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.

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