Towards Auckland: Colin McCahon the Gallery Years

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Exhibition Details

Towards Auckland considers the years Colin McCahon worked at the Auckland City Art Gallery (1953–1964). Curator Hamish Keith, McCahon's colleague at the Gallery from 1958, reveals that they were critical years for the painter both professionally and artistically.

The move north from Christchurch provided McCahon with myriad new subject matter. He marvelled at the qualities of light, atmosphere and geography in his new home, producing the cubist-inspired Towards AucklandTitirangiKauri and French Bay series. In 1958, he travelled to the United States introducing him to the latest trends in American painting. Upon returning home, he executed a series of Northland paintings, which were a dramatic departure from his Titirangi works. They contained no trace of European modernism. Keith argues that McCahon discarded the influence of cubism 'in favour of the freshness and immediacy he had observed and admired in the work of contemporary American painters.'

Keith further emphasises that 'What changed for McCahon during the Gallery years was also fundamentally about subject. He leapt away from the familiar, if never comfortable, themes of nationalism, identity and personal faith, to what might broadly be described as metropolitan issues.' McCahon created works that responded to his urban environment and to issues of global concern. His Gate series, made at a time when the fear of nuclear holocaust was a constant, were revolutionary in confronting such subject matter. These works sought to express the very human fear such events provoked and 'a way through' for humanity.

In this exhibition, Keith explains, 'the journey from On Building Bridges to the Gate series represents more than just a maturing of an artist's style. It sums up the critical changes that took place in New Zealand during Colin McCahon's Gallery years – the shift from a regional to an urban culture.'

 

Colin McCahon: Painter, Keeper, Teacher
Colin McCahon (1919-1987) is widely acknowledged as one of New Zealand's most exceptional 20th century artists. Born in Timaru, he studied part-time at Dunedin School of Art from 1937-39. His early works captured the unique qualities of the New Zealand landscape, later depicting religious subjects within it. Supporting himself and his family with seasonal work, he lived in various towns throughout the South Island until 1948 when he settled in Christchurch.

In 1953, McCahon moved to Auckland for a job at Auckland City Art Gallery. Starting initially as a part-time cleaner, then working as an attendant, he later attained the position of Keeper, holding the role until 1964. As well as participating in the day-to-day running of the Gallery, McCahon curated many exhibitions, wrote catalogues, cared for the collection and taught painting classes in the Gallery's attic. With Director Peter Tomory, he played a critical role in recognising the importance of New Zealand art, both historic and contemporary.

McCahon's Gallery years were also artistically productive, often using the Gallery's attic as a painting studio. From September 1964 he taught painting at Elam School of Fine Arts, only becoming a full-time painter upon his retirement in 1971.

His work traversed subjects as diverse as landscape, identity, religion, faith, doubt and the threat of warfare but his ultimate concern was with the human condition. Not only was McCahon a remarkable painter, but the critical thought and philosophical enquiry of his works carry great weight, continuing to resonate with viewers today.

Date
Curated by
Hamish Keith
Cost
Free entry

Related Artworks

View Artwork

Not on display

On building bridges (triptych)
On building bridges (triptych)

Colin McCahon

Production date
1952
Medium
oil on hardboard
Size (h x w)
1288 x 3009 x 100 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1958
Accession no
1958/22
View Artwork

On display

House in trees, Titirangi
House in trees, Titirangi

Colin McCahon

On display

Production date
1953
Medium
oil on cardboard
Size (h x w)
533 x 608 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Una Platts, 2003
Accession no
2003/50
View Artwork

Not on display

I and Thou
I and Thou

Colin McCahon

Production date
1954-1955
Medium
oil on hardboard
Size (h x w)
559 x 533 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, bequest of Miss L D Gilmour, 1990
Accession no
1990/1/3
View Artwork

On display

Will he save him?
Will he save him?

Colin McCahon

On display

Production date
1959
Medium
oil ("Solpah") on hardboard
Size (h x w)
1220 x 900 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the artist, 1982
Accession no
1982/7/1
View Artwork

On display

Here I give thanks to Mondrian
Here I give thanks to Mondrian

Colin McCahon

On display

Production date
1961
Medium
oil (alkyd) on hardboard
Size (h x w)
1215 x 915 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Friends of the Auckland Art Gallery, 1964
Accession no
1964/9/3
View Artwork

Not on display

How is the hammer broken
How is the hammer broken

Colin McCahon

Production date
1961
Medium
oil (alkyd) on hardboard
Size (h x w)
1218 x 905 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the artist, 1981
Accession no
1981/11
View Artwork

On display

Landscape theme and variations (series A)
Landscape theme and variations (series A)

Colin McCahon

On display

Production date
1963
Medium
oil on eight unstretched jute canvases
Size (h x w)
1750 x 840 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the McCahon Family, 1988
Accession no
1989/51/2/1-8
View Artwork

Not on display

French Bay
French Bay

Colin McCahon

Production date
circa 1954
Medium
gouache on paper
Size (h x w)
732 x 872 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1975
Accession no
1975/40/1
View Artwork

Not on display

Towards Auckland 5
Towards Auckland 5

Colin McCahon

Production date
1953
Medium
watercolour and gouache
Size (h x w)
543 x 748 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1965
Accession no
1965/23
View Artwork

Not on display

Kauri
Kauri

Colin McCahon

Production date
1953
Medium
oil on cardboard
Size (h x w)
516 x 646 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, bequest of Miss L D Gilmour, 1990
Accession no
1990/1/5
View Artwork

Not on display

Northland
Northland

Colin McCahon

Production date
1959
Medium
ink on paper
Size (h x w)
630 x 507 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1966
Accession no
1966/3/7
View Artwork

Not on display

Northland
Northland

Colin McCahon

Production date
1959
Medium
ink wash
Size (h x w)
628 x 508 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Barry Perkins, 1985
Accession no
1985/34/1
View Artwork

Not on display

Sketch
Sketch

Colin McCahon

Production date
1961
Medium
enamel on hardboard
Size (h x w)
603 x 499 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1979
Accession no
1979/67/4