Painting can be such a lovely squishing squelchy tactile art, don’t you think? Think how much fun it might have been to mix up soot with oil from berries and weka, or to pick up some kōkōwai (iron oxide) and then start painting on a huge rock canvas with your hands. Or to sit down looking out at a landscape you (and no others of your ethnicity) had ever seen before and quickly, with a large brush, and lots of water, paint the scene before you. (See this piece in Art New Zealand, footnote 5, for a description of William Fox’s technique.)
This month the four entries we’re highlighting all include painting – Māori rock art – ngā toi ana, Public and street art, Contemporary Māori art – ngā toi hōu and (unsurprisingly) the Painting entry itself.
You can’t see me, but as I sit here writing this, I’m waving my hands around, now in imitation of the quick thick strokes of a man painting outside, working quickly, quickly, before the light changes – look at the strokes of colour that build up Edward Friström’s ‘Motutapu. Large oil paintings, done back in the studio, have a different feel, the layers of paint slowly built up over time, glazes gliding across the canvas, creating the near-photographic nature of Charles Goldie’s work.
Working on street murals, slopping and rolling the paint on the vast spaces or working with spray cans, is different again, with the rattle of the can, the hiss of the spray, the full body movement of the artist, the dripping of paint down the wall. The pouring and swirling of enamel, as Pat Hanly did in ‘Pacific condition, uses the physical nature of paint to create the work itself. It just makes you want to grab some paint, stick your hands in it and swirl it all around. Another technique that sounds like it might be both sticky and fun is egg tempera – mixing pigment, egg yolk and water, a centuries-old form of paint that both Grahame Sydney and Isiaha Barlow use in their work.
As you might guess, I am a gallery attendant’s nightmare, wanting to peer and poke and stroke and smooth. Luckily one of the lovely things about the internet is that it is now possible to experience paintings in other ways, without damaging the works, although the smell of soot and oil, of turps, of spray paint, is still missing. But you can zoom in to see the brushstrokes and the underdrawings, or view Ralph Hotere sanding, coating, buffing and painting immaculately straight lines for a mural. Conservators are also using the internet to show people their work with paintings – such as this series of images from Christchurch Art Gallery about the Leo Bensemann painting ‘St Olaf’, or this one from Te Papa, which talks about Colin McCahon’s Northland panels and his use of house paint.
However, although the internet can do many things, and has opened up a world of art, I still think that being able to go and view or make art yourself is fantastic. So, if you can this month, go and view some painting, or grab a toddler and paints and experiment making marks yourself. Go squishy squashy sticky sloppy painting mad!