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Nine McCahon paintings on display at Te Papa for the centenary of his birth

Two Te Papa staff members installing a Colin McCahon painting, 2019. Photo by Jack Fisher / Te Papa

News from Te Papa
Nine of Colin McCahon’s most important works are on display in Te Papa´s Toi Art galleries this month, 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 selection of the extensive art 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.

“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 centenary 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.

Open now
Level 5 of Toi Art, Te Papa
Entry is free
https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/visit/exhibitions/toi-art

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.

mccahon-att-te-papa

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 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)

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