For a painter who has been at the very centre of painting in this country - as artist, teacher, and even curator - over more than three decades, remarkably little of any substance has been published about Colin McCahon. (But is this not the case, after all, with the whole history of art in New Zealand?)
The chapters in Brown and Keith's Introduction to painting in New Zealand; the pages in Gil Docking's history; the substantial catalogue to the Survey Exhibition shown at the Auckland City Art Gallery in 1971, with the artist's own notes on his works; the special number of Art New Zealand in 1977, - a symposium of articles by Gordon H. Brown, Luit Bieringa, John Caselberg, Peter McLeavey, Brenda Gamble, Neil Rowe, Claudia Pond Eyley, Tim Garrity and Wystan Curnow on Necessary Protection - these are what principally come to mind. Now, it is good to hear that a full-scale book on McCahon by the writer perhaps closest to him, Gordon H. Brown, is on the horizon.
To our knowledge, no essay on this painter has been written by a critic outside New Zealand. Art New Zealand has taken the occasion of the special McCahon exhibition, I Will Need Words, at the Fifth Sydney Biennale, to ask a distinguished Australian writer, Elwyn Lynn, to contribute his across-the-Tasman reflections on this selection of the artist's word-paintings.
(The Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, with the assistance of the National Gallery, Wellington, produced a handsome catalogue to go with the exhibition and interested readers may care to look for it at their favourite 'better bookshop'.)
In addition, we sent Janet Paul to write her general impressions of the Biennale - its exhibitions and seminars - and of the New Zealanders McCahon and Hotere within it.
Also in the present issue are graphic artists Rodney Fumpston (a conversation with Sheridan Keith at a time when his work from a decade is touring the country) and Robin White (visited in Kiribati by Claudia Pond Eyley) and photographer Peter Peryer (the significance of images of repetition in his recent work).
Anne Kirker writes on a recent visit to Max Gimblett, a New Zealander now living and working in New York, and Alexa M. Johnston on John Holmwood, who recently came back to New Zealand for the exhibition of thirty years of his painting at the Auckland Society of Arts.
As well, in this number, we publish the second part of Gordon H. Brown's essay on the pursuit of Modernism in the nineteen-forties and early nineteen-fifties; a piece on the 'stuffed art' recently shown at the Wellington City Art Gallery by Ray Thorburn; one on the collection of College House, Canterbury, by Tom Weston; and one on the Rotorua Art Gallery and Museum, by Rosemary Hemmings.
As this issue went to press we. received news of the sad death of the painter Philip Clairmont. Later in the year, Art New Zealand will publish an article looking over the whole scope of his work.