Northland Panels

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


Séraphine Pick, Corporeal V, 2019, oil on linen, 450 x 350 mm


Séraphine Pick, Still life (soft fascination), 2020, oil on linen, 450 x 350mm


Séraphine Pick, Whisper, 2020 oil on linen, 1540 x 1360mm 


Séraphine Pick, Untitled (Mingled), 2020, Oil on linen, 450 x 350 mm


Séraphine Pick, Trace, 2020, oil on linen, 600 x 500mm


Séraphine Pick, Seventh Sense, 2020, oil on linen, 1300 x 1050mm 


Séraphine Pick, Guru, 2015, oil on linen, 1600 x 2000mm 

Séraphine Pick


I was in high school at Bay of Islands College in the early 1980s when my art teacher Selwyn Wilson took us to Auckland to see McCahon paintings that I first encountered one of his paintings.

I remember my experience seeing the Northland Panels (1958). The scale of the work impressed me first, then the energy in the brush strokes. Walking along it, it reminded me of the bus ride I took every day to school in Kawakawa. The painting was just like the frames of bush and skies flicking past through the windows of the bus. I thought it was very filmic with each scroll of canvas like stilled moments of seeing. It was so familiar with the intense green of the land, blue skies, voluminous clouds and the scaring of red clay. My father was a potter who gathered clay from Northland, so I recognised that colour of earth. There were always slips in the winter rains; the clay got wet and dried and then crumbled onto the roads.

The words on the painting were puzzling for their feeling of foreboding. ‘Oh yes it can / be dark here’ - ‘Manuka / in bloom may / breed despair’ - ‘a landscape with too few lovers’. Scrawled in black in the sky like a flock of birds flying by, these words all made sense to me in different ways; about my place of birth, its dark history, its beauty and the talk at the time of climate change and the human impact on the landscape.

In 1981 my father took me to an exhibition of Colin’s in Auckland at Peter Webbs. I saw the painting Storm Warning (1980) with its powerful message all in text on the painterly fiery surface of a loose canvas. ‘YOU MUST FACE THE FACT’, it shouts, ‘the final age of this world / is to be a time of troubles, ‘men will love nothing but money and self, they will be arrogant, boastful and abusive; with no respect for parents, no gratitude, no piety, no natural affections they will be implacable in their hatreds.’ I had no religious context for the words, they read firstly as images of letters, the painting itself, then as messages of what was happening in the world; the combination communicating the emotion of the artist. I read it as an environmental warning at the time. Peter Yates, a potter friend of my parents went on small yachts from Russell to Moruroa Atoll to protest the nuclear tests, so I was well aware of the environmental politics at the time and this painting made me see how you could communicate through art in a powerful way without losing the language of painting: the strong message within the painting upon strong loose brush marks of colour, lightness and darkness. It seems his message could still apply to today.

I have only more recently begun to look more closely at our early New Zealand modernists, having been discouraged to look at New Zealand artists while at art school in the later 80s. I love McCahon’s Titirangi series; the reduction of dappled light through trees to dancing rectangles of vibrating colour; almost digital pixelation to our contemporary eyes. What we see is an abstract collection of shapes which relate to each other in space creating a sensation, a feeling, an experience of nature.

My more recent work is moving towards semi-abstraction exploring an intuitive and bodily awareness through painting on a large scale. Colin McCahon’s work resonates with me in the way he used an economy of marks and fields of tone and colour to convey light nature and the presence of the body in it, through its absence. You become very aware of yourself being in the paintings’ vast spaces. The way light is conveyed with a minimal brushstroke of an intense white or yellow - you look at it as an experience that you know you have had in the physical world - the New Zealand landscape - transforming you to another space and time. You sense his presence in them too as they are often physically large paintings and he would have used his whole body to make them. There’s an intense energy and urgency in them. Other favourites include Walk (Series C) (1973), The Gate series (1962) and The Wake (1968), all works you physically move your body along to view as a journey reminding me of places I have been and lived in.

Painting is a contrasting thing to do in this world of the digital, where we spend more and more time in the virtual world. I have had moments of feeling that painting is redundant in this Covid-19 world. But then it has also felt more necessary than ever, as it is tactical, primal and an essential human activity using both the body and the mind to communicate. It somehow brings me back into my body, into the present, I filter the world through it into edible marks, my feet are on the ground, it takes me forward through time, keeps me moving and observing the world, connecting and reflecting.


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.
Bridget Riggir-Cuddy
The House Protects the Dreamer
Naomi McCleary
Séraphine Pick
Northland Panels
Brian Sweeney
The 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.7
Ted Spring
On Building Bridges
Areez Katki
The Three Marys at the Tomb
Rosanna Raymond
Jet Out
Rufus Knight
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
Yona Lee
Landscape theme and variations (series B)
David Kirk
Priscilla Pitts
Fourteen Stations of the Cross
Ruth Watson
This day a man is
Tessa Laird
Keep New Zealand Green
East window
Nicola Farquhar
Kauri trees
Hon Grant Robertson
Otago Peninsula
Jane Macknight
Untitled (North Otago Landscape)
Karen Walker
Wystan Curnow
The Green Plain
Philip Clarke
Necessary Protection (IHS)
Mary Kisler
A candle in a dark room
Ayesha Green
Matthew O'Reilly
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
Judy Darragh
Clouds 1
John Coley
Shannon Te Ao
Ka pōraruraru ahau. I am troubled.
Helen Beaglehole
Ralph Paine
Jump E9
Judy Millar
Muriwai: Necessary Protection
Fiona Pardington
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