240 Years of New Zealand Painting Review

Two Hundred and Forty Years of New Zealand Painting, David Batemen Ltd, 2012.

The third and latest edition of 240: Two Hundred and Forty Years of New Zealand Painting, or rather Ed Hanfling’s updating section covering the period from 1990 to the present (on the top of Michael Dunn’s section covering the 1970s and ‘80s to which it was shackled , is an idiosyncratic beast compared to its predecessors.To put this in perspective, from 1990 to 2012 is a period of 22 years. If we transpose that somewhat, that’s the same period as from 1945 to 1967, post-war to postmodern. Actually, that would be 241 years on New Zealand painting – but I guess nice round numbers sell better. Obviously there is an accepted narrative structure used for that period of art, but Hanfling fails to find a similar structure of threads in our period. I consider that odd given that plenty of parallels can be found in American and Australian art in particular.

There are some gestures towards structure – a brief description of the flowering of a particularly graffiti-like postmodern mode of painting in Christchurch in the early 1990s sets a touchstone. In that regard Hanfling talks about Bill Hammond, Séraphine Pick and Saskia Leek. Shane Cotton and Peter Robinson are sort of coaxed off on their own northerly odyssey, and bizarrely Tony de Lautour is only mentioned by name and only as the artist that Saskia Leek seemed to be emulating. And then everything heads predominantly to the North Island to buzz around aimlessly for a bit.

Of course, any attempt at structure would be soundly defeated by Hanfling’s tendency to try and shoehorn in artists like Ian Scott, Robin Kahukiwa, Philip Trusttum, and Don Driver (who isn’t even really a painter I would have thought) who had their legitimate floreat in the period covered by Dunn and that’s where they should have been put in such a revision. Significant painters have been ignored in favour of relative non-starters like Douglas Badcock (1922-2009), and Raewyn Martin (born 1981, one of those “conceptual painters” who don’t actually paint, and whom I’ve surprisingly never heard of before) – not exactly what one would have thought a book of this kind was for. Also I would have thought that the flurry of abstract painters out of Canterbury in the 2000s – Miranda Parkes, André Hemer and Marie le Lievre etc – might have been worth a mention. And what about Andrew McLeod and Liz Maw in Auckland? These are gaping holes you could steer the QE2 through.

I think that with a book of this kind it’s really important to revise it from first principles, not continue to pile additions on top of each other in a chaotic way that reflects more on the personal tastes and interests of the writer that they do of the objective picture. What we have is a sort of piecemeal collection of names with no real consistency as to the criteria for inclusion, and three distinct canons of taste jostling to assert themselves. It also seems peculiar to say the least to reject a logical structure based around nationalism and regionalism when that is the entire premise of publishing a book on New Zealand painting in the first place. Painting, after all, is a conversation, a lineage – patterns of influence and interest should be the art historian’s bread and butter, and I simply do not feel that with this addition. If your publisher wants to portray you as definitive, then you jolly well should be.

review by Andrew Paul Wood

240 Years of New Zealand Painting spans 150 artists and more than 170 paintings. Ed Hanfling includes 23 new artist essays, spanning the last 20 years that he feels best represent that period. Most of the artists included in this latest chapter have not featured previously. The exceptions are those who have moved their work in a distinctly new direction during the last 20 years.

“Above all I have let feeling dictate my judgements…Though this may sound strange or corny, I have tried to come up with a selection that feels good, or conveys a sense of joy. It is an antidote, perhaps, to the gloominess associated with New Zealand art…” Ed Hanfling.

New artist profiles and images selected by Edward Hanfling include:

●Bill Hammond ● Milan Mrkusich ● Jude Rae ● Shane Cotton ● Don Driver ● Mervyn Williams ● Séraphine Pick ● Sara Hughes ● John Pule ● Saskia Leek ● Joanna Margaret Paul ● Douglas Badcock ● Alberto Garcia-Alvarez ● Julian Dashper ● Saffronn Te Ratana ● Philip Trusttum ● Peter Robinson ● John Reynolds ● Ian Scott ● Lorraine Webb ● Robyn Kahukiwa ● Patrick Lundberg ● Raewyn Martyn ●

The original text by GIL DOCKING, former director of the Auckland Art Gallery, covers the period from European discovery up to 1969. Presented in its original form, it is a fascinating look at what was being thought about and written about New Zealand paintings over forty years ago.

Beginning with Sydney Parkinson’s 1769 pen-and-wash study A Perforated Rock in New Zealand, made during Cook’s first voyage of discovery, the text moves through four main periods; from ‘Exploration’, a time when British and French painters with varying approaches—from the scientific to the romantic—recorded what they saw during brief visits to this country, to the ‘New Impulses’ in New Zealand art in the 1960s.

MICHAEL DUNN’s narrative takes the reader through the 1970s and 1980s with a discussion of neo-expressionism, new realism and the rise of Māori and Polynesian painting.

EDWARD HANFLING looks at New Zealand painting and its evolution over the last twenty years, when many painters saw their work as a medium for addressing issues, ideas and identities, and describes new directions in painting that test the boundaries of the medium

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