Te Papa is open. Visiting Te Papa under Alert Level 2
Kei te tuwhera a Te Papa. Te toronga mai ki Te Papa i raro i te Pae Mataara 2

Te Papa celebrates the centenary of Colin McCahon’s birth

Fri 23 Aug 2019

Nine of Colin McCahon’s most important works will be hung in Te Papa´s Toi Art galleries this August, coinciding with the centenary of the artist’s birth.

Te Papa holds one of the largest collections of Colin McCahon’s work in New Zealand and is proud to present a celebration of the extensive artwork he created from the 1940s to 1970s.

Curator of Modern Art, Lizzie Bisley, describes McCahon as a remarkable figure in New Zealand art and one of the country’s most significant artists.

People in an art gallery

Caption

Visitors in Toi Art with Colin McCahon's A grain of wheat, 1970. Photo by Jack Fisher. Te Papa

“Always technically daring, and open to challenging the boundaries of what a painting could be, McCahon famously described art as “signs and symbols for people to live by”. Through his work he has engaged people with big questions about life, faith, and place,” Bisley says.

Focusing on three major moments in McCahon’s life, these three groups of paintings present distinct phases in McCahon’s career. From early religious paintings, that experiment with landscape and figurative work, to the abstract paintings of the 1960s and huge word paintings of the 1970s. This group of works shows McCahon experimenting with different scale, materials and subjects.

Lizzie Bisley, Modern Art curator says: “This is such an exciting time for Te Papa to present a range of Colin McCahon’s paintings in Toi Art. Coinciding with the centaury of McCahon’s birth, these works demonstrate the ongoing relevance and importance of his practice.”

Born in Timaru in 1919, McCahon studied art in Dunedin in the late 1930s. He first exhibited his work at the Otago Art Society in 1939, going on to show regularly with the Christchurch collective The Group. McCahon moved to Auckland with his family in 1953. He spent the rest of his life in Auckland, working for many years at a curator at the Auckland Art Gallery, and teaching at the Elam School of Art, alongside his practice as a painter.

Opening 24 August 2019

Level 5 of Toi Art, Te Papa

Entry is free

Ends

Two people install an artwork

Caption

Installing Colin McCahon's Upper corners off, the second large gate, 1961. Photo by Jack Fisher. Te Papa

Notes to Editors

Background information

The first group of paintings which include The Angel of the Annunciation, Christ Taken from the Cross and The King of the Jews, represent his early work depicting biblical scenes within a New Zealand landscape. These works which were first exhibited at the Wellington Public Library in 1948, shocked viewers with his use of flat surfaces, bold black outlines, titles and speech bubbles.

The second group of works on display were mostly painted in the 1960s and includes the works Waioneke, Gate: Waioneke, Upper corners off, the second large gate and Mondrian’s Last Crysanthemum. Although these four paintings are abstract, they also respond to the landscape and places in which McCahon lived. These works reflect his response to the increasingly urgent nuclear threat and environmental risk which was prevalent in the late 60s.

The last work Walk, which depicts Muriwai Beach, is a large, multi-part canvas, dating from 1973. This painting engages with the viewer physically, encouraging its audience to walk along the length of the work and experience McCahon’s view of the beach.

McCahon’s well known painting a grain of wheat will be displayed in the stairwell between Level 4 and 5 of the gallery. There is a powerful immediacy to this painting, the work striving to speak to a wide audience as clearly as possible with the use of bold and compelling text.

Full list of works

Colin McCahon, The Angel of the Annunciation, 1947, oil on cardboard. © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust. Te Papa (1980-0008-3)

Colin McCahon, Christ taken from the Cross, 1947, oil on cardboard. Gift of the artist, 1980. © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust. Te Papa (1980-0008-1)

Colin McCahon, The King of the Jews, 1947, oil on cardboard mounted onto hardboard. Bequest of Ron O'Reilly, 1982. © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust. Te Papa (1982-0065-1)

Colin McCahon, Waioneke, 1961, enamel on hardboard. © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust. Te Papa (1980-0008-4)

Colin McCahon, Gate: Waioneke, 1961, enamel on hardboard. © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust. Te Papa (1980-0008-5)

Colin McCahon, Upper corners off, the second large gate, 1961, enamel on hardboard. © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust. Te Papa (1980-0008-6)

Colin McCahon, Mondrian's last chrysanthemum, 1976, acrylic on paper. © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust. Te Papa (2008-0025-1)

Colin McCahon, Walk (Series C), 1973, acrylic on hessian. © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust. Te Papa (2004-0017-1/ A-K to K-K)

Colin McCahon, A grain of wheat, 1970, acrylic on unstretched canvas. © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust. Te Papa (1978-0009-2)

Dropbox folder of images with captions and credits

Media contact

Clare Callaghan, Communications Advisor

clare.callaghan@tepapa.govt.nz

021 541 343