Tuesday, June 3, 2014


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

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