Para Matchitt's vision of the haka!

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Friday 6 June 2014
Ron Brownson

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When I was a child my mother took me to an exhibition of Paratene Matchitt's artwork in Hamilton and I have followed his career ever since. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki recently acquired at auction an early painting by Para titled Au Au Aue Hāa! It is one of the first contemporary painted representations of haka.

Hamish Keith confirmed that he had worked with both Peter Tomory and Colin McCahon on the New Zealand Painting 1962 exhibition, in which this painting was included as catalogue number 52. It was likely that Hamish was responsible for alerting Peter and Colin to Para's talent.

I phoned Para and he recalled in a flash that this painting was shown publicly for the first time at this Gallery – a few months after he had completed it on Sunday 9 September 1962.

When I first saw the painting I did not know its correct title and the painting has no inscriptions on the back of the original frame. I accessed the artist's file in the E.H. McCormick Research Library and recalled that I had assembled useful information about Para's early work. I re-read Rangihiroa Panoho's MA thesis on the artist that is held in the Library.

In  Para's file there is a black and white photograph of this painting, that I sourced from the New Zealand Herald long ago when I did not know the work's whereabouts. I had written onto the photo's mount card this commentary from theHerald of 23 September 1964:
   
A painting by the Hamilton artist, Para Matchitt, showing how traditional Maori art forms can be applied by a modern artist to produce powerful symbolic effect – in this case the vigour and ferocity of the haka. The author of the accompanying article considers Para Matchitt’s work suited to present day architectural application.
In the artist's file I found the following undated colour article from the New Zealand Women's Weekly. What a stun to see  Au Au Aue Hāa! reproduced top right and another Para Matchitt painting The Carver III created in May 1964 and which we acquired in 2007.

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Para Matchitt’s Au Au Aue Hā!!! comes from a small group of gouache paintings that interpret visual aspects of haka as it performed as dance yet traditionally depicted in whakairo. Para was one of the first artists to bring indigenous carving and dance traditions into painting.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa holds the smaller painting Whiti te ra 1962 (675 x 430mm) which dates from 3 months earlier than Au Au Aue Hā!!! The painting's title echoes the passion filled call in the renowned haka Ko Niu Tireni (1925) written by Wiremu Rangi.

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Au Au Aue Hā!!! is one of Para Matchitt’s earliest major works. The painting did not result from either a preparatory sketch or preliminary drawing, which is in line with the ways he imagined all his paintings and drawings in his mind and then drew them accordingly.

The figure in the painting is shown performing a haka with upraised hands and arms and with feet set apart. By restricting his palette to muted greys with intense tones of red and black, the painting reveals a powerful graphic presence. The figure’s naval, chest and bicep are indicated by traditional Maori designs that have been transformed in expressive gestures.

In the Women's Weekly portrait of Para seated above, he is holding his sculpture Crucifix 1964 which the Ilene and Laurence Dakin Bequest purchased for the Gallery in 2007.

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[I see Auckland has the England versus All Blacks rugby match at Eden Park this weekend. I know that there will be a terrific haka performed by the men in Black just before kick-off]

Image credits:

Paratene Matchitt
born 1933 Aotearoa New Zealand
Ngāti Porou, Whakatōhea, Whānau ā Apanui
Au Au Aue Hā!!! 1962
gouache on paper
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
gift of the Ilene and Laurence Dakin Bequest, 2014 

Undated clipping from the New Zealand Women's Weekly

Unknown photographer Para Matchitt circa 1965