A place to paint – celebrating Colin McCahon

Publish Date : 22 Aug 2019
A place to paint – celebrating Colin McCahon
Colin McCahon in 1963

This August, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki marks the centenary of the birth of Colin McCahon with a unique consideration of his relationship with the city.

Though born in Timaru, McCahon lived in Auckland for more than 30 years until his death in 1987. He became an integral part of the city’s culture through his efforts as not only a producer of significant artworks but as a nurturer and custodian of other artists and their art.

Featuring pieces created throughout his residency in Tāmaki Makaurau, A Place to Paint: Colin McCahon in Auckland offers a focused look at the influence of the physical, spiritual and cultural landscape of the region on the works of one of Australasia’s most important modernist artists.

We talk to Ron Brownson, the gallery’s senior curator of New Zealand and Pacific art, about the renowned artist and this remarkable exhibition:

OurAuckland: How would you describe Colin McCahon’s legacy within the sphere of Auckland art?

Ron Brownson: He was not only an exceptional painter, he was also an influential teacher, both at the gallery and the Elam School of Fine Arts. He was an important art curator, researching and preparing exhibitions. He was especially significant to the gallery, firstly as keeper (what we used to call a curator) and later as assistant director. Significant acquisitions from contemporary New Zealand artists resulted from his knowledge and initiative. He worked at the gallery for almost a decade and his influence was comprehensive.

A place to paint – celebrating Colin McCahon (2)
'Moby Dick is sighted off Muiwai: a necessary case for protection', 1972

OA How rare is it to have these works together?

RB It has been 16 years since we have had a large-scale McCahon exhibition at the gallery. Many of these artworks come from the permanent collection and others have been generously lent from key private and public collections.

OA What is the collection worth to Auckland?

RB Auckland Art Gallery’s collection of paintings by Colin McCahon is of great significance to this city. He worked here for the longest period of his life and he ensured that the gallery held a key collection of his artwork.

OA How did McCahon’s move to Auckland affect the city’s art scene?

RB When he arrived in 1953, Auckland was already growing into New Zealand’s largest art centre and he played a key role in developing it further. Over the ensuing decades, Auckland has become the place where most of our artists now live. McCahon encouraged artists to remain in New Zealand and to work here.

A place to paint – celebrating Colin McCahon (1)
The Large Jump, 1973

OA What places might Aucklanders recognise?

RB Locals will recognise One Tree Hill in May His Light Shine (Tau Cross), 1978-1979, the rock pillar at Muriwai in The Large Jump, 1973, and the kauri of Titirangi in his French Bay paintings. They will also find abstracted elements from throughout the city, a cross-section of the volcanic landscape and the geometric shapes of an urban cityscape.

OA What makes this exhibition unmissable?

RB McCahon is one of New Zealand’s foremost artists and the selected artworks include large-scale and multipanel pieces that are not often shown, due to their physical size. This will be a unique opportunity to view several of these big paintings at once, and we want to invite visitors to consider them in detail, to share an intimacy with the works that is not often possible.

A Place To Paint: Colin McCahon In Auckland is on at Auckland Art Gallery 10 August - 27 January. 

See the OurAuckland event listing for more information.

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