The exhibition A Place to Paint: Colin McCahon in Auckland opens on 10 August, coinciding with the centenary of Colin McCahon’s birth in August 1919. McCahon arrived in Auckland in the early 1950s to work at Auckland Art Gallery. This move and his new role started an energetic period for the artist during which he balanced a successful working life with an increasingly productive time as an artist.
The exhibition’s focus lies in the significance of Auckland City on McCahon’s development as an artist and its presence in his painting. In the accompanying lecture series McCahon: Artist, Curator, Spouse, prominent guest speakers will unpack lesser-known stories about McCahon’s life and practice.
Lecture 1, Sun 15 Sep, 10.30am–12.30pm
Finn McCahon-Jones – Colin McCahon: Artist as Curator 1953–64
Colin McCahon moved to Auckland in 1953 to take up a position at the Auckland Art Gallery, where he used his knowledge as an artist to inform his curatorial practice. During the 1960s a shift in museum practice took place and the exhibition space transformed into something that was anything but neutral. Focusing on McCahon’s professional career, this lecture highlights some of the lesser-known aspects of the artist – and curator’s – life.
About the speaker
Finn McCahon-Jones is a freelance curator with a background in fine arts and museums. He has worked as a curator and collection manager at Auckland War Memorial Museum (2004-2015), and was director of Te Toi Uku: Crown Lynn and Clayworks Museum (2015-2017).
In 2018 he returned to Auckland University to continue his studies, his thesis is the basis for this lecture. Finn McCahon-Jones is co-curator of McCahon’s Auckland: In The Archive, Mace Gallery, Auckland Art Gallery.
Lecture 2, Sun 29 Sep, 10.30am–12.30pm
Alexa Johnston and Annette McKone – Upland Road Convent Chapel Painted Windows
In 1965 and 1966, Colin McCahon painted a series of multi-panel windows for the Upland Road Convent chapel in Remuera. This commission was an opportunity to share his interest in and questions about faith with a new audience. In 1989 the windows were gifted to Auckland Art Gallery, albeit in a fragile state. In preparation for the McCahon Centenary exhibition, the windows have been restored by the Gallery’s conservators.
In this lecture, former gallery curator Alexa Johnston will talk about the Upland Road Convent chapel painted windows and McCahon’s interest in Christian signs and symbols, and objects conservator Annette McKone will take you through the intricate conservation process of these works.
About the speakers
Alexa Johnston is a writer, independent curator and historian. After working at Auckland Art Gallery as a curator for nineteen years, she curated the exhibition Sir Edmund Hillary: Everest and Beyond for Auckland War Memorial Museum in 2002. This was followed by the publication of her first book, Sir Edmund Hillary: An Extraordinary Life, which was a finalist in the Montana Book Awards. Alexa has published a number of books celebrating New Zealand's culinary history including Ladies, a Plate.
Alexa wrote about Colin McCahon's interest in religious thinking and imagery for the catalogue of Auckland Art Gallery's 1988 exhibition Colin McCahon: Gates and Journeys and has contributed to the catalogue of the current exhibition of the Upland Road Chapel windows.
Annette McKone was appointed in 2010 as Auckland Art Gallery’s first Objects Conservator, and is responsible for our growing collection of sculpture and installations. Together with 2018 Marylyn Mayo intern Eleanor Vallier, Annette has done extensive work to preserve and as far as possible restore McCahon’s painted glass windows from the former Convent in Upland Road, Remuera (Chapel of the Sisters of our Lady of the Missions).
Lecture 3, Sun 13 Oct, 10.30am–12.30pm
Linda Tyler – The Creative Life of Anne McCahon
Nurtured in New Zealand’s cultural capital Dunedin in the middle years of last century, Anne Hamblett’s success as an exhibiting artist up until the end of the Second World War resulted in the sale of paintings into private collections in Otago and Wellington. She exhibited for only three more years after marrying Colin McCahon, who was four years her junior, in 1942. Yet she continued to be creative, producing illustrations for the School Journal and learning to make ceramics. This lecture will explore the various aspects of her creative life both before and after she became Mrs McCahon.
About the speaker
Linda Tyler has taught art and design history at Canterbury, Victoria and Waikato universities and currently teaches art writing and curatorial practice at Honours level in the Art History Department at the University of Auckland, and supervises student research in the University’s Museums and Cultural Heritage programme.
Linda researched the career of Anne McCahon née Hamblett when she was Curator of Pictorial Collections at the Hocken Library in Dunedin in 2005, for the chapter “I Did Not Want to be Mrs Colin” in Deborah Shepard’s AUP book Between the Lives: Partners in Art. She curated the exhibition A Table Of One’s Own: The Creative Life Of Anne McCahon, which was on display at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery in 2016/2017.
Lecture 4, Sun 3 Nov, 10.30am–12.30pm
Peter Simpson – Colin McCahon and America: Before, During and After
The four months Colin McCahon spent in America in 1958 mark a watershed in his development. In this illustrated talk Peter Simpson first looks briefly at McCahon’s knowledge of American art prior to his visit. Secondly, he discusses the visit itself and the art McCahon was exposed to, especially in San Francisco, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Boston and Chicago. Thirdly, he considers the work McCahon made in the prolific year after his return, including The Wake, Northland Panels and the Elias series, and the various ways in which it was affected by what he had seen in the United States.
About the speaker
Peter Simpson is a former associate professor of English at the University of Auckland. He is the author of numerous critically acclaimed books including Colin McCahon: The Titirangi Years, 1953–1959 (AUP, 2007) and Bloomsbury South: The Arts in Christchurch 1933–1953 (AUP, 2016). Peter received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (non-fiction) in 2017.
Peter Simpson has studied Colin McCahon for decades, making him one of the most renowned experts on McCahon. He has curated three significant exhibitions of McCahon’s work, two shown at Auckland Art Gallery, including Answering Hark: Caselberg/McCahon, Poet-Painter (2001). His lecture at Auckland Art Gallery coincides with the launch of his book Colin McCahon: There Is Only One Direction. Vol.1 1919-1959, the first part of a richly illustrated two-volume work on the evolution of the artist’s work over McCahon’s entire forty-five-year career.
Lecture 5, Sun 10 Nov, 10.30am–12.30pm
Ron Brownson – Painting as a Potent Way of Talking
For most of the 1960s Colin McCahon was Lecturer in Painting at Elam School of Fine Arts. While there, he initiated a number of ambitious projects which resulted in multi-panel paintings such as Landscape theme and variations (series A), 1963, Numerals, 1965 and The Way of the Cross 1965–66. These large-scale artworks bring together individual parts into panoramic images in where signs, symbols and place coalesce.
During the 1970s, the painter united spiritual notions surrounding journeys, departures and arrivals in paintings made at his Muriwai studio. While always connected with place, McCahon’s late paintings contrast lettered texts and scripted light, with spaces showing shifts occurring between day and night, as well as with time and symbol.
This illustrated lecture suggests ideas surrounding both looking at, and learning from, Colin McCahon’s later paintings.
About the speaker
Ron Brownson is Senior Curator New Zealand and Pacific Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, where he has recently curated DiscoVERY; an interactive collaborative performance, music and video project between Fa’ani (Ani O’Neill) and RoBro (Rosanna Raymond) for the Creative Learning Centre. His interview with Andy Leleisi’uao was published in the catalogue to the artist’s current survey exhibition at the Wallace Arts Centre. He is currently working on the exhibition A Place to Paint: Colin McCahon in Auckland for the Gallery (with Julia Waite).
Colin McCahon, Moby Dick is sighted off Muriwai Beach, 1972, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, on loan from a private collection
Images: (Left to right) Finn McCahon-Jones, photo by Dean Carruthers; Alexa Johnston, Annette McKone, Linda Tyler, Peter Simpson, photo by Marti Friedlander, and Ron Brownson.
Lecture 1, Sun 15 Sep
Lecture 2, Sun 29 Sep
Lecture 3, Sun 13 Oct
Lecture 4, Sun 3 Nov
Lecture 5, Sun 10 Nov
- Auckland Art Gallery Auditorium
- $150 for Members, $190 for non-Members (includes one-year membership)