In this case, it would be the epiphany of the humble and the rejected. The artist has transformed these found materials through his own editing and his process of amelioration and has taken them into another, higher realm.

Through this process, Dan Arps has turned his installation into an alchemical chamber. He incorporates such a diversity of art disciplines in the treatment of such dissimilar elements, which results in the creation of a conglomerate where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. Each of them radiates into the empty spaces between them, turning Explaining Things into a revelatory multi-layered experience.”

On behalf of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, I warmly congratulate Dan Arps for his outstanding contribution to the Walters Prize 2010.

Yesterday, in our conversation, Dan said how much he was looking forward to his next exhibition projects. We all wish Dan every success in the future. An exceptional artist with a tremendous talent!

Tuesday 5 October 2010

E.H. McCormick

E.H. McCormick never let his books be authored by a simply phrased Eric McCormick. It wasn't because he was either shy or formal, he just was E.H.McCormick to his public.

Arguably our first professional art historian, it is E.H.McCormick that the Gallery's Research Library is named after. Not just for our own respecting of him. Eric ensured that research would continue its work here through a bequest which he especially dedicated to the Library.

Eric was himself a bibliophile and bibliomaniac. He adored libraries and their contents. He wrote the best biography of one of New Zealand's most committed bibliophiles and bibliomaniacs - Alexander Turnbull. His 1974 biography is one the most revealing accounts of a New Zealand book collector. Donald Kerr's stirring biography of Sir George Grey's massive book collecting is another treasure about a person entirely obsessed with books and book collecting.

Here are the details:
E.H McCormick, Alexander Turnbull - His Life, His Circle, His Collections, Wellington, The Alexander Turnbull Library, 1974.

Donald Kerr, Sir George Grey, Colonial Bookman and Collector, Dunedin, Otago University Press, 2006.

I thought you should have a sample of Eric's writing as it says a lot about how much of a stylist he was with English.

On page 9 of Alexander Turnbull - His Life, His Circle, His Collections we encounter a stirring account of Alexander's parents:
"Citing a colonial proverb, 'Single men may succeed, married men must. Hursthouse strongly urged any bachelor emigrant to 'pause at the eleventh hour ... and add to his outfit 'a wife'. Walter Turnbull had no need to consult this oracle for advice that was universally prescribed nor did he postpone matrimony until quite the eleventh hour; on 29 April 1857, nearly three months before taking ship, he married Alexandra Horsburgh at Tweed Green, Peebles. Both groom and and bride were past the age of impetuous youth (he thirty-four, she twenty-nine), but there are no grounds for assuming that theirs was a calculated union of convenience. Moreover, if Walter's testimony is to be accepted, marriage led to emigration rather than the reverse."

Marti Friedlander
E.H.McCormick 1976
Black and white photograph
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki,
gift of the Auckland City Libraries, 1998

Friday 1 October 2010

Please ignore my Latin

At their invitation, I prepared A Primer for Artists for the 2004 Prospect exhibition at City Gallery, Wellington. It seemed, at that time, that I had offered a fusty, old-fashioned report from some out-of-print Latin phrase book.

Now, I am not so sure I was either delinquent or off kilter.

The primer now looks more wily, having lived 6 years on the City Gallery's website.

Did I write it as irony or accuracy?
It is certainly quirky.
A curator writing a text half in Latin and half in English.
Provocative perhaps, presumption probably.
Not my words, all famous old Latin dictums.

I had imagined what could happen if life drawing was re-introduced as compulsory practice at a contemporary art school?

Would life drawing be regarded as abuse not of the model but of the student?

Would we encounter a revolt as committed as what erupted spontaneously in Lindsay Anderson's movie If?

Latin has become, to conversation and writing, what life drawing is to current art tuition. It does not occur exist except in a few instances.

Latin is dead, I am told.
Do not quote it.
Do not refer to it.
Do not allude to it.
Do not say that the word photograph is connected with pictura or imago.
Forget it!
Some say: Latin is for losers.

I wanted A Primer for Artists to become a sequence of motivational phrases.

It reminded me of the 19th century, when some New Zealand schools had their own Latin mottoes.

One of the most interesting Latin mottoes still remains at the entrance of Auckland Grammar School. Their website says that not only do they retain their motto, they have freshly translated it for our present world to learn from:

"The school's motto, 'Per Angusta ad Augusta' (Through narrows/difficulties (Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary) to hallowed heights), is shared by some other grammar schools in Auckland. In recent times Auckland Grammar has used the translation Through difficulties to greatness (a much better translation)."

So, at risk of reminding you that I won't always write here in English, I republish this little sequence of mottoes.

What got me started was my fury at Robin Williams, in his role as an actor in The Dead Poet's Society, informing his students that carpe diem was an invocation for "seize the day".

I detest that translation.

Carpe diem
is like contemporary art - it must pluck the day.

A Primer for Artists

ab initiofrom the beginning

bona fidesgood faith

cacoethes scribendi
incurable passion for writing

camera obscuradark room

carpe diempluck the day

de gustibus non est disputandum
there is no disputing about tastes

de novo
from scratch, afresh

de re
about the thing

erratuman error

et alii
and others

ex nihilioout of nothing

felix culpahappy fault

ferae naturae
of wild nature

genius locigenius of place

hors concours
out of the competition


ignotum per ignotiusthe unknown by means of the more unknown

in camerain the room

in extensoat full length, in full

jus soli
law of the soil, the principle of a person's nationality

lapsus linguaeslip of the tongue

meum et tuummine and yours

mutatis mutandiswith the necessary changes made

natura naturans
nature naturing

nulli secundus
second to none


here, there, everywhere

quaereseek, ask, enquire

res ipsa loquitur
the thing speaks for itself

I shall rise again

saeva indignatiothe burning passionate anger that fires the artist

sensu lato
in the broad sense

summun pulchrumterrific beauty

suppressio veri
suppression of the truth

tempora mutantur
times change

terra incognita
unknown land

ultra viresbeyond strength

urbi et orbito the city and the world

vi et armasby force and arms


vox populi
voice of the people

Great New Zealand essays

I once shocked a colleague by using the word 'autochthonous' in a lecture I was presenting on snapshot photography. I was thinking of the way that local art writing frequently uses words in relation to visual art and wondered was this being reflected in our tuition of art history?

I have banned myself from saying autochthonous in public because it is just too arcane a word to convey meaning directly. It is like a swear word delivered from a position of vocabulary assurance. This was not always the case and I was reminded of it again when I read yesterday's posting from Wordnik: http://www.wordnik.com/word-of-the-day

They posted the word: remanence. I doubt whether that word will be spoken or written by anyone in New Zealand today (except by me, of course). Here is Wordnik's commentary:

(noun) The state or quality of being remanent; continuance; permanence.
(noun) That which remains; a residuum.
(noun) Residual magnetism; the flux density remaining in a magnetic circuit after the magnetizing force has ceased.

'Remanence' comes from the Latin 'remanere,' to remain.

Example: "Neither St. Augustine nor Calvin denied the remanence of the will in the fallen spirit; but they, and Luther as well as they, objected to the flattering epithet 'free' will."
- The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, by Henry Nelson Coleridge

So, I won't employ remanence in any public talk either but I can see potential in 'residual magnetism', which is a bit like experiencing the negative capability of a reputation refit.

Yet, the point of this posting is to alert you to two great New Zealand essays. I think I might even prepare an on-going list (which would definitely have an essay by Wystan Curnow included, he is a superb essayist).

One of the most incisive New Zealand essays is Bill Pearson's Fretful Sleepers - A Sketch of New Zealand Behaviour and its Implications for the Artist.

Public Address, in their impressive way of reminding us of our cultural genealogy, have given homage to this brilliant essay and it is worthwhile accessing the essay on-line as the original 1952 issue of Landfall is not easy to access, neither is Bill's own book of collected essays:
(I acknowledge the generosity of Dr Donald Stenhouse in kindly permitting me to cross-post Public Addresses' work).

Another impressive New Zealand essay was written by the late Ruth Ross, one of our most important historians. Included in The Feel of truth : essays in New Zealand and Pacific history / presented to F. L. W. Wood and J. C. Beaglehole on the occasion of their retirement ; edited by Peter Munz, Wellington, 1969. There it is: The autochthonous New Zealand soil by R.M. Ross.

As well as having the most unexpected title of any local essay you are ever likely to come across, it is gripping reading. R.M. Ross was Ruth Ross, and previously Ruth Miriam Burnard and Ruth Miriam Guscott. Ruth was, arguably, the most maverick and talented pupil of John Beaglehole. She had an obsession with original documents and the influence of her historical methodology is evident on New Zealand's history books.

She was the mother of the late Malcolm Ross, written about so eloquently by Douglas Wright. When I was a student Ruth interviewed me to ascertain whether I could be a suitable friend of Malcolm's. She said to Malcolm "he's a serious one".

Here is a link to the on-line access to Ruth's essay:


I include the first paragraph from Ruth's essay. You will see she is a total stylist that incorporates scholarship and autobiography in the one sentence:

"You could hardly be closer to the original authochthonous New Zealand soil, you ought to be very happy, wrote J.C.B shortly after we went north to Hokianga. It was a dig at my reaction to his New Zealand Scholar. It added to my vocabulary, and it prompts me now to reminisce a little about the bank of the creek at Waiwhao."