I thought we should end the ‘Art To Know’ sections with one of the most important figures in New Zealand’s own art history, Colin McCahon. We hold this actual painting on our very own campus. “Get out of town”, you say. But it is true, potter in to the Adam Art Gallery and it is pretty hard to miss.
McCahon was born in Timaru in 1919, and began his artistic career by exploring the South Island landscape that he was surrounded by. It was here that he created the sparse, minimalist, uninhabited landscapes for which he is widely known. McCahon’s art works also grew to be highly symbolic and religious subjects, questions about life, death and morality came to be prominent in his paintings.
Travelling to America in the late 1950s, McCahon was struck by the work of the Abstract Expressionists working there, particularly Jackson Pollock. This trip gave him new confidence to create works on a larger scale, paintings to ‘walk by’, and distort and manipulate forms as he saw fit. Works such as this one, Gate III, are characteristic of McCahon in their magnitude, use of biblical text, dark undertones and atmospheric, reduced shapes.
Colin McCahon is a seminal artist in the narrative of 20th century New Zealand art. He was a pioneer of semi-abstract and abstract art in this country and interestingly does not ever entirely fit into the international art movements which were emerging contemporaneously with him. His use of text in art has also been of interest to post-modernist art historians working today.