Kaipara

Kaipara, 1976, ink on paper, 730 x 1203 mm. Courtesy David Kirk and McCahon Research and Publication Trust. 

 

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The view looking south-west from atop the Lammermoor Range, taken by the author whilst walking the Old Dunstan Rd, Central Otago, New Zealand.

David Kirk

Captain 1987 Rugby World Cup winning All Blacks; Chair, Sydney Festival

Two of the things I like best about Colin McCahon are his commitment to innovation and his whimsy. By whimsy I mean playful, painterly, romantic. Often these two sides of the great painter seemed to be in conflict or at least irreconcilable. McCahon’s subject matter - the stations of the cross, the crucifixion, Roman numbers, the death of a dog – and his style – abstract, minimalist at times, maximalist at others, paintings scrawled with mournful quotes and poems, sometimes across multiple enormous unstretched canvases, and his composition – flat and direct - feel anything but whimsical. These paintings, the ones McCahon is most known for, often feel serious and sad to me. They reflect on the insignificance and transience of human life compared to a divine God and the natural world. When a series of sixteen paintings, over 16 metres in length, is punctuated by ‘rest’ canvases (as in The Wake paintings) so the viewer can recover from the intensity of the canvases thus far viewed, before the onslaught of the next three or four canvases, you know the painter does not have playfulness in mind. And yet there is whimsy, even here. In the colours, in the washes, in the brushstrokes, in the curly handwriting, in the drips.  

I admire Colin McCahon’s great innovative works such as The Gate series, The Wake and The Fourteen Stations of the Cross and his abstract landscapes and minimalist waterfalls but find the huge works overwhelming and the flat Mondrian-like landscapes beautiful but austere. It is with the Kaipara paintings that he weaves a whimsical spell over me. What is present in the ‘big’ paintings, the ‘important’ paintings, is let go. Colin McCahon becomes a painter of beauty and a painter of his own awe in the natural world around him. Always in search of what it means to be us, marooned on these small southern islands. In his Kaipara paintings McCahon captures a flat swampy part of New Zealand over and over again in the lightness of watercolour and washes and ink. 

For some years I have been walking around New Zealand. Often on my own, sometimes with a friend or two. Gone for two or three nights to many different places. On beaches and across passes, along highways, through small towns, into deep bush, up isolated mountains and down rivers, a tiny trudging figure on high plateaus when the storm clouds mass. I don’t know why I am doing it. I had an idea once but now I am not so sure. But I will go on. I know that at least. One of the reasons I will go on is because when I am out there, I often see, in different guises and different places, what Colin McCahon painted in his Kaipara paintings. The Kaipara painting I know best was painted in 1976 and it is simply called Kaipara. Dark rolling clouds bunching over flats in fading yellow light, the final dull glint of light on water. McCahon probably painted it in half an hour. He uses only black ink and some sort of browny yellowy wash. Great billowing clouds, a pale-yellow source of light low on the horizon. The land has lost all definition, only the reflection of the stream shows. Fading light, fading day. Transient beauty. In a way no different from The Wake and the crucifixion in its subject matter, but whimsical, evocative. Same message, different messenger. I think about that often. 

CONNECTING CULTURAL LEGACY WITH CONTEMPORARY PRACTICE

Index
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Naomi McCleary
Kauri
Séraphine Pick
Northland Panels
Brian Sweeney
View from the top of the cliff
Rudi Fuchs
North Otago Landscape
Rex Butler
I Considered All the Acts of Oppression
Donna McDonald
The Fourteen Stations of the Cross
Harold Jones
Muriwai no.6
Ted Spring
On Building Bridges
Areez Katki
The Three Marys at the Tomb
Rosanna Raymond
Jet Out
Rufus Knight
Waterfall
Megan Tamati-Quennell
Black Landscape
Nick Mitzevich
Victory over Death 2
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern
Victory over Death 2
The Governor-General, The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy
Gate III
Grant Banbury
I Paul
Sir Bob Harvey
Dark Landscape
Young Old Girls (Christchurch Girls’ High)
North Otago Landscape 19
Sophie Bannan
Van Gogh - poems by John Caselberg
Linda Tyler
Urewera Triptych
Emily Karaka
Tangi. Muriwai
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