Our People - Our Land
This is the third exhibition in the series showcasing the New Zealand landscape and the people who inhabit it. Some 85 million years ago the land on which this country sits broke away from the Gondwana supercontinent, and the primeval forces it was subjected to are apparent in the rugged Central Otago landforms in Bruce Hunt’s Geomorphology, Mt Kyeburn. Through the relentless effects of erosion and human activity, the land has since been worn smooth, as in Brent Wong’s unidentified Hills & Dam, Lake Under Clouds.
Aotearoa New Zealand has the distinction of being the last habitable landmass to be settled by humans. The people arrived in two waves, the first – the ancestors of the Maori – from eastern Polynesia around 1300 AD. Jim Wheeler’s bronze, Pohutukawa – Matariki, acknowledges both the Maori New Year and the coastal evergreen whose crimson blooms qualify it as New Zealand’s native Christmas tree.
Prior to human settlement, this had been a land of birds, and Nigel Brown makes a plea for the conservation of the tui and kokako. Aroha Gossage records the ghostly remnants, at Pakiri in eastern Northland, of the vast cabbage tree and kahikatea swamps that once characterised this country’s lowland. Gossage also addresses the practices of the country’s original settlers with her Whanau Fishing Well, while another perspective is provided by Robert Jahnke’s bronze and wood sculpture, He(t)iko, of a fish on a plate, bearing the message ‘This is not a koha / It is a customary right’.
Under pressure from an increasing population and an agricultural-based economy, New Zealand’s extensive bush cover gave way to paddocks and pastureland. Ray Ching portrays our once ubiquitous sheep, whose population peaked at just over 70 million in 1982, while Peter McIntyre’s Blue Cliffs is a tribute to an icon of our vernacular architecture, the rural woolshed. Meanwhile, the land is still in transition, threatened by spreading settlement, as evident in Zarahn Southon’s Eden, in West Auckland. By way of contrast, Hawkes Bay-born Freeman White’s 2018 Ocean Beach, Plein Air offers a pristine section of the country’s coastline
Michael Smither grew up in New Plymouth, and for the last 25 years has been based at Coromandel. His panoramic Coromandel Peninsula from Otama is one of series in which he has studied the shifting effects of light and weather as they move across his local landscape. Toss Woollaston was also born in Taranaki, at Toko, and raised on a dairy farm near Huinga in the back blocks. His expressionist Bayly’s Hill, Taranaki, is a Toko landmark he painted on many occasions.
Nuie-born artist John Pule addresses Pacific history and mythologies, and the impact of colonisation. Outside the gallery, addressing Parnell Road, stands the monolithic sculpture Fa’afafine, by Fatu Feu’u, which acknowledges those people in his native Samoa who identify as belonging to a third gender.
Bristol-born sculptor Margaret Lovell draws inspiration from the natural world, and the elements of sea and wind. The title of her organic bronze, Mantis, refers to the ancient Greek word for prophet, which has since been applied to an order of insects.
Recreation is the theme of the aptly-named Fun & Games by the late Christchurch artist Llew Summers, known for his monumental sculptures of the human form. More serious, not least from the birds’ point of view, is Ken Kendall’s bronze, 1stof May, marking the start of the duck-shooting season. Moving from representation to abstraction, the late J.S Parker’s Plainsong: Two Part Harmony is an essay in impastoed red and black. As the title suggests, it was inspired by music, light and the landscape of Marlborough where the artist lived.
Taking a more gestural approach is Max Gimblett’s Mustard Seed, painted in metallic pigments and acrylic polymers on a canvas in the shape of a four-petaled and heavily symbolic quatrefoil. Another work which introduces exotic elements is Ann Robinson’s 2016 crystal glass bowl, Watcher: Treasures of the Earth. With its coloured discs referring to nine elements – among them uranium, chromium and copper – it brings a sense of serenity and timelessness to this collection.
– Richard Wolfe