Monday, March 25, 2013





an essay in progress.

Article for a magazine on Colin McCahon's painting, entitled Rocks at French Bay.

Painted in 1959   this work is from one of Colin McCahon’s most producitve and creative times as a painter. This pre-dates McCahon’s most infamous paintings, the groundbreaking works that incorporate text. This was a relatively new concept at the time..The subject of the painting, a seascape, is rendered in gorgeous browns, ochre, black and cream. The placement of line and shape is crucial to the overall impact of the work, and the muted hues add to this. The painting has warm tonal values,  adding to the feel of push and pull, which creates tension and  a feeling of illusion and space.

The depiction of both linear lines and geometric shapes produce a glimmer of subtle underlying tension. French Bay, West  Auckland, was where McChaon lived . This work is atypical of McCahon throughout his painting career, in that he rarely used bright colours. A common theme he explored was the abstracted New Zealand landscape. . The loose, expressive brushstrokes render the subject even more atmospheric and strange, as do the muted colours.

McCahon was very influenced by the German Expressionists and Cubists, both of which are evidenced in his entire body of works.. That is also true of this work, with its abstracted shapes and earth-tone colours. Another common  thread  McCahon  looked at was religious motifs, especially that of  Judeo-Christianity. McCahon employed text in his latter paintings as a response to the fact that both the wider public and the academic art world had failed to respond to the religious subtext and motifs of his earlier works. He explored these personal themes,  through paint, of the New Zealand landscape, a landscape acclaimed  for its natural  beauty. The overall impact of McCahon’s paintings are enhanced by this fact, with the painter creating a new vision,  via his finished paintings, to a traditionally beautiful, if somewhat bland, landscape.

Rocks at French Bay could be read in a scroll-like or religious way. The linear work for text, the landscape itself as religious motif,, especially that of the painter’s own background, and personal beliefs. Is McCahon commuinicating The Crucifixion with this work?  Or a similar Christian theme?  Perhaps he is exploring the paint itself. Or is he merely depicting an abstracted view of a traditionally beautiful landscape?  With no direct text on this work to clarify his intent, McCahon has left it for the viewer to decide.

Bibliography:

Rocks At French Bay, Chartwell Collection of Contemporary Art (from the Auckland City Art Gallery

 How the Light Gets In: The Christian Art of Colin McCahon, article in the CS Arts magazine, date unknbown.

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