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



Para, karaka






Pūma, kerei



The Māori alphabet has the following letters:



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.

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

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’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.

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).



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:

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:



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


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:

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:

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:

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.

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

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

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!