Northland Panels

Colin McCahon, Northland Panels, 1958, enamel on canvas  
Collection of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, courtesy McCahon Research and Publication Trust. 


Kate Sylvester ‘Frances dress’ photographed by Chloe Hill

Kate Sylvester

As a kid I spent all my holidays on a farm just outside Whangarei. The Northland Panels transport me back instantly every time - gumboots in wet grass, the tangy sweet smell of cowpats, the dust of old paint on the red barn, carsick on gravel roads.  

I fell in love with the Northland Panels all over again when we collaborated with Michael Parekowhai on his recent Toi Art Te Papa exhibition Detours; I reconsidered and refashioned Marcel Duchamp’s 1961 work Waistcoat [Betty] for the show. As part of the same installation Michael hung the Northland Panels in the middle of the room because the backs of the canvas’ are such a revelation - like ghosts or memories, not just of the work itself but of the man who painted them. 

As a designer with a strong concept behind each of my collections, I constantly look to artists and art history for inspiration. Most recently in my collection Frances, I was given the opportunity by Te Papa to realise some of Frances Hodgkin’s 1920s textile designs as finished prints. I built an entire collection around the modern, pioneering spirit of Frances. I find an affinity to artists as like them, I’m forever exploring colour and how colours work together to generate emotional response. 


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