Archive for December, 2007

Shock of the new

The other day I was watching a Tui on a flax flower outside my window and I thought about taking a photo and how I would frame it etc. It suddenly occurred to me that I was imagining the resulting photo in the form of many other photographs of Tuis on flax that I have seen. This has always been an issue in my own artwork. I am a pretty good imitator but rarely come up with anything original. Most of what I produce is derivative – unintentionally or not.

 So I was thinking how do artists stay ‘fresh’ and come up with the new? I watched a video about Jackson Pollock (from the South Bank Show I think) a week or so back and they were saying he got to a point with the ‘drip paintings’ where he couldn’t take it any further or find a new expression and became quite depressed. With most really different styles of painting you can trace some sort of origin or evolution, but do some come completely out of left field? Take an earlier Pollock ‘The She Wolf’ (1943) or Birth (1938-41) you can see Picasso’s influence, but also to me I can see the same influence in Clairmont. Ok – So I haven’t done “Art History 101” but I’d like to know if anything has just appeared that seems for the most part untraceable. Bill Hammonds bird/men spring to mind.

Even so the shock to “The Establishment” of impressionism, cubism, modernism in their time is something to be celebrated. Today everything seems done or old hat and today’s “new” can seem like its trying too hard. I think our senses have become jaded.

On an unrelated front I am excited that one of my pictures(ok its a print) has escaped the garage and has been hung – albeit in the hallway.

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I have to admit that I like pictures – paintings, photography etc. However I have some appreciation for sculpture even though its not perhaps as familiar. Again “The Big Picture”‘s take on Len Lye got me musing….

I think I was lucky in that I grew up (or as my family would say “teethed on”) some very good, if conventional,  scultpure. As a child in 1970’s Invercargill, Queen’s Park was endowed with some great play equipment.


These large bronze animals – the seals and eagle seen above, plus two lions – were placed around a fountain with smaller animals. You can see from the photo how worn and polished the bronze had become with children clambering all over them. I recall how hot they got in the sun – so much that sometimes you couldn’t climb on them. The Thomson Statuary in the children’s playground was designed by the sculptor Sir Charles Wheeler who personally came to Invercargill to help select a site for it. So they were traditional and perhaps staid, but it was imprinted on me that this sort of large public sculture was a tactile thing.

You can imagine my dismay at the “DO NOT TOUCH” signs throughout the Henry Moore exhibition at Te Papa in 2002. Of course I understand about the smaller more delicate objects but the large scale work in the forecourt? I absolutely horrified the person I was it when I just had to go and touch it. Soon others followed suit and several people stood around “caressing” the scultpure. Now I could very likely be wrong but did Moore plant some of his sculpture in paddocks where sheep could rub against them???

Wellington has some great sculpture including a Moore in the Botanical Gardens, where you can also find “Listening and Viewing Device” which I have a soft spot for mainly because of the sound it makes – which brings us back to Len Lye again really. My favourites though have to be Neil Dawson’s “Ferns” in Civic Square (a bad photo) and the “City to Sea” bridge across to the lagoon.

On a smaller scale New Zealand seems to have a love affair with limestone – specifically Oamaru limestone. Even I have dabbled and yes the evidence lurks in my garage (which is now assuming Tardis-like proportions). Having once lived in Christchurch, I was exposed to the wonderful work on Llew Summers which appears all over that town. 


I think this gives you an idea of his “proportions” and although I think of his working with limestone, he uses many mediums such as bronze, glass, granite and wood. The joy and voluptuousness of the work makes me smile…and again its BIG and you just need to touch it.

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Owning Art

I own little original art. I have a few little wood block prints on hand made paper by Caroline Beaufort*, but hope to expand on that. 

I sometimes struggle with the issue of owning anything let alone something as alive (to me) as art. BUT I feel art is made to be viewed and I’d rather it be on my wall than in some boardroom collection or locked away in a storeroom. Ok, it risks being damaged (and in my house with 3 preschoolers thats always possible) and for major works there is the issue of insurance and expense – just look at the fuss over the Hammond that got damaged in Christchurch.

Actually I have a long term buying plan starting with prints/etchings/lithographs. My (realistic) wishlist would include Dick Frizzell of course and maybe Otis Frizzell as well. I would also want some NZ photographers (Westra especially) but I think my prize of a Clairmont block print is possibly within my reach if I budget. I should probably just continue to pay the power bill and feed and clothe my children though :-). I was recently tempted by this:


But I got all concerned about ownership after seeing Orlando Clairmont at the auction on TV. I don’t actually doubt its provenance (you can put me right on that of course) but someoneiknow would probably suggest I hang it in the garage anyway. EDIT: See my update.

It gets to the point when an artist is ‘collectable’ or an ‘investment artist’ or lets face it – dead – that someone is probably going to frame a shopping list they wrote and auction it which is when you have to think about true value and profit. Recently an original Clairmont block print sold on Trademe for around $600 – it was a small Christmas card obviously not intended as ‘a work’.

So for now we are content to have some of my feeble efforts, some handmade prints, and a few art gallery t-shirts to show for our collecting. Which brings me to daughter #2 who says “Daddy” whenever she sees this:


as her experience of Frizzell is on a T-shirt of her father’s.

*Burglars note – they aren’t worth much

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The innocent eye

After reading about observation in “How to Look at a Painting” and some comments by Hamish Keith in “The Big Picture” I decided to try a little experiment with art and my children*. A2 is 2 1/2 years old and I sat down with her and looked at some art pictures to see her reactions. The book I grabbed from the shelf was “New Zealand Painting” by Michael Dunn.

 It was immediately obvious that she looked for the familiar in the paintings and viewed them through her own meaning and experience. Examples:

Pg 4. “A view of a part of the Town of Wellington” Charles Heaphy. A2 immediately related this to some opening sepia toned scenes of London in the Disney movie “Pocahontas” (don’t judge – please!) which is her favourite just now. The sail boats were apparently also from that movie.

Pg 35 CF Goldie painting. “someone drew on the lady”

Pg 86 Rita Angus’ portrait of Betty Curnow “Grandma” (I guess there is some resemblance)

Pg 112/113 McCahon hillscapes. “the bear went over the mountain” I must explain that in her book of The Bear went over the Mountain, the “mountains” are in fact bed covers. I can see this “draped” effect in “Takaka Night and day” especially.

When something was completly different and unrecognisable to her she made her own meaning – mostly relating to the colours eg Ian Scott’s “Lattice N0. 137”

Now I think this is interesting because as adults we probably do much the same when viewing art. We look for the familiar, place our our experince and meaning on what we see and when confronted with the new and different we try to make our own sense of it.

I tried this with my 4 year old who is “the artistic one” with the following result.
ME: “A1 – Do you want to look at some paintings other people have done?”
A1: “No I want to do my own paintings”

And there is some sound logic in that as well :-)

*Disclaimer: I do NOT randomly experiment on my children. Call it an educational experience.

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The Big Picture

Well I am sorry Hamish Keith, but you’ve lost me. I am enjoying the series “The Big Picture” but I was somewhat bewildered by episode 4. Maybe its because I was feeling ill but it did not seem to have much cohesion and I thought it was a big jump from episode 3. I see the points about town and country; distance and harking back to England, but wondered if art/appreciation really is a totally urban activity. But what do I know. Anyway its good to see something so opinionated and not watered down on TV.  Also was good to see the context of Toss Woolaston whose work I have an affection for and once slept with one of his major works under our bed (long story). I also am wondering about the artists who seem MIA, but I will watch the whole series before I start calling that one. I have also reserved the book.  Thank heaven for libraries. This calls for an entry “Art appreciation on a housewife’s budget” :-)

I just noticed yesterday that nearly all my art books have been presents or 2nd hand finds. Oddly my poetry books have not arrtived this way. Obviously people in my life relate to art more than poetry. I think it illustrates the external and internal.

Speaking of books, I have just read John Paton’s “How to Look at a Painting” No wonder it won so many prizes. He articulates thoughts and feelings about art that frequently mirror my own and of course much more eloquently than I will even be able to.

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I saw the Maori Jesus…


This has been promoted to one of my favourite poems since I read “Big Weather” a collection of poems about Wellington. Its weird, when I think of Baxter its of black and white photos either on the postie bike or long haired and bearded at Jerusalem, however I like poems from all eras. For a long time “Ballad of the Junkies and the Fuzz” resonated and sat with me after a friend OD’d in Auckland. The image of the candles around mattress was so strong (as I recall).

Often I feel urged to go on a road trip to Jerusalem up the Whanganui River Road. I’d like to visit the church and the sisters as well as see Hemi’s grave. A strong image of this place that calls to me is the amazing Ans Westra photograph of wife and grand-daughter at his funeral.

I am being repeditive about how these images affect me. Westra’s photography especially draws me into the time and place and makes me feel part of the picture, as though I know the subjects. And, while I like Marti Friedlanders photography as well, it is Westra that sucker-punches me every time.

 BTW – the photo is from the Wellington Writers Walk which is such a wonderful idea and very much worth seeing

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Clairmont and me

A while back there was a documentary on “Artsville” called Clairmont on Clairmont. It was a personal view of son about an unknown father and one of the best parts for me was to get a glimpse of some of those rarely seen works that are stashed away. Anyway it got me thinking again about Philip Clairmont who is my favourite NZ artist.

How I met Clairmont 
Well I was 16 and had my first job and away from home in Dunedin on a course and one wet weekend I ventured into the old Dunedin Public Art Gallery and there was a painting of a chair in wild lurid colours. I seem to remember a lot of red. It had a huge impact on me and in later travels around the country (I wandered a lot in those days) I sought out other Clairmonts. His work invoked a strong emotional and physical response from me – as all the things I love do. The 2nd picture I remember seeing was Scarred Couch now at Te Papa probably one of the most well known works. Weirdly the image in full colour does not seem to be on the ‘net anymore and I would reproduce it here but I am scared of copyright issues. I also can’t find a copy of the Chair painting I saw in Duendin and I am starting to get paranoid that images are being intentionally removed!

The revelation of his work was its wildness which was pretty much me at the time and it certainly wasn’t anything I’d been exposed to in 4th form art. High school art was weird. I was an ok artist but not a star and when, at the end of the year, the teacher reviewed our portfolios to see who would be “invited” to join 5th form art (School certificate was THE exam then)  she came to me and said that on reveiw she was very surprised to be offering me a place as she hadn’t really noticed my work in the last 2 years. Great. Anyway art was considered way too frivolous by my family so I hedged my bets on languages and social sciences. Art became an interest, I became an observer.

However influenced by Clairmont I started painting again – actually using oil pastels as thats the only way I could get a similar effect and I couldn’t afford pots of thick oil paints to paint on the scale required. My efforts were at best an aping of Clairmonts work and although I still have a couple, well, they are currently in my garage. My version of a fireplace interestingly got destroyed by a jealous wife – but let’s not go there.

More recently, in 2005, pregnant and sick, I journeyed to the Sarjeant Gallery in Wanganui on a very hot day with a fractious toddler and slighty bemused partner to see “Militant Artists ReUnion” which was an exhibition of Formison, Clairmont and Maddox and curated by Martin Edmond who wrote the WONDERFUL “The Resurrection of Philip Clairmont”. It was a glorious exhibition and I was able to soak in the paintings while while my ever tolerant partner tried to stop our toddler playing in an “installation” of a huge pile of shoes in another part of the gallery.

This exhibition, Edmond’s book and Orlando Clairmont’s documentary make me want to DEMAND a proper retrospective of Clairmonts work. Imagine a gallery filled with colour, vibrancy, mania and life that you could sink into. Of course there are issues, not the least – as Edmond clearly pointed out in his book – the family ones. But I am calling for this now.

These days, I live in Kapiti and when in Waikanae, I often wonder where the Hansen bach is and if there is paint still in the garage. I am not that much of a “fangrrl” to try and look it up though (well not so far). Of course I’ve been past Roy street often – you can’t really miss it on the way to the zoo.

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