Entombment (after Titian)

Entombment (after Titian), 1947, oil on cardboard, 517 x 644 mm. Courtesy Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington and McCahon Research and Publication Trust 

None

St Michaels Catholic Church, Rotorua 2019. Image courtesy of Cushla Dillon

None

St Michaels Catholic Church, Rotorua 2019. Image courtesy of Cushla Dillon

Cushla Dillon

Film editor

Making connection 

Spirituality and disturbance, restlessness and melancholy breathe through McCahon’s oeuvre. It resonates with my own sense of displacement and unease, and in that moment I find my ground. McCahon is like a co-conspirator, privy to the shadow self, sending messages from the spiritual darkness below to the land of satiation and excess above. I am a willing disciple. 
 
As I scroll through the catalogue of his work, I rely on an intuitive sense of connection to be my guide. I stop at the painting, Entombment (after Titian) (1947), my attention captured by the colours, characters, narrative, and significantly, the religious iconography. This connection awakes a memory.  

In Rotorua, halfway down Pukeroa Hill, sits St Michael’s Catholic Church, overlooking the lake and its figurative heart, Mokoia Island. At the bottom of the hill is the illustrious St Faith’s Church. At the top is Rotorua Hospital, where almost all children born in this area take their first breath outside the womb. Like St Faith’s, St Michael’s interior is a mix of Western religious iconography and the Māori decorative arts of whakairo and tukutuku. As in most Catholic churches, the fourteen Stations of the Cross are represented by paintings that line the walls. The 14 paintings depict the unfolding events of Christ’s last day, starting with his condemnation by Pontius Pilate (1st station), to carrying the cross through the old city (2nd station), and so on to the crucifixion (11th station), death (13th station), and finishing with Christ’s entombment (14th station). The devoted pray at each station on Good Friday, meditating on the journey Christ made through the city of Jerusalem.  
 
I grew up surrounded by the religious iconography of Catholicism, every Saturday (for confession) and every Sunday (for mass). In church, I absorbed the narrative of Christ’s suffering along with the celestial, demonic and historic saints of the Catholic Church’s mythology. It is difficult to explain to anyone who has not grown up with this, how much this moulds one’s psyche. For those of us drawn to the arts, the church is a living storyteller of our identity as Christians (whether active or deactivated), just as (I imagine) the wharenui is to Māori, the mosque to Muslims. 

McCahon did not grow up in this world. What was his connection to Catholicism? What ignited his interest? Was it the rebelliousness of Jesus, the radical zealot, the patron of the poor, friend of the dispossessed, diseased and outcast? Jesus who called out the religious hypocrites, only to inspire one of the greatest charades for hypocrisy and heinous humanitarian crimes, the Roman Catholic religion. Or was Christianity a distant shore to pillage for inspiration, the same way Picasso and his ilk sought ideas from Africa or Polynesia, the way Pākehā artists of McCahon’s era plucked shamelessly from Māori? 
 
We connect. Whether as outsiders or insiders. My affiliation with Catholicism was effortlessly discarded as soon as I left home, but when Madonna sang ‘Like a Prayer’, using her Catholic indoctrination and iconography as fodder for her pop songs, I felt like I was in on it. Popular culture expressly seeks connection to exist, whereas fine artists bury and weave their point of entries cryptically into the fabric of their works. 

Finding connections is what I do when I am film editing. I must decide on the frames that will connect two moments of time, an indeterminate number of times a day. In order to find these two frames amongst thousands, I search for the connections between the images - be it composition, rhythm, characters, themes, plot, location and genre - so that once these two frames are joined, they transcend their individuality to ‘connect’ the viewer with an emotional response.  
 
For me, to look at a McCahon is to feel connection, and then to question the exact nature of that connection and to understand its mystery.  
 
Now, referring to Entombment (after Titan), I begin to question whether it was the religious iconography that captured my attention. Or was it something else? Something beyond the figures holding the body of Christ? Something that threads through so many of McCahon’s paintings.  
 
Behind the figures are the hills. Those hills. Looming. Majestic. Mine, yours, his, ours. This land. Aotearoa.  

CONNECTING CULTURAL LEGACY WITH CONTEMPORARY PRACTICE

Index
Person image/svg+xml Group Copy 2 Group Copy 2 Created with Sketch.
Artwork image/svg+xml Group Copy 2 Group Copy 2 Created with Sketch.
Robert Gardiner
Are there not twelve hours of daylight
Thomas Crow
Are there not twelve hours of daylight
Jude Rae
Victory over death 2
Brent Harris
The Family
Cora-Allan Wickliffe
15 Drawings Dec '51 to May '52
Salome Tanuvasa
Landscape
Yona Lee
Landscape theme and variations (series B)
David Kirk
Kaipara
Priscilla Pitts
Fourteen Stations of the Cross
Ruth Watson
This day a man is
Tessa Laird
Keep New Zealand Green
Nell
East window
Nicola Farquhar
Kauri trees
Hon Grant Robertson
Otago Peninsula
Jane Macknight
Untitled (North Otago Landscape)
Karen Walker
Titirangi
Wystan Curnow
The Green Plain
Philip Clarke
Necessary Protection (IHS)
Mary Kisler
A candle in a dark room
Ayesha Green
I AM
Matthew O'Reilly
Muriwai
Bettina Bradbury and Kararaina Rangihau
A poster for the Urewera no. 2
Al Keating
A Grain of wheat
Cushla Dillon
Entombment (after Titian)
Hamish Coney
Here I give thanks to Mondrian
Stephen Wainwright
As there is a constant flow of light we are born into the pure land
Sue Gardiner
Landscape theme and variations (series A)
Robert Leonard
Numerals
Judy Darragh
Clouds 1
John Coley
AS THERE IS A CONSTANT FLOW OF LIGHT WE ARE BORN INTO THE PURE LAND
Shannon Te Ao
Ka pōraruraru ahau. I am troubled.
Helen Beaglehole
GATE III
Ralph Paine
Jump E9
Judy Millar
Muriwai: Necessary Protection
Fiona Pardington
Waterfall
C.K. Stead
All mortals are like grass
Gretchen Albrecht
As there is a constant flow of light we are born into the pure land
Martin Edmond
Cross (1959)
Lisa Reihana
Urewera mural
Peter Simpson
Jet out to Te Reinga
Christina Barton
Gate III
Dame Jenny Gibbs
I Considered All the Acts of Oppression
Zoe Black
Ruby Bay
Jim Barr and Mary Barr
Oaia and clouds
Vivienne Stone
Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is
Kate Sylvester
Northland Panels