Friday 30 September 2011

Colin McCahon

I have read Martin Edmond’s recent book Dark Night: Walking with McCahon again. It is an impressive book for two reasons – it is wonderfully personal and almost autobiographical in its take on McCahon’s life and work. It also reads like a parable paralleling the Stations of the Cross as a subject that McCahon thought much about over decades.

McCahon’s own voice is included and the selection of his comments affirms that he could really express his vision with words. You know that saying of his from 1972: I will need words. If you ever get to hear a recording of McCahon speaking you immediately understand that he was uber-articulate.

I reproduce the cover of Martin’s book because it includes a previously unknown image by Marti Friedlander of Colin’s studio. It is a portrait of the artist in absentia.

Dark Night: Walking with McCahon happened because of support from the Australia Council. Thanks to them for assisting a New Zealand writer to write about an artist who has one of their finest works in the National Gallery of Australia as a gift from the people of New Zealand: Victory over Death.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

A Sculpture Plinth

In the week before our opening we wanted to get people excited about the Gallery and the concept of seeing art in everything. So we placed an intriguing piece of furniture near the Viaduct Events Centre in the new Wynyard Quarter development by the waterfront - A SCULPTURE PLINTH.

With a photographer on hand and some guides to get the plinth party started, we turned passers-by into living works of art.

Here's just a small selection from the hundreds of shots we took - we had little people...

...bikes... people...
...(of all sizes)...
...sporty types...
... and our photographer even crept out from behind the camera to strike a pose.

The plinth was the perfect place for leaping...
...even fancier balancing... inevitable bout of planking...
or just a cosy kiss.
And you know what? All of this was ART. (Do you see it?)
Makes you ponder, doesn't it?

You can see all the images on the Gallery's Flickr page. The plinth is currently stationed on the Gallery forecourt where you're welcome to take your own photos - if you'd like to share them with us, you can email them to and we'll upload them.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Fashion in Motion - A Photo Essay

Through form and colour, the garments of AUT fashion designers engaged with our art collection in Toi Aotearoa, transforming the space into a catwalk on our opening day.

While photographing the event, it reminded me of something I read for my dissertation; where perhaps in the indiscernible boundary of image, body and space, those in situ of the pictures before it is a body yielding to the impulse of space; passing the image where it “… becomes a stain, it becomes a picture, it is inscribed in the picture (Lacan 97). ”

- Many Zhu

Dennis Turner

27 September 1924 – 6 August 2011

I invited Richard Wolfe to contribute a eulogy for Dennis Turner for the Gallery’s blog. Dennis’s painting Main Street 1939-45 is currently on exhibition.
Ron Brownson

 “Wanganui-born artist and illustrator Dennis Turner recently died in London. His drawing ability was apparent at a young age, and a lifelong interest in Maori art began when he visited the homes of school friends at Wanganui’s Putiki Pa. By 1942 Turner had moved to Wellington and met photographer Tom Hutchins (later photography lecturer at the Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland), who introduced him to artists Gordon Walters and Theo Schoon. All three had a profound effect on the young Turner, and shared his interest in non-European art. Schoon was about to investigate early Maori rock art sites in the South Island, and his records would inspire Turner’s own ‘Oceanic’ images. When first exhibited in 1951 these were described as ‘the link between the past and future that New Zealand painting has been needing.’

In 1942, the 18-year-old Turner became liable for military service. As a conscientious objector, he attempted to evade the call-up by changing his middle name from Keith to Knight, which he used as his signature. An abhorrence of war was expressed in his chilling image of dead bodies piled up in a blitzed cityscape, Main Street 1939-45. This painting is included in one of the opening exhibitions in the refurbished Auckland Art Gallery, which may be the first time it has been seen publicly for 63 years, since Turner’s first one-man show at the Auckland Society of Arts in 1948.

Turner was adept at capturing a quick likeness, and produced a large number of portraits. Among these were members of Auckland’s artistic community; writers R.A.K. Mason, Frank Sargeson and D’Arcy Cresswell, cultural historian Eric McCormick, architect Vernon Brown, photographer Clifton Firth and fellow painter Keith Patterson. Turner also provided illustrations for a wide range of publications, and in 1951 his mural for a Karangahape Road motorcycle shop became a cause célèbre. The artist fell victim to the draconian laws of the day, and he was prosecuted for working in public view on a Sunday.

Around 1952 Turner left Auckland to work as a guide at the Waitomo Caves. Whilst there he met Ray Richards, of publishers A.H. & A.W. Reed, who later approached him to illustrate James McNeish’s book on pubs, Tavern in the Town (1957). This was the first of many such commissions, which included the first four novels by Barry Crump. Turner’s mastery of the medium and ability to capture human emotions and activities was also showcased in The Bodgie (1958) and the landmark Tangi (1963), an unprecedented sequence of images without text.

At Waitomo Turner painted his first landscapes. He avoided the picturesque for the otherwise overlooked New Zealand, of gorse, cabbage trees, burnt hills and cream cans. By 1956 he had returned north and was about to be labeled ‘Auckland’s most versatile artist’. In all he had some 25 one-man shows, and was included in six group and survey exhibitions at the Auckland Art Gallery. One of those was ‘New Zealand Caves’, a three-person show in 1959 that also included his old friend Theo Schoon. In 1962 Turner offered another rural perspective with his Sheep and Shearers series, followed by Hone Heke attacking the flagpole at Kororareka in 1845. Then, disappointed at the lack of response to his 1963 Landscape Heads exhibition, he sailed for England. However, the London scene had now been overtaken by the arrival of Pop Art. Unable to interest dealer galleries in his paintings, Turner resorted to commercial work to earn a living.

Turner felt New Zealand did not appreciate its artists, and made what Kevin Ireland described as ‘quite a noisy exit’ from the country. He only came back once, in 1992, for the Tylee Cottage residency administered by the Sarjeant Gallery in his home town of Wanganui. Whilst there he continued his engagement with Maori art and exhibited his Tiki series, which were met with accusations of cultural appropriation. Nevertheless, Turner’s search for universal symbolism continued, leading to what would be his final series, the Signs. In 1992 he was also included in two major survey exhibitions; the touring Headlands: Thinking Through New Zealand Art, and the Auckland Art Gallery’s 1950s Show.

Against all odds, the indefatigable and self-taught Dennis Turner was determined to make a living as a serious painter in New Zealand. In the process he produced a large number of original and insightful images into the national character, his subjects ranging from dying tree ferns and milk bar cowboys to black-singleted shearers and a renegade Ngapuhi chief.”

Richard Wolfe

Dennis Turner (1924 - 2011)
Main Street 1939-45 1945oil on board
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki
gift of George Fraser, 1970

William Mansill
Dennis Turner c1951
gelatin silver print
E.H. McCormick Research Library
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

Dennis Turner
Cover art for The Bodgie (1958) and A Good Keen Man (1960)

Saturday 10 September 2011

Our team’s name – The All Blacks

The genesis of the name “All Blacks” is revelatory. According to Professor Harry Orsman’s Dictionary of New Zealand English – A Dictionary of New Zealandisms on Historical Principles (Auckland, Oxford University Press 1999), the name “All Blacks” first appeared at the time of the New Zealand Representative Rugby Union team’s tour of England and Wales in 1905-1906.

Richard John Seddon had organised with the Daily Mail newspaper for J.A. Buttery to accompany the team and present regular news columns on their games. After the rugby game with the Hartlepool Club on 11 October 1905, Buttery reported that the New Zealand team had played as if they were ‘all backs’.

After the Northumberland match on 14 October and the Gloucester City Club game on 19 October the team travelled to Taunton to play against Somerset County on 21 October. The entire town was plastered with posters welcoming the ‘All Blacks’.

Buttery asked how this had occurred and learnt that the managers of the team had requested that the printer insert the letter “l” in “Backs”. The name caught on immediately and the team was subsequently known as the “All Blacks”.

The South Wales Echo recorded on 16 December 1905 that “Suddenly the manscape sways…and at 2.20 the New Zealanders appear – the All Blacks…They wear black jerseys, black pants, black stockings, and black boots. They have, however, white faces and white hands.”

Incidentally, prior to the 1905 tour of England and Wales our team was called (the) Colonials or Maorilanders or the New Zealand Representative Team.

The 1905-1906 All Blacks were: D. Gallaher (Capt.), J. W. Stead (Vice Capt.), G Gillett, S Casey, D. McGregor, A. McDonald, F. Roberts, E.T. Harper, J. O'Sullivan, C. Seeling, R. G. Deans, W. Johnstone, G. H. W. Nicholson, J. Corbett, W. Cunningham, F. Newton, H. L. Abbott, W. G. Wallace, G. W. Tyler, W. Mackrell, F. Glasgow, W. S. Glenn , J. Hunter, H. J. Mynott, G. W. Smith, E. E. Booth, H. D. Thomson, J. Duncan (coach), G. H. Dixon (Manager),

Friday 9 September 2011

There are thousands of sites offering information about international arts activity on a daily basis. One of the most varied and cross-media is

I subscribe and they deliver a news summary every morning. There is frequently great photographs such as this image by Vincent Yu of a 13th century Nepalese gilt copper figure of Tara on show at Sothebys in Hong Kong. The coverage of Asian art - both historical and contemporary is exceptional. Recommended.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Raymond McIntyre and Phyllis Constance Cavendish

A renowned collaboration between a New Zealand artist and model occurred in London’s Cheyne Walk studio of Raymond McIntyre between 1912 and 1914. Born in Christchurch in 1879, he was one Petrus van der Velden’s most talented pupils. McIntyre felt Canterbury constricted his vocation. Arriving in England during February 1909, he never returned. He soon became a pupil of London painters William Nicholson, George Lambert and Walter Richard Sickert.

McIntyre met 22-year actor Phyllis Constance Cavendish and she became the subject for over a dozen portraits in oil and watercolour. Writing to his father on 4/5/6 December 1912, he states, “I did the best work I have ever done so far, from her. I like to go outside the usual run of professional models, of which there are hundreds and hundreds in London – and get people of more normal type and who do not live in the atmosphere of studios all the time. It is more interesting to have a breath of the outside world come along with different interests and information to impart. These stage folk who I have had are very helpful to me in that way….”

From Bassano’s photographic portraits of Phyllis Cavendish, it is clear that her head’s bone structure, long neck, full lips, dark eyebrows, wavy hair, and small defined nose are all conveyed in Raymond McIntyre’s portraits. The Gallery has three fine portraits of Miss Cavendish. They have never been reproduced with Bassano’s 1913 portraits before. I am grateful to the National Portrait Gallery in London for access to these fine portraits. I would hope that they now add the date that I have discovered for the portraits to their own website. I cannot find any evidence of someone currently doing any work in Britain at present on Raymond McIntyre or Phyllis Constance Cavendish . What a beautiful woman.

Raymond McIntyre
Woman in a broad-brimmed hat c1914

Lizette c1913
oil on board

Felice c1913
oil on board

Phyllis Constance Cavendish c1913
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London
X1010308 and X101309

Thursday 1 September 2011

A Gallery blessing

This morning I was privileged to attend the dawn blessing ceremony of the Gallery and the unveiling of three commissioned artworks by Māori artists which form a permanent part of the building. We assembled across the road from the Gallery and moved onto the forecourt, where three intricately carved works by Arnold Manaaki Wilson were revealed after months spent hidden from the public eye.

Thanks to Bevan Chuang for supplying this image

Following the elders from Ngati Whatua who were leading the event, we walked through the doors and upstairs into some of the Gallery spaces, passing through some of the beautiful threshhold installations by Lonnie Hutchinson which divide the galleries from the public spaces in the building on every floor.

The procession continued outside to the ceremonial entrance of the Gallery where a karakia was performed over Fred Graham's sculpture Te Waka Toi o Tāmaki:

 Next we filed back inside to the atrium where a powhiri took place. Many beautiful and inspiring words were spoken in recognition of the artists' hard work and vision and the duty of the Gallery as a place to store tāonga - and some laughs shared too.

The event was captured on film as well - here's a short video of the experience:

Keep an eye on the website for more information about these commissioned works and make sure you look out for them when you visit the Gallery! Only two days to go now...