Reflected in our art

In case you were unaware, 2011 is the year of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Alongside the rugby there will be a mass of other cultural events going on as part of the REAL New Zealand Festival.

Over the last few months, in the guise of one of my non-Te Ara roles, I have been working on a couple of proposals for photographic exhibitions to coincide with the cup. As I was working on the proposal, I became acutely aware that rugby was not a subject examined much by our art photographers.

Prince of Wales Park, Mt Cook, Wellington

Prince of Wales Park, Mt Cook, Wellington

Around 10 years ago Stephen Rowe and Brett Whincup produced the book The full 80 minutes and the touring exhibition ‘The New Rugby’. Beyond that, few other artists, art photographers and painters alike, have looked at the sport (or any other sport for that matter).

Over the years, photographers other than art photographers have focused on rugby though, most famously Peter Bush, and pretty much every local photojournalist, and masses of amateur and commercial photographers have also taken photos of rugby and rugby players from grass roots to internationals.

Recently, Pataka had an exhibition looking at sheep in New Zealand art. Again, sheep are a subject that has been well-covered by photojournalists in numerous books and magazine articles, but something that has been somewhat neglected by local artists – though a number of people have made works examining the meat works closures during the 1980s, most notably Robert Jahnke.

At Pataka there was a nice collection of paintings and sculpture with sheep as their subject, but the 10 or so photos, ranging from farmlands to science labs, were pretty much all that could be found from our art photographers, as Paul McNamara pointed out in a talk he gave during the show.

I do find it interesting that these two bastions of New Zealand culture have been largely neglected by our artists, and art photographers in particular, but maybe that in itself is a strong statement about New Zealand culture.

One aspect of our culture that hasn’t been so overlooked by our artists is war. In the lead up to Anzac Day I often find myself reflecting on the artists’ take on war. New Zealand has had a number of official war artists, most notably Peter McIntyre and, most recently, Matt Gauldie.

Bunnythorpe War Memorial, Bunnythorpe, Manawatū

Bunnythorpe War Memorial, Bunnythorpe, Manawatū

A few years ago our 2011 Venice Biennale representative Michael Parakowhai produced some beautiful works responding to places in France and Flanders where the Pioneer Maori Battalion made a contribution in the First World War. Photographer Laurence Aberhart is widely known for, amongst other things, his beautiful images of memorials of war and other events – a subject he is still exploring. Michael Shepherd and Matt Pine have also explored war in their artworks.

I don’t think artists’ disregard of certain subjects is a purely New Zealand phenomena, but it does make me wonder if art does truly hold a mirror up to nature, as Shakespeare asserted, or if it just holds a mirror up to the nature of the artist.

3 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Jennifer || March 22nd, 2011

    In art forms other than the visual arts there are some powerful works – Douglas Wright on sheep, Greg McGee and Lloyd Jones on rugby spring to mind…

  2. Comment made by Kerryn || March 23rd, 2011

    There may be an element of cultural cringe about it – sheep and rugby are so redolent of so kiwiana – though Jennifer’s examples may counter this suggestion. When I heard about the sheep exhibition at Pataka I was prepared for a kinda cheesy, folksy, touristy show, but it was actually very good. Sheep were represented in a range of interesting and sometimes unexpected ways.

  3. Comment made by Nicola Tewhare || May 22nd, 2011

    I think art is such a personal indicator of the artists nature. I am sure there are artists who explore outside of their zone but I believe art is the expression of a person. The artist. And how they view life. What interests them.

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