Page 23

Johnson’s knowledge of the effect deforestation has on New Zealand soil erosion due to a 1944, K.B. Cumberland book, Soil Erosion in New Zealand. Because of this book, Lee-Johnson would have been aware of the detrimental side effects of slash and burning, however Dunn argues that it would “be misleading to exaggerate one level of meaning in the dead tree pictures” - that The Slain Tree is multi layered. Dunn points to the title ‘The Slain Tree’ as a reference to sacrifice. This suggests that the death of the tree is a sacrifice for greater good, much as the death of Christ is for the greater good of Christians. However, the trees retain a sort of strength, Dunn points out that “the trees are numerous and assertive” in The Slain Tree, and that “the ‘ghosts’ of trees still stalk the hillsides” maintaining an ominous presence. Dunn contrasts this portrayal of bush clearing for pasture with 19th Century landscapes that record “man’s progressive clearance of gently-rolling slopes for pasture.” In The Slain Tree, the bush is fighting back and Dunn wonders if “nature, perhaps, has the upper hand.” In Christopher Perkins’ work Frozen Flame, Dunn (1977) argues that Perkins’ approach is much less environmentally concerned. Dunn points out that Perkins also painted scenes of local industry, such as dairying, which relied on deforestation to be established in New Zealand. In his painting Taranaki, 1931, Perkins expresses the “relationship between the fertility of the land and the strength of the industry” (Dunn, 1991, p.75) in a powerfully iconic style. Dunn (1977) points out that Perkins’s artistic aims, as noted by Professor Robertson in the early nineteen-thirties, are to “imply the past, show the present, and indicate the future.” In Taranaki, Perkins portrays the Dairy industry as the present and future, and the natural environment (suggested by the mountain) as the past. It seems clear that Perkins would see deforestation as a means to an end. Dunn (1977) argues that the dead tree in Perkins’ Frozen Flame represents just one tree of many - of the wider issue of clearing land for pastoral purposes - and is a “necessary, if sad event” in a cycle from tree, to fire to green grass. The Dead Tree theme in New Zealand art, by the late 1950’s, had become a cliché (Pound, 1999, p.21). However, artist Richard Killen used the flaming tree stump icon in some of his work in the 1980’s. Francis Pound, in his book on Killeen’s work The Stories We Tell Ourselves (1999), discusses Killeen’s use of such iconography in works such as This is not a landscape (1985). Pound argues that this piece works best in a New Zealand context, where viewers familiar with 19th and 20th Century New Zealand painting will be knowledgeable with both the 19th Century colonialist meaning, and the 20th Century nationalist meaning of dead trees and stumps. Pound argues that in Killeen’s work the tree stump becomes, not a symbol of National pride or colonial triumph over nature, but a reference to the “innumerable burnt-out trees of 20th century painting, and to the innumerable stumps of 19th century New Zealand art” (p. 21). Killeen’s stumps become a representation of a representation – or a Myth.

First Son: Memory and Myth, an adjustment of faith  

First Son is an exploration of cultural change in New Zealand from the 1940s till the 1980susing textiles as medium for communication. It ai...

Advertisement