Monday 29 August 2011

Woollaston's Wellington

Since blog posting two of Toss Woollaston’s paintings held at Auckland Art Gallery, I wondered how whether people are familiar with his 1937 Wellington landscape?

Rita Angus’ painting Cass of a year earlier gets attention for its lyrical image of backcountry hills and its honed realism but Woollaston’s Wellington is as fascinating. Maybe it is the mix of angular geometry and gritty shadow. The moodiness of Woollaston’s palette intrigues me. What other local painter was using rose-madder and puce-violet with a lapis-lazuli blue? I once talked with Toss about the colours that he used in Wellington and we laughed about anti-regionalist his view of inner city Wellington was. In a sense, Wellington is the opposite of Cass.

Toss Woollaston first described his recently completed painting in an issue of the magazine Art in New Zealand in the same year: 'That picture was a piece of almost spontaneous painting, and is not so much a likeness of Wellington as a symbol of my personal reaction to it. I must say I don't admire Wellington's domestic architecture, and as I looked over the scene I felt that I must express the actual chaos of Wellington's buildings by an almost abstract symbol of chaos.'

Woollaston had visited Wellington to meet publisher Harry Tombs and stayed with the painter Thomas McCormick at his Hill Street home. The view is from the house’s back window. Like Robert Field’s paintings of the same period, there is lots of blank space between the brushstrokes. Woollaston, like Cezanne, demarcates the blank space volumetrically. One’s eye imagines the spatial completion of each object.

When looking at Woollaston’s paintings from the 1930s and early 1940s it is important to remember that his work was among the most innovative New Zealand painting of the time. Up until the early 1970s, the physical scale of his work was modest. Nevertheless, it packs a graphic wallop.

Toss Woollaston (1910-1998)
Wellington 1937
oil on paper mounted on card
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
purchased 1960

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