IN A CLEAR LIGHT: PAINTINGS AND PRINTS
FROM THE 1960s AND 1970s
In the 1960s, when the history of New Zealand art began to be written, the existence of a specifically New Zealand style was much debated. Art that represented the New Zealand landscape, using sharp, precise forms to reflect the intensity of its light, was seen as authentic. Anything else might be considered suspect or foreign.
Many different strands emerged in New Zealand art at this time, from conceptual art to expressionism. Among them was a style of realism, one that seemed to continue the crisp, clear approach of painters of an earlier generation, such as Rita Angus and Christopher Perkins. The realism of Auckland painter Don Binney, for example, with its combination of clear local landscapes and iconic fauna, seemed to capture this desire for an authentic New Zealand art. Binney's birds were phenomenally successful.
Other artists took differing approaches. Robin White acknowledged the influence of Rita Angus and her work is strongly concerned with specific localities, as seen in a work like This is me at Kaitangata. At the same time, White's art is also a document of her life, her family and friends - her images are personal as well as public.
Ian Scott added a measure of pop art irony to realist equation. Rife with references to the work of other painters, his images of fashion models leaping over the landscape have been described as 'Playboy Binneys'. Michael Illingworth pursued his status as an outsider to mainstream New Zealand society, engaging with Maori culture. Based on these interests, he imbued his jewel-like landscapes with a sense of fecundity and mystery.
Abstract art was also flourishing here. In the 1950s, Gordon Walters had found an entirely different solution to the problem of what to paint in New Zealand. Walters' koru paintings synthesised western abstraction with his passion for Maori art. In other paintings he responded to the arts of the wider Pacific.
For a younger generation of artists, including Richard Killeen,Walters' rigorous, hard-edged style was exemplary. Arranged directly on the wall in no particular order, Killeen's cut-out paintings, which emerged in 1978, took the ambiguities of figure and ground in Walters' koru paintings in new directions.
In a clear light draws together these different strands: the local and the international, the realist and the abstract. Included are paintings and prints which, like the light of the Pacific, are clear, bright and sharply delineated. Drawn from the museum's collections, it is the second in a series of changing components of the major art exhibition Toi Te Papa: Art of the Nation.