Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bibliography and References:

The Colin McCahon Online Catalogue | Colin McCahon

Colin McCahon continued...

Harbour Cone from Peggy’s Hill, 1939 Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

 In 1940 the Otago Society of Arts (of which McCahon was a member) refused to hang the above painting. Apparently they felt that it challenged their idea of what good art was, but a group of fellow artists supportive of McCahon stood by him and refused to have their works displayed in protest. In response, the society backed down, and allowed McCahn to display his works.

Again, this work is pared back, it's almost like a monochrome print, and there is very little colour of vitality in it. The work depicts the form as rustic and raw, conveying once again the aloneness and isolation of Aotearoa, our separation from the rest of the world. That the Otago Society of Arts was offended speaks volumes, their ideal back then, along with the era, would have been conservative, stodgy, 'beautiful New Zealand' landscape paintings, representing a colonial, European, very British and very idealised, photographic New Zealand.

McCahon was always interested in painting Aotearoa afresh, and throughout his career he spurned the old maxims of more traditional painting. The above is a fairly early work in McCahon's career, and is quite different from his later works. There is a softness of tone and a lovely gradation of sombre, muted tonal colours and a print-like quality to the work.

Mitre Peak in Milford Sound, Fiordland, has been painted many times. This 1870s image by John Barr Clark Hoyte or J.C. Hoyte (1835–1913).

I have included the image of the above painting, by traditional New Zealand painter, John Ban Clark Hoyte, in order to compare with the post modernist, utterly opposite style of McCahon. The above work is in a more classical, traditional style, beautifying the subject, making it picture-postcard like and idealising the subject. it is in stark contrast to McCahon's immediate, bold, pared back style, but John Ban Clark Hoyte, the painter was from an earlier, pre-photographic era. The New Zealand narrative is, like all narratives, constantly under-going change. The above painting is more of the Romantic era, with its prettified, idealised, softened, calendar-like view, pertaining to the very British, Colonial, European, 'superior' master narrative that permeated and was typical of  this young and emerging era in New Zealand's/Aotearoa's history.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

via paint continued...

Landscape theme and variations, 1963 Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

Here McCahon once again paints on panels. The overall affect is in a storytelling, narrative style, like the pages of a book unfolding. Different aspects of quite dark landscape are depicted, with muted tones of browns, ochres, greens, yellows, and shades of whites dominating. McCahon is speaking to the viewer with paint; these panels seem alive and vibrant, more alive than the real thing, perhaps. The tones and shadings are uniform, and there is an overall raw edginess to the work.

Six days in Nelson and Canterbury, 1950

In in works, McCahon loved to convey a feel of place, a depth of connection to the land. The above work, has a haunting, isolated ambience about it. Mccahon has captured both the base, primal beauty of the land as well as its definitive raw essence. Once again, the work is sectoned, the works in pared back frames, this is a work that is about the narrative of landscape painting.

Muriwai, A Necessary Protection Landscape, 1972 Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

For a time McCahon had a studio based out at Muriway Beach, a rugged, wildly beautiful West Auckland beach As the title suggests, this is a painting about the endangered environment, a concern that often underpinned McCahon's work.

This actually depicts the gannet colony at Muriwai Beach, and it seems that MCCahon was implying that the this was under threat. The colours used are stark and bold, whilst the brushstrokes are
loosely rendered. McCahon was also concerned about humankind's impact upon the land, which was an emerging issue back in the 1970's. Also of concern in this era was nuclear disaster, and this was also something that McCahon tried to convey in his later works. The blacks, whites, yellow is harsh and decisive, the black rectangles cutting into the land, perhaps to suggest intrusion, interference and confusion.

Large Jump, 1973 Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

"I saw an angel in this land."

McCahon had a deep interest in religious motifs, and the above two works could also be read from a religious or Christian point of view. McCahon was a Christian, and in his earlier works painted Christian/biblical motifs into his landscapes. As the title would imply, this painting has a religious aspect to it, and also, the background is luminous, creating a highly effective contrast against the black.

McCahon wrote in 1971:

“I am not painting protest pictures. I am painting about what is still there and what I can see before the sky turns black with soot and the sea becomes a slowly heaving rubbish tip. I am painting what we have got now and will never get again. This is one shape or form, has been the subject of my painting for a very long time.”

Monday, June 9, 2014

McCahon represents Aotearoa via paint.


Colin McCahon, Northland panels, 1958, alkyd on unstretched canvas,
Purchased 1978 with Ellen Eames Collection funds and assistance from the New Zealand Lottery Board.
© Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

The above work, Northland panels, 1958, is McCahon's take on everyday New Zealand. He has been quoted as saying that New Zealanders take their scenery too much for granted. This work was done as to convey Aotearoa/New Zealand in a series of snapshots, which is set apart from traditional New Zealand landscape painting. This reads like a film strip, and the style aligns with abstract expressionism.

I like the story aspect approach in this work, in that it reads like an open book, a comic strip, a book, a film strip. There is a connecting theme of a contemporary New Zealand/Aotearoa landscape, the colours are lush and vivid, the brush strokes loosely rendered. They are done in oil on unstretched canvas, and the subject matter is sky, birds, trees, water, hills. The colours are somewhat muted, and we see complementary colours such as reds against greens. The effect overall is lush and visual, with little pockets of the country on view. Pieced together and startling, each panel awaits audience response while telling its own story and is very much open to interpretation and audience response.

Australian writer Murray Bail considered that McCahon 'reconceived Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, as the land of the long black shadow.'

And to paraphrase McCahon himself;

They, landscape theme and variations, 1963] were painted to be hung about eight inches from floor level. I hoped to throw people into an involvement with the raw land, and also with the raw painting. No mounts, no frames, a bit curly at the edges, but with, I hoped, more than the usual New Zealand landscape meaning … I hope you can understand what I was trying to do at the time – like spitting on clay to open the blind man’s eyes.

McCahon was apparently trying to reach his audience and to expand their responses. He was wanting to leave the established traditions of painting, to head off in new, unexplored and more earthy direction.  "No mounts, no frames, a bit curly at the edges" as though just exploring his studio space, the works in their most basic, immediate forms. McCahon was both a risk taker and a visionary and executed new ideas in painting, leaving old traditions behind.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Colin McCahon

Colin McCahon was also good friends with the iconic New Zealand poet and playwright James K Baxter and the two of them collaborated together, with McCahon involved in the stage design of  the four plays in the James K Baxter Festival, 1973.

McCahon was not new to stage design; he'd been involved in it while attending the Dunedin School of Art in the 1930's, as well as being a key member of Auckland’s New Independent Theatre group. This group staged various productions within the galleries at the Auckland City Art Gallery during the 1960. McCahon often designed the sets for these. The iconic New Zealand writer, Frank Sargeson, was also involved with this group.

Colin McCahon. c. 1950.

Landscape theme and variations, 1963 Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

McCahon is widely noted as New Zealand's most infamous and celebrated painter. He was a pioneer of his discipline, exploring themes of place, time, narrative and finally, actually inscribing text onto canvas.

Early on in his career, McCahon formed an alliance with fellow compatriot New Zealand painter, Toss Woollaston, who also made a niche for himself in the canon of great New Zealand painters. Woollaston also painted large-scale landscapes, and worked mostly within the context of the New Zealand landscape and social/political climate of the day. McCahon was interested in story telling. In the work shown above, Landscape theme and variations,  MCCahon has dived the landscape into sections, breaking up and rearranging the overall landscape, perhaps like with the chapters of a book.

Both McCahon and Woollaston wanted to brave new fields in New Zealand painting, needing to break free from the more traditionalist past of European painting that pervaded the New Zealand of the era. A uniquely New Zealand master narrative was required, a voice in paint that reflected Aotearoa rather than a colonial and falsely beautified New Zealand.

The work below is by Toss Woollaston and is titled Mount Arthur in winter. It is in oil on canvas. Note the muted hues of purples, reds, ochres, greens and yellows. The brushstrokes are loosely rendered, yet the mountain forms are well defined. There is an ease of loose clarity to this work, and a feel of isolation and uniqueness.

Toss Woollaston — Mt Arthur in WinterAt times McCahon felt that his audience was not understanding his works, or the meanings behind them. This is why he painted a series that included text, McChon was literally spelling out his intent on the surface of the canvas. As pictured below, I Am. Painted in the muted hues that McCahon favoured, and used in his more obvious landscape paintings.

I Am Colin McCajhon, painted in 1954

Monday, May 26, 2014

Biography of Colin McCahonColin McCahon explored master narrative via his paintings, where he put the New Zealand landscape into context via his paintings. Perhaps New Zealand's most infamous painter, McCahon actually physically explored the New Zealand landscape,  spending weeks on end travelling through rural New Zealand, especially the North regions and the Nelson area.

McCahon was renowned also for exploring religion within a landscaped background. McCahon used muted colours, and often painted in varying shades of reds and browns.

 The image pictured above right is titled Crucifixion. Christianity was a theme that particularly interested McCahon, and in this work, he pictures an Italian,,Renaissance -like Christ within a postmodernist New Zealand landscape.

McChon suits the master narrative criteria as he was a story teller and a documenter. His Christian related subjects are always placed in a New Zealand context.


Tales from Te Papa Episode 10: Angel of the Annunciation by Colin McCahon 
Angel of the Annunciation by  North Otago Landscape
Colin McCahon

Born on the first of August 1919, McCahon was the second of three children. He had a standard primary school education, and after high school, attended the Dunedin School of art, where he found the ideal teacher in R N Field. McCahon studied there for two years.

Later McCahon travelled overseas, where he extensively visited art galleries and museums, taking the opportunity to see what he wanted to see. McCahon lived both in Christchruch and Auckland, he also travelled around the Nelson area, capturing his visions of the New Zealand landscape in large format in oil.

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