Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lessons in NZ Art

Time for a little bit of Kiwiana of sorts, or New Zealand Art Scene 101 to those further afield.

Sunday afternoon, I fringed/hemmed, washed and pressed the first four cashmeres, (the No, No, No, Maybe series - the last one is a No also,) while watching Hamish Keith's The Big Picture. Well, truth be told, it took me over six hours to fring just four tiny scarves, because I had to watch all six episodes once I got started. What a joy! What entertainment! Especially because I missed the last two episodes when it was on the telly.

I know his views are considered controversial. I can see how he easily offended a fair number in the New Zealand Arts Establishment. However, I don't really believe anybody takes any other person's view on art as set in stone, and in that vein, I think this is a jolly good introduction for an outsider like me to New Zealand art, which thus far have been fragmented, and often too focused on a particular painter where the artist's merit is already a given. (Is that grammatical?) Has there ever been such a comprehensive, albeit very personal, overview of New Zealand art?

The early history of how the English explorers/colonizers viewed NZ was intriguing; the way art was used to entice more English immigrants was, as ever, problematic. (Empty land that needs people.) The changes in the ways Maroi was portrayed was at once fascinating and worrying, and the contrast between the development of European immigrant art and Maori art (I'm running out of adjectives here) interesting. And throughout it all, there was the "tyranny of distance" hovering like black clouds. Good stuff.

By far the most rewarding for me was his very personal introduction to McCahon, McCahon in historical context, and McCahon vs Tosswell.

I wished it went on for another couple of episodes; I was naturally expecting a mention of Graham Sydney along with Riga Angus's Cass. I wished it had more art forms besides paintings; there could have been considerably more sculptures and wood work, newer ceramics/glass, architecture... But these are minor complaints compared to how comprehensively he covered all the grounds he wanted to cover. Oh, when he was in the Netherlands (I think - I have to watch it again) I was flabbergasted he wasn't wearing gloves while handling old paintings or prints, but I hope and pray the archivist/s knew what he was up to.

Around the same time this series was broadcast, do you remember there was another series focusing on individual artists, one episode being on Rita Angus? I caught the last five minutes of that episode, and when it was rerun on the weekend, I caught the last ten minutes only. And I kept missing most others in the series, so I'd love to find out how I can view them again without having to buy another box to sit along the video and DVD and TV and the rest.

I asked Robin Gardiner if she thought of adding "The Big Picture" to the NZ Guild video/DVD collection, but the answer was no, because it's not workshop-based. Pity, but as she said, your local library might have it.

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