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EXHIBITIONS PROGRAMME

OCTOBER Thaw

Colin McCahon

Russell Hancock Gallery Closes 15 October

A National Gallery of Australia Focus Exhibition. Touring Exhibition West Gallery Closes 28 October

Perhaps disillusioned by lack of recognition from his expeditions to Antarctica, the enigmatic Ernest Joyce brought together a collec-

The iconic painting Victory over death 2 by

tion of photographs that cemented his place

Colin McCahon is at the heart of this touring

in history.

exhibition celebrating one of New Zealand’s most significant artist.

NOVEMBER Darryn George; Pulse

Ben Cauchi; Dead time

Roderick and Gillian Deane Gallery of Maori and Pacific art Closes 24 November iPod Audio Tour available

East Gallery Closes 30 November Catalogue and iPod Audio Tour available

Stretching more than fifty metres and reach-

photographic processes. Ben Cauchi deftly

ing from floor to ceiling Pulse is an engulfing

manipulates light sources, studio effects and

fusion of customary Maori art and contempo-

darkroom techniques to create a mysterious,

rary abstract painting, using intricate patterns,

illusory zone.

Known for his use of mid-19th century

chanting rhythms and an eye-popping palette of red, black and white.

DECEMBER Reboot

Keeping Time

A Dunedin Public Art Gallery touring exhibition Closes 1 December

Michael Hirschfield Gallery Closes 3 December

An energetic multimedia exhibition of

collide, this collection based exhibition teams

The etchings and graphic works in the

contemporary art from the Jim Barr and

Dennis O’Connor’s monumental limestone

exhibition date from 1975 through to 2008

Mary Barr Collection, showcasing acclaimed

sculpture The Gorse King with a selection

and feature a variety of subjects, from the

New Zealand artists alongside international

of works and other media to consider how

familiar and much loved Central Otago

luminaries.

history, memory and tradition frame our expe-

landscapes, through to intense portraits and

rience of the world

figure studies.

Exploring the moment when past and present

Grahame Sydney; Our Landscape South Gallery Closes 30 December


Ohau 1994

| Cover

oil on linen 1070 x 1070 mm

Dunedin Studio 1996 photo: Reg Grahame

Publication designer Grace Aitken

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Foreword A few words from the Director

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Keeping Time

Our Landscape

An exhibition considering the

Grahame Sydney

roles of history, memory and tradition

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My Favourite Grahame Sydney makes

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his choice

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Noteworthy

The Education Centre

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Showcase

News bites from around the

Featuring recent arrivals to the

Gallery

Gallery’s collection

Jim McMurtry

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By Micheal Parekowhai

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Staff Profile

The Speed of Art

Friends of the Gallery People, places and events

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Coming Soon

Film critic Adrian Martin dis-

Previewing Julian Daspher: To the

cusses ‘time’ in art

Unknown New Zealander

| Intro


SY DNEY OUR LANDSCAPE

In essence so many of the paintings are about staying not leaving, about enduring, hanging on. How do you persist and exist here, glory in what you see, respect what has gone before, what remains, and what will live on? What does live on? Nothing organic remains the same; little

of what we, humans, make is assured of continuance. But a painting might last, a poem, a story. The land tells a story, the dilapidated buildings testify to other stories bound up in the land’s story, and the clouds are transient but keep on coming, forming and reforming.


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Private bag 1977 egg tempera 380 x 255 mm

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Anderson Lane 1998 oil on linen 915 x 1375 mm

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Hawkduns 1997 oil on linen 915 x 1370 mm

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Let me start by quoting from the journal of T H Scott, a psychologist and mountaineer from Wellington who was killed on Mt Cook in 1960. The passage is from Scott’s ‘South Island Journal’, quoted in Philip Temple’s excellent anthology ‘Lake, Mountain, Tree.’ ‘When I left the North Island and came to the South to live, I felt immediately and overwhelmingly that I had come to quite a different country. It was not merely that I had new work to do and new people to work with. It was not the inevitable strangeness one experiences in a new city till one gets one’s bearings. Nor was it the subtle difference one feels about the people themselves – Things one notices first perhaps, as I did, in the slowness of traffic and folk on the streets, and their freedom from the sense of urgency I had been used to. That kind of thing one is prepared for; it is

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soon absorbed and one is perhaps mellowed in some indefinable way as a consequence. It was something else. For it stayed with me, this feeling, for a year or more, before I began to put my finger on the cause of it. Up till this time I had scarcely moved from Christchurch, but now, unable to resist any longer, I found time to explore north and south. On the Port Hills I had walked in the tussocks blowing in the wind, and looked across the great plain to the Alps beyond. I had tried to grasp the significance of its occupation by farmers – the taming of the land from the sea and as far as the eye could reach. Now I went inland to the mountains themselves. I went north through Weka Pass to the great rolling wheat country beyond, and south, out of Canterbury and over the Lindis Pass into Central Otago. Everywhere I went that summer my journey was through open


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country, flat or rolling mountainous, but always dry and somehow weary. Yet it was noble and old county and lovely with old tussock. I knew then that I had come to what could have been a continent, from places that could only be in an island. Here was the dryness of continents, the vastness, the shape of county that could go on and on.’ That notion of ‘an essential difference’ is the thread which will run through this exhibition. Feeling at Home I’ve been a painter now for over 30 years, and artists like me learn slowly that being fair and reasonable, considerate of the needs of other people and the wider community does not make for great art. We work in a sort of solitary confinement and have to learn the importance

of a selfish and private pleasing of noone but ourselves, to not giving a damn for the opinions of others, because good art depends so much on that secret, inner life of personal experiences and responses, and finding the best way to give them a form. That’s one of the reasons why the stories about many of the greatest artists are stories of volcanic egos, flagrantly careless lives, and spectacularly unconventional lifestyles. A great deal of really bad art is art which has grown from a painter’s too obvious willingness to please others, not him or her selfish self, and Father Time will quickly see that art forgotten. For which reason I am by now quite accustomed to the fact that many of my beliefs are not shared by most others. For example, of all the colours available to me, I dislike Green most. I hate

green in the studio, try not to use it, and I’m not at all fond of it beyond the studio doors either. Perhaps that’s why I felt so dislocated in England. Perhaps that’s why I feel so much a stranger in the North Island. Perhaps that’s why I cannot watch the cancerous spread of ungainly centre-pivot artificial fertilising and watering of the Maniototo and the McKenzie Basin without a sense of anger and regret. Perhaps that’s why the insidious spread of forestry across so many of our previously honey-coloured tussocky hills and plains infuriates me so much. In naturally semi-arid regions like Central Otago and the inland basins of the South Island, the ‘greening’ is a handy way of labelling what I consider to be very inappropriate and unwelcome changes to our landscape. But more on that later. I believe, you see, that landscapes


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have a power and a meaning far beyond any temporary economics. Landscapes, the natural theatres of our personal experiences and dramas, perform a symbolic and emotional function miles beyond their economic or geographical rationale. It does not surprise me that I frequently hear people confessing – often with some bewilderment – that they ‘feel at home’ in a particular landscape, for reasons they themselves cannot explain. And the number of times one hears this ‘feeling at home’ and love of particular South Island landscapes expressed by those who have spent very little time amongst them, is, if I can employ the obvious pun, remarkable. Feelings of Connection and Deep Anchoring Why is it we so often cling to the

significance of one special place, one special spot, one particular view, and hold that to our hearts for comfort, for a clearer sense of ‘where we come from’ and for confirmation of our identities? I believe that everyone has a deep secret spot, a special place, a landscape which brings them a profound and mysterious contentment, whether they carry it only in their memories, or can access it frequently: it could be called a ‘G’spot, I suppose, with in this case the ‘G’ standing for Geography. It is plain that T. H. Scott found it in the South, and his words echo those of thousands of others. But when we confess to this private G spot, we seldom know why it contains such power over us – it is mystical and complex, and we sometimes only recognise its anchoring in our private depths when it is changed, spoiled, or

ruined – lost - and then the sense of affront and anger we feel gnaws away at us incessantly. Why do landscapes affect us so much? Why is it that the high country and the wide empty basins of Central Otago, for instance, gather so much meaning for so many people? Is it because, in their raw-boned, skeletal geology (with only the thinnest veneer of soft comfort and fertility) they reflect something of the unforgiving nature of life itself? Is it some spiritual connection with the past? Is it that contrast makes effective: that in their vastness and monumentality and permanence they remind us of all that is brief and transitory in our own insignificant lives? Is it pure escapism: that the silence – as Sam Neill so graphically wrote in our ‘Timeless Land’ book’s introduction, ‘the exhilaration of solitude, which is inseparable from the terror of


Weatherboards at Cluden 1979

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egg tempera 255 x 737 mm

Dogtrials Room 1980 egg tempera 500 x 830 mm

loneliness’ provides a vital alternative to the crowded, overpopulated, unnatural noisy pandemonium of larger city and suburban life? I read once a theory that people are finally shaped by the landscapes they live in, that they eventually start to resemble that land, in the same way husbands and wives managing to negotiate their way through long marriages often start to resemble each other. Is the austerity and unadorned hardness of our landscapes in some way a reflection of our own subconscious, private stoicism? Is it simply that we see our own peculiar brand of Beauty there, beauty we know is ours alone, unique to where WE come from, and not somehow ‘belonging’ to others? Is this what the Central Otago District Council had in mind with their recent “World of Difference” branding? Whatever it is, I do believe in the

power of landscapes to mean this much to people, and all over the planet people feel this way about some corner of their own country. When I am somewhere far away offshore and thinking of home, it is not the map of NZ I conjure up in my head, nor is it Auckland, or the lush greenery of Waikato or Taranaki. It is not NZ as such, for NZ is so many different countries – it is a particular place I love and miss, a hillside, a valley, a plateau glimpsed from a special corner, a mountain range… a G-spot of my own, and it should be no surprise to you that most of my own spots are in Central Otago. Aucklanders may dream of Coromandel or Keri Keri, and good on them. But I dream of the Hawkduns, Blackstone Hill, the Crawford Hills, or Mount St Bathans glowing like an ember in the final hours of daylight, just

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Auripo road 1979 egg tempera 420 x 748 mm

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as the rising shadow of night starts to push away the dull pink glow over the Kakanuis, and smothers the landscape with a cold grey pall. It is part of the artist’s task to give permanent form to these feelings of connection and deep anchoring, and to look for Beauty where it may be hidden to other eyes. But too often the paintings become the only permanent documents of a particular place and the feelings that place might have generated in me, because in the name of modernity or economic viability the look of that landscape has been radically altered, bulldozed into oblivion by the unquestioned engines of Progress. I mentioned earlier my disdain for the greening of the Maniototo, the transformation of the magnificent McKenzie Basin into similarly artificial productivity. Anyone who can remain

unmoved and careless about the deliberate pine forestation of the wonderfully sensuous, overlapping spurs of the Lake Onslow uplands, or exotic plantations on the rugged, desiccated hillscapes to the south side of the Pig Root near the Brothers, or the intensive mob-dairying in the McKenzie Basin, just to name a few, is not possessed of the same heart as me. If major scale dairying means the demise of the McKenzie Basin’s longevolved dry tussock country and the descent into brown sludge of the Taieri River, then I suggest its mistaken and deeply regrettable, not progress at all. Transformation of a Distinctive Landscape Just a few hundred metres from my studio there is, I believe, something awful happening, too: the beautifully barren, singularly distinctive rocky hills

surrounding this township are being rapidly colonised by a species of pine tree, a species which flings its seeds wide and easily, and which is – unless something is done very quickly – going to transform the look of this Alexandra environment into a new Naseby, or any other forested environment. I watch this submergence of Alexandra’s most unique characteristic with real regret: does anyone else care about it, as I do, or does it not really matter? The District Council is apparently helpless – if it does care – until the Otago Regional Council declares such species to be noxious plants, but the Regional Council has not done so. As things stand, if the landowner or leaseholder is reluctant to allow the trees to be removed, the cancer cut out, we will all witness the obliteration of the signal personality of this immediate and


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famous local landscape: within 10 years, I suggest, the wilding forest will have consumed it all. The same is happening in my own valley at Cambrian, and the same I notice is occurring along the red tussock hills of the beloved Pig Root. Wilding pines are becoming a plague, just as gorse and broom have infested so much of NZ, and even DoC is powerless to order the pines’ removal, despite the fact that hundreds of volunteers, like me, would raise their hands to help. A solitary landowner can forbid entry and thus be responsible for the massive and I believe thoroughly inappropriate transformation of a distinctive landscape. That does not seem right to me. It might be acceptable if the community expressed its contentment with that transformation and I found myself in a minority – but I don’t believe that’s the

case, and yet the CODC is helpless until the Regional Council stumps up and delivers a hanging verdict on wilding pines. Of course they could do it – they just haven’t, and those of you who love the strange, eternal rockscape of these surrounding hills had better look long and hard, because its on its way out.


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South Mine 1981 egg tempera 455 x 907 mm

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Single Scull 1985 egg tempera 475 x 980 mm

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Chatto Greek 1985 etching 123 x 245 mm


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Memorial Hal 1993 oil on linen 760 x 1520 mm

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Model in Light 1998 oil on linen 710 x 760 mm


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Demolitipon at Waipiata 1986 egg tempera 670 x 1200 mm

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Killing house 1983 egg tempera 600 x 600 mm


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A World of Difference Make no mistake: the look of the landscape is a Natural Resource as valuable as any more obviously ‘productive’ or ‘economic’ uses. When this country is ranked first in a worldwide survey of the global travel trade for its ‘natural beauty and outdoor activities’ it’s the look of the place, the feel of it, the way in which it has retained its special personality and resisted the hasty devastations of economic progress those voters are ranking highest in the world. We have the opportunity here to learn from the disastrous mistakes of other countries and NOT repeat them here: we have the opportunity to be like nowhere else, to remind others of what they’ve lost. Or, we do the same as them, and lose it all: come on in, windfarms! Let’s go with the centre pivots and dairy farms! Bring on the subdivi-

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sions! Its ‘progress’ after all… But its not progress. Too often we have been lectured at by those who believe that progress is always and only economic, and that economic growth is inevitable, unstoppable, and desirable. But is it? ‘Progress’ is not only expansion and growth: progress can be a steady march towards a retention of values and, yes, landscapes we know to be valuable in ways other than mere money - progress can also be the recognition of what matters most about where we live, why we live there, and what others might value about it too, now and in the future. And my belief is that in Central Otago, in this region of ours, we have more unique qualities and landscapes of distinction than most other places, and that they have a power to affect the imagination and soul of New Zealanders far more than most other landscapes.

‘Growth’ can surely be the growth of the recognition of that specialness, and making certain we and those who are voted into positions of power and lawmaking to govern us properly represent that belief. We love it deeply, and others come here and love it too – not for its similarity to other places in the world, but for its difference – a world of difference, remember. That must be valued above all those who would seek to change that look brandishing the fragile and debatable sword of economic progress. We are Merely Caretakers If we are to preserve the unique landscapes we love, and which make us feel and understand the specialness of where we belong, we must begin to put a value on qualities and outcomes which are not necessarily proven in monetary gain. There has to be acceptance of a


Ohau 1994

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oil on linen 1070 x 1070 mm

Dunedin Studio 1996

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photo: Reg Grahame

Jack Tar 1990 oil on linen 710 x 760 mm

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concept of worth in terms which are not just monetary, and somewhere along the line someone has to accept that change personally, and concede to it with pride, and long view into the future. Land owners present might take offence at my tone here, and say ‘Its all very well for you, mate – I have to make a living off that farm, and its getting harder staying afloat on this property.’ I apreciate that, of course, and understand it. But I also suggest that the word ‘ownership’ brings with it very dangerous implications: implications, for example, that the land is ‘ours’ and we have a right to make it economic, to do better, or at least as well – financially – as our fathers. But we are not owners, any more than the purchaser of one of my paintings is an ‘owner’: we are no more than caretakers, brief renters, and I believe

we have no right to impose those rapid and too often destructive, artificiallysustained changes on landscapes which Nature has sculpted and coloured so slowly, and so appropriately. I read a lovely piece recently about we humans, discussing the phenomenon that we alone amongst the species can contemplate our future, and have a concept of death. The beautiful statement was made that ‘life is a flicker of consciousness between two great silences.’ Two great silences: we will not get out of this alive, of course. We are not owners: we are merely caretakers, and we must think far beyond the immediate gratification of the balance sheet, regardless of what shifts and upheavals that requires, and hold to a vision of we want our landscapes to mean and look like to our faraway, unknown descen-

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Hawkdun Spring 1996 oil on linen 835 x 1670 mm

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dants. If they’re anything like me, green will be but one of the colours in the vast palette, not the only desired one. This is naturally a brown, brittle, bleached landscape – and it should be. The danger in the headlong stampede which regards every landscape, regardless of Nature’s obvious intentions for it, to be transformed into something economically viable, is that the unique, unusual and separate landscapes with which we are singularly blessed in this province will all finally end up ploughed, tamed, artificially manicured, and, God forbid, GREEN. Or obliterated (despite the pamphlet promises) by wind factories, wires and pylons. The rationale might well be economic viability, but that is an empty mantra in the long run: it is our acts which define us, not the cause we use as rationale, and our acts have the capacity to rapidly

destroy what may have taken millennia to evolve and build, and which now define us. Bad art, as I said earlier, is rapidly forgotten; but bad landuse and poor townplanning decisions remain as regrettably permanent scars on the face of our landscape. I personally long for a different vision, and regret the many transformations already foisted upon the thin skin of our wrinkled province. I have no faith at all in their long-term viability, because Nature always wins in the end. Any process directed at changing our well-established patterns of thinking and behaving personally or within the ecosystem should be an extended one, involving slow gatherings of insight, reevaluation, and trying new approaches. Under the very best of circumstances, such change takes time to gain toeholds


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in our way of thinking and valuing – slow time. The characteristics which render each of us unique are seldom the product of rational choice. But the decisions which render landscapes unique, which preserve the natural look and balance, or which allow it to be restored and to reclaim its uniqueness on the surface of the earth, these are always the products of rational decision. And these rational decisions always require courage, sometimes sacrifice, and above all belief in the final objective. Modesty There is an obvious need for patience, care and long consideration of the use we make of the landscapes we treasure. And it is vital to recognise the value of the lesser-known corners of our region, the empty and bleak uplands as well

as the celebrated sights, the naturally spectacular, the most visited, for much of the meaning we wring from our environment is often from far less majestic places. Landscapes, like ideas, do not have to be celebrated or famous to be meaningful. If this region is ‘home’ to us, that home has children with a range of individual qualities, and its important to value the child who may be quiet and a little introverted as much as it is the loud and demanding younger brother. That home and family must have a distinctive character and history – and we surely do have both here (‘A World of Difference’ after all) in greater measure perhaps than anywhere else – but that variety and personality has to be recognised, and valued, then protected, nurtured and made a point of pride and strength against whatever forces and

arguments might be ranged against it, under whatever banner. I want to mention two small pieces: one by my brilliant mate, the writer Owen Marshall, because it graphically demonstrates how symbolic and memorable modesty can be; the second, a poem by Alistair Campbell, written in 1948. See if you recognise anything of your own in them. From Owen Marshall: ‘There’s a place, not far, sweet country if only it had summer rain. The sheep seek shade, and in these camps the loess clay of the ground is smooth and hard, or pooled to dust, and the droppings of the sheep are thickly spread, but dry and inoffensive, baked in the heat. In the odd sinkhole the briar seeks moisture and gorse blooms brighter than the clay. The ridges are worn almost bald, like the heads of the


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July on the Maniototo 1975 egg tempera 585 x 750 mm

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Night on Castle Street 1984 etching 265 x 358 mm

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Wedderburn 1975 egg tempera 610 x 725 mm

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lean,brown farmers who ride farm bikes too small for them across the paddocks of their land. The creek beds are marked more by rushes and willows than running water, and the mallards come only in twos and threes. An easterly is always up after midday and burnishes the arc of pale blue sky. The shelter belts close to the road and the macrocarpa before the farmhouse, are dusted with a false pollen drifting in off the road. The rural delivery boxes are large so that stores can be left there as well as mail, and each has a name painted by hand. In the evenings the sheep come to the stock dams and troughs to drink, the magpies gather to imitate the noise of poets, and the barley grass and brown-top ripple at the sides of the shingle roads. Is that so far away?’ And here’s Alistair Campbell’s ‘Island to island’ 1948, the year I was born.

This is the kiln that fired My shaping mind – a brilliant waste By wind and rabbit toothed And honeycombed, an orchard land Where a child still dreams Among the time-lost apple trees...’ I said at the outset that bad art is always discarded and ignored by the heartless Judge of Time. So are bad, inappropriate decisions about our land use harshly judged by Time, strapped to the uncontrollably powerful fist of Nature. We must be intelligent, sympathetic caretakers, and remember the brevity of our occupancy, between two great silences. I warned you of my self-centred opinions, my poor concept of pleasing others, and now you’ve heard something of them. If nothing else I hope some of you are stimulated to argue or agree with me: as a painter I’m well used to both

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responses. I do not speak for others, only myself; and I do not pretend to any academic balance or fairness – I claim it as my right to be angry about things I think are wrong or inappropriate, which are being ignored or undervalued or abused, and we appear to be living in a moment when this landscape I love so much, and which means so much to me and others, is under more than usual threat. The fundamental problem I think lies in the conceit that too few of us consider the years and decades and centuries we will not see, the ones which, no matter what decisions are made, will surely follow all our days. Its too easy to think that we only have our own lifespan to worry about, and to make decisions which affect only ourselves.


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Our Landscape What is Central Otago going to look like, what’s Central Otago going to be like, what’s Central Otago going to mean to those New Zealanders who live here in 2057, or who see it for the first time in 2107? Will it look like every other region in this country, indistinguishable except for its backbone ranges rising above valleys which are identical up and down the nation – artificially soaked, fertilised green, and crammed with dairy cows? Will those ranges be, as Meridian Energy Ltd appear to dream, forested with a spiderweb network of wind turbines (most of them idle) wires and pylons? Will the once unforgettably barren, thyme-scented, rocky hills of Alexandra, Earnscleugh and the tussocks of the Pig Root be smothered in a dark, monotonous blanket of pines? Will the rivers be little more than dry

stone beds, because no-one had the courage to lead the Councillors in shouting ‘It doesn’t have to be this way! This is not what we want!’ Its up to us to recognise what we have here and what it means, to prioritise what we value, to recognise that despite the brevity of our holiday on earth, there are big decisions which outlast us and affect those who follow our footprints and who will think of us with either gratitude, or disdain, pondering what was lost. I finish then with a question, asked in a children’s story by the butterfly, to the rosehedge. It’s the one which matters most, the vital question we must each ask ourselves here in Central Otago: ‘What do you leave? What did you give to the world?’ Let’s hope we can answer that question proudly, and not with embarrassment or shame.

This is ‘our landscape’, but we are brief caretakers. A century on another community will be saying the same: what they see, what they inherit, what it might mean to them depends on us and not what we say, but what we do. It’s a heavy responsibility, and it could indeed make ‘the world of difference.’ We can leave them a priceless gift if we have the courage: a landscape truly like no other.


The Wellington City Gallery Bulletin - C26  

The brief was to design the cover and an article layout for the City Gallery quarterly bulletin. The featured artist was Grahame Sydney, his...