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.