Exhibitions
Dunedin

JOHN CASELBERG

Dunedin continues to play its role as repository of historic painting and information on the arts, and as a studio of important new work. Recently the Hocken library has been given several early McCahon paintings, including The Wake, sixteen six-foot-high canvas panels which toured the South Island in 1959. At the time the Christchurch Press headlined: 'Remarkable Illuminations by Colin McCahon of Poem'; adding: 'he has virtually created a new art form. . . I know of nothing similar in European art. . . The form is analogous to song-cycle form, with the full panels carrying the words being equivalent to songs and the half-panels equivalent to instrumental interludes.' During the autumn, part of this work was hung outside the library in the Otago Museum.

M. T. WOOLLASTON, Nude, August 1977
oil on board, 1362 x 907 mm. (collection of The Hocken Library)

The Hocken has also acquired a new large Nude by M.T. Woollaston. This had a number of prospective buyers when shown at the Peter McLeavey Gallery in March ,where it was displayed with five other 'oil paintings. . . 1974/1977'. Two extensive landscapes represented, panoramically, the hills and mountains that shelter Nelson haven. These were painted by Woollaston after forty years devoted association with that quiet sun-mellowed district. Recapturing a Shelleyan mood of the painter's youth, and the youth of Nelson city, the magnificent, symphonic Tasman Bay 1928 properly belongs to the people of Nelson. It deserves its own public gallery there. One day it will become an object of pilgrimage. Instead of hills, in the Hocken's Nude the seated feminine figure appears monumental, with echoes of both Rubens and Renoir. However, pale arms lifted overhead in the form of an arch emphasize the objective cool white light which suffuses this picture. It is a fit companion piece for the bold and vibrant Kahutara (Kaikoura) landscape, purchased by Professor Simpson for the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 1966. Now living permanently in Dunedin, Marilyn Webb contributed two outstanding prints to the Peter Webb Galleries' 'Rangitoto Special' exhibition in February. Both Auckland newspaper reviewers were impressed by her work, which a leading painter there found 'tough but gentle' and one of the best in the show. Marilyn Webb is more than casually acquainted with this mysterious island, having often visited it and walked for hours alone in its primeval forest landscape when she was an Auckland resident. Nevertheless, research in the Hocken library renewed her knowledge of Rangitoto's commanding outlines. She has used the shape of another volcano for the cover design of the seventh edition of Hone Tuwhare's No Ordinary Sun, published by John Mclndoe last year. The 'Dark Mountain' here is Putauaki - Mount Edgecumbe - which dominates Kawerau and the Te Teko district. Marilyn Webb developed this symbol in memory of her mother, who belonged to the people of that area. Hone Tuwhare was also closely associated with the local people when he was working nearby at Te Mahoe. From there he sent No Ordinary Sun to its first publisher, Blackwood Paul. The new cover is particularly successful. Other publishers should follow this example, whereby a New Zealand artist has been specifically employed to present New Zealand writing to the best advantage.

No Ordinary Sun was also celebrated in the Bosshard Galleries' April exhibition of Paintings 1977 by Ralph Hotere. In the major work on view, Hotere has inscribed the words of Tuwhare's title poem in white against the darkness which fills and surrounds a large central thin-lined circle. The stanzas are arranged clock-wise outside the rim of the circle, so that an effect is suggested of splashing solar prominences being revealed by an astronomical photograph of the sun during total eclipse. A charred earth-scape appears in the foreground. In this and the other paintings displayed, Hotere combines .the precision and mastery of classic Maori art with a concern for events of these times.

The theme of No Ordinary Sun is atomic explosion. In a series of paintings, the Maori place names of Otago Harbour recall a scheme to build an aluminium smelter at the harbour entrance, Aramoana. In another group, this ecology is fused with scarlet Port Chalmers 'sunrise' paintings, with words by Bill Manhire. Other pictures are inscribed with an old Maori saying, which seems to convey something of Hotere's own statement to viewers of his work: 'Tenei taku manu te rere atu nei - He karere no te whitinga maio te ra': 'This is my bird that flies to you - a messenger from where the sun rises.'

The maquette for Hotere's Auckland Airport mural was also on view. Now owned by the Hocken Library, this preliminary model confirms what glimpses of the unassembled work in Dunedin had suggested. Hotere is painting more exuberantly than before. The colours are bird-of-paradise' tropical, as splendid as Chinese Theatre sets and modern South American painting (Polynesia does join Asia and the Americas). The middle panels depict the words of a traditional Maori song, which literally welcomes the shining cuckoo to these shores after its long flight south over the Pacific, but which is chanted as a greeting and a challenge to visitors when they step on to North Auckland maraes. According to legend, when the ancestral Tainui canoe was approaching New Zealand, its occupants saw the pohutukawa trees flowering blood-red above the cliffs and beaches. Then the guardian of the tapu kura, Haupopo, was induced to throw overboard his scarlet feather head-dress. Before him he saw a whole land blossoming with 'the sacred red', 'the chiefly insignia', the sign of spiritual presence. Overseas travellers flying into Auckland now will be met by a new 'plume' of an Oceanic people: an art treasure flashing like wind-shaken pohutukawa flowers above the rainbow-stained, blue-green sea: greeting the manuhiri (visitors) with Polynesian joyousness but also challenging heir entry with reasserted spiritual assurance and élan.

Originally published in Art New Zealand 9 February/March/April 1978