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Posts Tagged ‘Lusk’

Delusions?

When does the art detective work start causing delusions????

I have always loved this painting by Russell Clark (only linking in case Te Papa takes a hit out me – I can’t afford their fees to officially publish here sorry). It captures a time in Dunedin that intrigues me. I haven’t done much work to see if anyone has tried to identify the figures, but I think Clark himself is just below the picture of the horse, dark hair and fag in his mouth. I am guessing this because the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entry reads “Slightly built and dark-skinned, with a mop of wavy dark hair, Clark was seldom seen without a cigarette to his lips.”

Now look at the young man in the brown suit in the middle left, who seems to be looking out into the distance. To me he looks like this person (persevere with the link – accept the terms and it will take you to the portrait).

I suppose this is old news? The two paintings are of the same era. Clark’s is 1934-1938 and the Lusk portrait 1939, and they moved in the same small circles, so it’s fairly likely. Of course I may be taking it all too literally.

I just wish I could post the paintings side by side here…

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I have found when you are doing research (which a friend of mine likes to call ‘snooping’), you always end up on interesting little tangents that you have to leave out. So here are a few from the last week or so.

In 1936, Toss Woollaston mounted a significant exhibition of his work. This exhibition was seen by a young Colin McCahon and is widely touted as a major influence in his artistic life. McCahon also wrote about it in his ‘Beginnings essay in Landfall (March 1966). Woollaston had rented a shop in ‘Broadway’, Dunedin which was a 1930s version of the shopping Mall. Actually Broadway had been an arcade since it was built in 1861. It was rebuilt in brick, with a glass roof in 1875 and then replaced again in 1929 by a “spanish styled arcade of 30 shops”* .  There are photos around of the Victoria structure but not the 1930s one. To me the funny aspect is that the arcade was bought by the council and knocked down and The Warehouse was built on the site.

EDIT: The lovely people at the Hocken Collections have forwarded me some photos of Broadway in its 1930s incarnation. Worth taking a look at.

The next little reference was in the December 1940 issue of Art in New Zealand. I was searching for references to the Doris Lusk exhibition, but also found this in the notes from the 64th Annual Exhibition of the Otago Art Society.

“The paintings of Anne Hamblett are charming in their unusual and delicate colour…another young artist, C. McCahon, displays a strong constructive element – so lacking in many artists.”

I love this stuff.

*Paul Hayward. More Intriguing Dunedin Street Walks. Printed by Express Office Services, Dunedin (1998)

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A while back I posted about the old studio of Doris Lusk (and others) here in Dunedin. I don’t know why, although possibly due to my studio hunting back north, I thought I’d just walk in and the studio would be there, largely unchanged after 70 years. Well it wasn’t – although more intact than it could have been after such a long time.

Let me start at the beginning and clear up a mistake I made in my last post. The building is not an art deco one – the old lady has had a facelift along the way. The building was actually constructed in 1867 replacing a wooden structure that burnt down in a big fire that destroyed most of Princes Street. Tofields jeweller rebuilt a two-storeyed brick and stone building on the corner site. In 1873 Burton Brothers Photographers moved in, adding another storey and extending the building along Moray Place while the jeweller remained in the shop. Burton Brothers were one of the pioneers of photography in New Zealand and their alterations included one of the largest studios of the time[1], lit by huge skylight windows.

Burton Brothers were taken over by business partners Muir and Moodie in 1896 and the building became ‘The Great Postcard Emporium’ (see image below). The skylights and windows can be seen in this picture as well as the Victorian detailing of the building. Over time the postcard craze waned and the United Friendly Society Dispensary took over the shop on the corner while the studio remained active upstairs. The books Dunedin Then and Burton Brothers: Photographers by photographer and historian Hardwicke Knight have a great series of photos showing the evolution of the building to this point and details on the use of the building by Burton, Muir and Moodie – including the north facing roof being used for racks of printing frames.


Taken from Dunedin Then and Now by Harwicke Knight. Plate 19. (click for larger versions of all images)

Various photographers used the studio after Muir and Moodie. In 1937 the Stone’s Directory lists Crown Photographers occupying the studio floor[2] and in 1938 (in a lovely twist of history) the occupant is listed as Hamish Keith Photographer[3] – that would be Hamish Keith Senior.

During 1938 the studio was taken over by artist Max Walker and then Doris Lusk, Anne Hamblett (later McCahon) Dick Seelye, Mollie Lawn and Morris Kershaw. Curator and local historian, Peter Entwisle’s interviews with these key figures and others suggest that Rodney Kennedy, Patrick Hayman and Colin McCahon were frequent visitors to the studio[4]. During this period Lusk painted a portrait of Colin McCahon, seated at the windows and with the City Hotel in the background (no longer there) and apparently wearing Rodney Kennedy’s father’s waistcoat.

McCahon writes: “Doris Lusk. Portrait of C. McC. oil Unsigned & untitled. Late 30s in her Dunedin studio.Above U.F.S. Dispensary opposit City Hotel. c. 17 x 14 Blue Harris tweed coat by H.B. @ £3.3 (with pants)- waistcoat of R.E. Kennedy, Father- with turquoise blue spots”

The photo of Lusk in the studio under the ‘south lights’ was taken around 1940 when she held her first solo show in that studio[5]. The show was reviewed in the December 1940 issue of Art in New Zealand [6]. This group of artists seems to have moved out and dispersed after Lusk’s 1940s show and at the same time the building underwent some major changes.

There is some debate about when the building had its facelift, but in the Hocken Collections I found the Miller & White Architects’ drawings regarding the work dated 1940. Here is a before and after elevation showing replacement of the Victorian details with 1940 deco plaster work including the U.F.S. logo.

More plans dated 1945 show the removal of the skylights and windows, replaced with a new façade and windows to match the rest of the building and a change in roofline. The floor plans show the former studio area now converted to a storeroom with doors and walls re-arranged and that is how it has remained.

BUIDLING PLAN IMAGE REMOVED
(Hoping to get a much clearer image with permission from the Hocken Collections)

I took these next photos of the exterior building as it is now and the interior shot after the current occupant kindly showed me around. The wooden floor is original and two large skylights installed with the 1945 change in roof elevation remain. There are many details intact indicating former floor plans and Victorian ceilings and old fireplaces in some parts. The smell of incense has replaced any traces of turpentine or photography chemicals, and I found no paint splashes (as there are in Phillip Clairmont’s former Waikanae studio/garage) but the bones are there and the beautiful light makes it easy to imagine the former occupants…

My camera refused to take a decent picture inside the studio – ironic considering its former use.

A huge thanks to all who helped me along the way with this detective work (research) especially Peter Entwisle, Elizabeth Kerr, David Murray from the Hocken Collections and the staff at the McNab room of the Dunedin Central Library – and my Twitter followers.


[1] Hardwicke Knight Burton Brothers Photographers, John McIndoe ltd, 1980, pg 53
[2] Stones Directory 1937, Pg 99
[3] Stones Directory 1938, Pg 910
[4] Peter Entwisle Artists in Dunedin. Memorializing Places Associated with Artists in Dunedin for The Dunedin Amenities Society Inc. August 2005 (unpublished document)
[5] Lisa Beaven and Grant Banbury Landmarks: The Landscape paintings of Doris Lusk. Robert McDougall Art Gallery/ Hazard Press. 1996
[6] Art Notes Art in New Zealand. December 1940, vol xii, no 2 Pages 106-107

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Art detectives

Cheryl Bernstein happened to do her art detective work recently looking for the location of a painting by Doris Lusk, so its funny that my most recent detective work involved the same artist.

Doris Lusk was educated in Dunedin and attended the art school at King Edward College from 1934-39. Following a trip to Mapua (Nelson) in 1939, where she stayed at Toss and Edith Woollaston’s home with Colin McCahon, Patrick Hayman, Rodney Kennedy and Elespie Forsyth, Lusk and several other artists (including Hamblett) took over an ex-photographic studio in the UFS building  (I believe this was formerly the Burton Brother’s studio). This photo was taken in the studio at the time of Lusk’s 1940 solo exhibition.


Doris Lusk in the studio (circa August 1940) E.L. Phillip, Photo, Dunedin
Image kindly supplied by the Holland estate (click to enlarge)

On Monday, I went in search of this studio as I heard it was still largely intact. It is on the second story of what appears externally to be an art deco building. At the top of the stairs remnants of the pressed tin ceiling is still in place and a large skylight closed in with clear corrugated roofing (not glass) lights up a small foyer. I’d been warned it was a “warren up there”.  The many doors leading off the foyer seemed original, but were firmly closed. I don’t have great spatial ability, but I figure there must have been several larger rooms behind them even though the floorplate of the building isn’t large.

After some googling I found this picture of one of the businesses behind the doors. I think it’s the other side of the building though

So still a lot of detective work to do but I’m on it. I will post a photo here when I track down Doris’ studio properly.

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Time and attention

About time I put some attention into this blog. I have been frantic with assignment deadlines and forced writing which is no fun at all. Anyway I’ve got a week’s break (or so) to relax a little.

Some fun things have been happening in the mix. For example I was watching bad American TV on Tuesday night (only redeemed by Hugh Laurie) when I got a text from an unknown number saying “Can u get Maori TV? There’s a Frida Kahlo doco on atm.” I immediately changed channels to watch “Between Ecstasy and Pain” which was excellent. I did find out who sent the message, but for a while I liked to imagine the universe sending out random text messages (makings of a short story there maybe).

fridadeer
The Wounded Deer 
(1946) Frida Khalo

Which reminds me, I noted during my weeks research that there is a tendency to refer to female artists by first name “Frida”, “Rita” but not so much male artists. Go figure.

I have also been annoying on twitter by perhaps over-frequent tweets. When you are a shut in and can go a whole day with an adult conversation, the temptation to blurt in the 140 character format can be too much. On the plus side people sometimes reply!!! I noticed the frequency on my tweets increased with the desperation with my writing. In the end I did get an essay finished that a friend suggested might be ‘Miss Jean Brodie meets Russell Crowe’, which is ok I guess (although Rita and Colin might not think so). Oddly, in other forums I simply ran out of words.

An interesting thing I’ve found on Twitter is following galleries, museums and libraries. For example, a little gem from the Christchurch Art Gallery this week was a Doris Lusk I hadn’t seen before. Things like this brighten the day no end.

When I’ve been tearing my hair out at home, battling deadlines, illness and domestica, the ‘net in its many forms has also been an amazing source of support, generosity and kindness – thanks guys!!!!

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