Who's who? Wayne Youle and the Found Photograph

Wayne Youle creates paintings of well-known New Zealand personalities often based on found photographs. See for yourself how Youle gives the digital images a pop art-inspired makeover! 

Jill Trevelyan - Leo Bensemann & Friends - Opening Speech

Jill Trevelyan is an art curator, review and author who specialises in 20th century New Zealand art. Her publications include the collected letters of Toss Woollaston, Rita Angus: an artist's life and a biography of New Zealand art dealer Peter McLeavy.

We were honored to have Jill open our most recent exhibition Leo Bensemann & Friends: Portraiture and the Group. The following is her wonderful speech drawing on her extensive knowledge of 20th century New Zealand art. 


Looking around this exhibition, it’s obvious that portraiture flourished among the artists who exhibited with The Group.  

But why was this? We might ask: why were the most adventurous, even rebellious, young artists of the day so drawn to portraiture?

After all, the portrait tradition in New Zealand at the time was very conservative.  If you think back to 1930, when most of these artists were starting out, the most celebrated portrait painter in the country was Elizabeth Kelly, who specialised in flattering pictures of debutantes and society ladies.

Toss Woollaston and other young art students called her ‘Ponds Cream Kelly’, because all her subjects had such flawless complexions.

But Woollaston and his contemporaries were looking elsewhere for inspiration, at a very different type of portraiture.  They were looking at reproductions of Picasso – who had famously torn apart the portrait, upending everything it traditionally stood for.

Out went anatomical accuracy, realism, and painterly finish – in came immediacy, spontaneity, expression. Freedom to invent, rather than to copy.

 Figures from Life, 1936, Sir Tosswill Woollaston, oil and charcoal on paper Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, gift of Colin McCahon, 1954

Figures from Life, 1936, Sir Tosswill Woollaston, oil and charcoal on paper Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, gift of Colin McCahon, 1954


Look at Woollaston’s Figures from life, a portrait of his wife Edith and his friend, Rodney Kennedy.  Look at its rugged charcoal outlines, the sketchy brushwork, the startling patches of colour on Edith’s face. The faces owe more to African masks than the tradition that Elizabeth Kelly represented. This is the portrait as a provocation.

It’s hard for us to realise, today, just how startling this portrait would have looked in 1936. Even some of Woollaston’s closest supporters – people like the poet Ursula Bethell – rejected it.

Woollaston told Rodney Kennedy, ‘Miss Bethell likes my landscapes but hates my people. “Figures from Life” meant nothing to her except unresolvable deformation.’

For the young Colin McCahon, though, who was still a schoolboy when he saw Figures from life in an exhibition, it was galvanising. Two years later he painted a stark, mask-like portrait of Elespie Forsyth – the most stridently modernist portrait to have been painted in New Zealand at the time. For McCahon, like Woollaston, the portrait was a testing ground, a field for experiment, a way of pushing the boundaries of his art.


But perhaps what you’ll notice the most, as you look around this exhibition, is the variety of portraits. Right next to McCahon’s primitivist image of Elespie Forsyth is another portrait of her, by her friend Evelyn Page.

These two images could hardly be more different. Evelyn Page’s Elespie is an elegant young woman in a floral frock, bathed in sun, and the painting is a celebration of light and colour. Page was responding modernism in her own way – adapting an impressionist tradition to her New Zealand subjects.

Evelyn Page’s portraits in this exhibition represent a microcosm of the NZ art world at the time – she paints the musician, Valmai Moffett, the painter Olivia Spencer Bower, and the poet and patron Charles Brasch (who was Elespie Forsyth’s cousin).

This reminds us what a small art world we’re talking about, the New Zealand art world of the mid 20th century.  The artists included here, and their subjects, were co-conspirators – all of them were engaged, to some extent, in the project of modern art, in visual art, literature or music.

They were intimately connected and mutually supportive, whether as lovers, friends, collaborators, or patrons. They had to be – hardly anyone else was interested in what they were doing. They were their own audience.

We can see this intensity, this intimacy, in the portraits of Rita Angus and Leo Bensemann, painted in their neighbouring studios in Christchurch. Here the portrait becomes a means of exploring identity, or trying on a persona.

  Self-Portrait , 1936-37, Rita Angus, oil on canvas, Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery   

Self-Portrait, 1936-37, Rita Angus, oil on canvas, Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery


Look at Rita Angus, painting herself as an uber-modern femme fatale, a woman in full control of her destiny.  Or on the opposite wall, masquerading as Cleopatra – another female conqueror.


Meanwhile Bensemann joins in the fantasy and paints her as an Egyptian queen. There’s a playfulness here that was new in the art of the 1930s. It’s as if these artists were goading each other on, giving each other license to be their most daring and imaginative selves.

This is the ferment of creativity that Peter Simpson explores in his marvellous new book, Bloosmbury South, which has just been nominated for the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

I'd like to congratulate Peter, and Helen Kedgley and the staff of the New Zealand Portrait Gallery, on an important and fascinating exhibition. And congratulations on the beautiful catalogue too.

Finally, I’d like to say how good it is to see portraits by contemporary Māori artists on show in the entrance. It brings new energy and life to the gallery.

 Installation view of  Mau Ahua: Portraits by Contemporary Maori Artists.  Pictured works by Darcy Nicholas, Ngataiharuru Taepa, and John Walsh.

Installation view of Mau Ahua: Portraits by Contemporary Maori Artists. Pictured works by Darcy Nicholas, Ngataiharuru Taepa, and John Walsh.


In these works, by Star Gossage, John Walsh, Ngataiharuru Taepa, Samantha Mackay, Darcy Nicholas and Kelly Taratoa, we can see an amazing diversity in approach to the idea of the portrait. It reminds us that representing people – portraiture in the broadest sense – is a vital concern in contemporary art today.

I think that's exciting for the Portrait Gallery. It shows the great potential for the institution to engage with contemporary culture, and it makes me hope we'll see more shows like this in the future.


The Boy from Evans Bay

Late last month we hosted the launch of Sir Michael Hardie Boys memoirs The Boy From Evans Bay. A beautifully written memoir that recalls not only a remarkable life but also a New Zealand childhood that is so different from that of today.   He writes of his childhood, school days at Hataitai School and Wellington College, university days at Victoria University, his time practising law in the firm that his father founded, family life, his time on the Bench, and of the five years when he was Governor-General of New Zealand.

Dame Sian Elias, The Chief Justice of New Zealand spoke eloquently about Sir Michael and we were lucky enough to get a copy of her speech to reproduce below. 

The Boy From Evans Bay is available exclusively from The New Zealand Portrait Gallery and retails at $40.00. All proceeds from the book will go to continuing the work of the Gallery.





“The Boy from Evans Bay”

The Memoirs of Sir Michael Hardie Boys


I am honoured to be asked to help launch this memoir.  It has also been the greatest pleasure because I was given an advance copy of the book and have read it with delight.

“The Boy from Evans Bay” is not what you might think.  He threw stones and did not always behave.  He sometimes failed to do the right thing by others.  As he grew older he does not seem to have strained or sweated over academic achievements.  Nor does he seem to have set himself high goals even in terms of social or sporting accomplishments.  Mary was a much better dancer, tennis player and skier.  He was a menace with boats and tents and practical accomplishments.  From these pages he does not emerge as someone who had much ambition or sense of direction.  Or even any burning causes to push.  The sense you are left with is that what was achieved came easily or was just luck.

Of course, that cannot be right.  You can get a long way in life with luck and talent.  But not as far as Sir Michael Hardie Boys - and talent and charm alone does not account for the solid school achievements, the Senior Scholar in Law, the successful legal practitioner, the Judge and the Governor-General.

Although the memoir has reminiscences from the faithful years of involvement in community and church bodies, in particular the Boys Brigade, leadership in the Methodist and Anglican Churches, the Trust Board of Marsden College and the Law Society, what you have to read between the lines to realise is how much reliance people placed in this man and what organisational and business skills he clearly possessed as well as a lively and engaging mind.

This then is not a memoir about the author’s accomplishments and triumphs over challenges and adversity.  It is not a memoir about work and successes.  It is not a boastful book or an attempt at justification or explanation.  It is a memoir about a life lived with optimism and enthusiasm and about the people who touched it and the places that stay in the author’s heart.

It is a great story, because it is the story of our country at a time when things were changing fast and it is seen through the people who lived through those times.  For someone like me who remembers many of those mentioned in this book and saw something of the values of those days before the sense of community retreated a little under modern conditions, it is a vivid depiction and set me off on a number of recollections of my own.  But even the descriptions of people and events I knew nothing about were absorbing and thought-provoking.

Sir Michael has a wonderful memory for names and events and a great sense of what matters.  The book is a portrait of an age and of the changes to New Zealand society during this lifetime, changes that can seem imperceptible to those living through them but come to life in the stories related here.  In addition to the people, the book is peppered with references to music and art and the outdoors and fishing which indicate the very many interests of a highly cultivated man.

The memoir is a sustained romp.  It is informative and colourful and the pace never slackens.  It helps of course that the offices Sir Michael held gave him opportunities to observe so much.  There are some pointed comments about a few deserving targets, but for the most part what strikes you is the evident enjoyment Sir Michael takes in people of all sorts and the deep appreciation he demonstrates for family, teachers and the enormous circle of friends he has had.  No one has so many friends without having a rare capacity for friendship.  But for me a considerable part of the charm of this book is the portraits of the remarkable families into which Michael and Mary were born and Michael’s evident delight in his good fortune at persuading the beautiful, talented, and socially accomplished Mary to be his wife.  And his happiness in the life they built together with their four children.  It is a story of love and belonging.

Any memoir by someone of the eminence of Sir Michael would be worth reading.  He is one of the great New Zealanders of our time.  But he has done something marvellous in this book.  He has shown us a portrait of ourselves.  In his reminiscences what comes out are the values of a life well-lived.  Certain and stedfast as the motto on his coat of arms, echoing that of the Boys Brigade, proclaims.

In his marvellous BBC lectures, EM Forster at one stage quoted an imagined dialogue between Jesus and Buddha.  Jesus asks Buddha, “Lord Buddha, was your gospel true or false?”  Buddha replies that it was true and false.

What was true in it?   Selflessness and love.

What was false in it?  Flight from life.

Selflessness and love are truths that emerge from this book.

Flight from life is not a trap the author could be accused of ever having fallen into.


-  Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice of New Zealand

New titles in store!

Brush up on your art knowledge with some of the new books available in the gallery store.

Back in stock after selling out in a few days, Sarah Laing's graphic memoir Mansfield and Me is an intimate look at the way her own life intersects with that of New Zealand's literary great. Buy the book, then take a look at the exhibition at the Katherine Mansfield house open until November 15 more details here.

Peter Simpson, curator of our summer show Leo Bensemann & Friends: Portraiture and the Group has recently published a history of the Christchurch artists, which is available in store. School up on artists Leo Bensemann, Toss Wollaston, Rita Angus, Doris Lusk and more before we open the show. 

If you are more interested in delving deep into the mind of one artist, why not pick up Fantastica: The World of Leo Bensemann also by Peter Simpson. We have the last few copies in the country - and they are all signed!


Only available from the New Zealand Portrait Gallery is Sir Michael Hardie Boys memoir The Boy from Evans Bay. The former Governor General (and Chair of the New Zealand Portrait Gallery trust) has donated the entire proceeds of the book to the gallery. Support the gallery, while reading about the life of an important New Zealander. 



Lastly...just in is a new book from Auckland University Press The Maori Portraits: Gottfried Lindauer's New Zealand is a exquisite look at the artist who captured in paint key Maori figures. This gorgeous book published by Auckland University Press is filled with full page reproductions of the famous artists painting's which capture the mana of each sitter. 

All these titles and more are available now at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery shop. Pop in for a browse (or some early Christmas shopping) before they all fly out the door.


Saturday Sittings - Music Edition

This month Hannah lead our Saturday Sittings with musician Chris Caukwell. Inspired by Shannon Novak and his synthetic link between, sound, shape, colour and portraiture. 

Our artists experimented with colour and sound, creating portraits of Chris that reflected the sounds he was making with his various instruments

Below are some images of Septembers event, the next Saturday Sitting will be Saturday 29 October.

Melvin Day - In Private

 Two self portraits by Melvin Day in the gallery.

Two self portraits by Melvin Day in the gallery.

The nature of Cubism implies an unseeable depth beneath the surface of a brushstroke. The canvas of these self-portraits are a flat surface, but they tell of infinite personhood beneath. 

Melvin Day: In Private presents a series of the artist by his own hand, beginning at the age of twenty-two. The earliest subject is just emerging from wartime, where the fledgling artist was recruited as a topographer. In the context of sweeping regionalist landscapes, Day’s portraits are a quiet introspection into post-war New Zealand. His self-portraits hint at artistic revolution, albeit within a muted palette. Indeed, the eccentricities of European painting had a long wait for acceptance, particularly in the Rotorua of Day’s inhabitation.

The self-portraits through to 1950 maintain head-and-shoulders framing, the artist tending to face us at a three-quarter profile. Two portraits do however take a turn for the fractured in 1947 and 1948. Colours approach their primary gaudiness and the face is now a grid of intersecting planes. Rotorua flinches. 

Moving through the series, we find ourselves in the 21st century. Day’s hair is white (though an Impressionist might tell you it is purple, blue and yellow). The 2009 self-portrait shows the artist at a canvas, tool in hand. This was painted after Day suffered a stroke. The shoulders are angled within the confines of the frame, rather that defying their borders in earlier work. Towards the lower torso, the spectrum of brushstrokes that make up his background fuse with the form of the body.

Returning to the pastels of the 1950’s, we are introduced to Day’s companion of 62 years, Oroya. As in earlier works, stylistic brushstrokes are grounded in the solidity of the subject. Oroya is first in a yellow dress, pearls, a small white belt, seated. She glances to the side. In the second she stands looking out and the background is a network of abstraction. Style takes an exploratory route within the agreed palette, and Day translates the enigma of abstraction into rural rhetoric.

Melvin Day’s works are a bridge between the rush of movement happening throughout the art world, and the languid take-up of novelty. His pieces are a calm expanse of self-exploration, a gift of the vanguard.

- Madeleine Morton, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Volunteer

Saturday Sittings - Historical Edition

 Photo of our sitter Ruby by Paul Whitham

Photo of our sitter Ruby by Paul Whitham

Last Saturday we hosted a special edition of our regular Saturday Sittings. The sitter, Ruby, wore an amazing 18th century costume from The Costume Cave to reflect the historic Rokeby Portraits on display in the gallery. 

Saturday Sittings are on the last Saturday of every month between 1 - 3pm. We provide materials, snacks and a sitter, and Mojo provides the coffee. Join us next month!




Wigs, Bonnets, Babies and Dogs...our 17th Century Photobooth!

On Saturday the 20th of August we invited you all down to the Portrait Gallery for an afternoon of dress up - Rokeby Style. Inspired by the 17th, 18th and 19th century paintings in our latest exhibition The Rokeby Portraits, we set up a photobooth to give our visitors a chance to dress up in wigs, hats, jabots and bonnets!

It was a fantastic afternoon - and could not have been made possible without the generous support from The Costume Cave!

Opening - In Private, The Rokeby Portraits and Leitmotif

A few snaps from our opening event at The New Zealand Portrait Gallery for our three Spring exhibitions - 

Melvin Day: In Private

The Rokeby Portraits: Family Portraits from the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries

Leitmotif: Abstract Portraits by Shannon Novak

A huge thank you to all who came and supported the gallery, artists and writers - and to Barbora Michálková for the images. 

Saturday Sittings - May and June

On the last Saturday of each month, a group of artists, students, and visitors get together to draw portraits. We provide a different sitter each month, and coffee (sponsored by Mojo) and sweet treats to keep the artists sustained. There is always such a fantastic range of portraits produced and it is our pleasure to share some of them with you on this page. 

Saturday Sittings are on the last Saturday of every month (no Sitting July due to gallery renovations) from 1pm - 3pm. All welcome.

May's Sitting - with Cole

June's Sitting - with Shannon

André Brönnimann - Frequently Asked Questions

André Brönnimann, winner of the 2016 Adam Portraiture award spoke last week at the closing of the exhibition. He answered some of the frequently asked questions about his photo-realistic portraits. Below is a transcript of his talk.

  Sisters,   André Brönnimann. Winner of The Adam Portraiture Award 2016.

Sisters,  André Brönnimann. Winner of The Adam Portraiture Award 2016.

There are some frequently asked questions regarding this painting. I will start off with answering those:

First question: Who are these women and what is their relationship?

Here is their own answer:

Te Rawanake, Inahaa Te Urutahi Waikerepuru & Ria Wihapi-Waikerepuru come from Taranaki and carry strong tribal connections into Te Atiawa, Taraniki Tukau, Tangahoe, Nga Ruahine and Nga Rauru iwi.

All 3 Sisters have worked at varying levels supporting whanau, hapu and marae social, cultural and economic development within their tribal areas for at least 30 years whilst also pursuing their own individual creative endeavors that include performing ceremonial rituals, traditional & contemporary weaving, electronic & light art works. Each of the sisters are great-grandmothers and hold matriarchal positions in their respective families. They hold a long term vision for peace and enlightened consciousness that will act as a springboard towards generating genuine collaboration amongst all humanity for respectful co-existence with nature and each other as the legacy for our future generations to inherit.

At the turn of the century they all got their mokos done on the same day at a marae in Hawera, surrounded by 100 family members. The following months they were looked upon rather curiously by people.

How did this portrait come about?

I was driving down the main street in Wanganui and spotted Te Rawanake sitting outside a café having lunch with her husband. I approached her and asked if I could paint her face, using better words of course. It’s the same way I approached my previous subjects/models. I give them my card and they will see my previous works. Te Rawanake mentioned her sisters and a group portrait was decided upon. I thought it was too ambitious but my wife Catherine convinced me to do it.

Tell me about the process behind a painting like this, do you use drawings, photographs?

We do a photo shoot. A friend of mine is a photographer. We take about 60 to 80 shots. I then select the image that captured what I am after. So far I have done 7 portraits of this nature and what always surprised me is that there usually is only just one image out of the whole lot that is perfect, but that’s all I need. Having a stunning photo to work with is crucial to the whole process. This image in the painting is a single shot, not a combination of images.

The outlines and details are transferred to the canvas with pencil.

Then I do a complete and detailed underpainting. Some photo realists do it in shades of grey. I start right away with the actual colors. For reference material I use several large prints of the image. I use a glass palette which is placed on top of a print when color mixing. From then on it’s a matter of building up the layers of paint until the desired effect is achieved. Some areas of skin may require up to 8 glazes or washes, others much less. With a painting this size you don’t have to worry about drying times, there’s always another section to go on with.

When complete, the painting gets varnished. Not only does it protect the work, the colors become deeper and more intense.

 Who or what are some of your artist references? Lindauer or Goldie?

I have spent a lot of time looking at Lindauer and Goldie paintings. Personally I think Goldie is more accomplished. He makes good use of Chiaroscuro. Bright highlights next to dark shadows. Contrast is what brings a painting alive.

Another painter I draw inspiration from is Gottfried Helnwein, an Austrian-Irish visual artist. He is concerned mainly with the darker side of life and nobody paints disturbing images as beautifully as he does. He also paints incredible photorealistic portraits.

When not painting portraits, I am a surrealist and a huge fan of Salvador Dali.

I actually started painting portraits about 6 years ago when the previous director of the NZ portrait gallery, Mrs McKinnon, invited me to enter the competition.

What is your interest in photorealism? And what do you enjoy about working in this way?

I do have a high interest in photorealism. It is a term used too loosely. This painting here is done in a realistic style and I have used photorealistic techniques but I wouldn’t call it photorealistic. What the world’s best photorealist achieve is simply mindblowing. On average they may produce 4 paintings a year, some even just one painting. And that is full time. One day I may go down that path but currently I am a part time painter and it’s not feasible. I spent so much time on this one my wife nearly divorced me. The only thing that could make up for it was winning this thing, so it was a great relief.  

Needless to say, a high degree of quality is required to produce a photorealistic work. The same with goes with portraiture. Portraiture is pretty unforgiving. This is how it should be with all art. It shouldn’t require an explanation to be understood nor should it simply be an idea and nothing else. From the sixties onwards the focus changed towards artists expressing themselves. Something a psychiatrist couch is also good for. If you are ever trying to understand an art work and wondering why you are not getting it, you can relax. There is nothing wrong with you, but everything with modern art.

My rule of thumb is: If it’s something a small child or a monkey could do, disregard it.

I enjoy how the painting progresses with each new layer of paint and how it keeps changing. It’s not always in an elegant fashion. I would like to make every brush stroke count but quite often have to go over it again.

One of the challenges for me in painting a large group portrait like this was to maintain the consistency. Some sections were done months apart and the color tones need to be matched up accurately. Also after spending a few hours on a detailed area you realize it’s too dark or light in relation to the rest.

Another question: What is your favorite part of a portrait to paint? Are there parts that are tedious or more difficult than others?

Putting on the final layer is when it all comes together and I get a lot of pleasure out of that. On the faces it’s usually dry brushing. Feels like putting make up on.

I was worried about painting all the hair. I did find a helpful tutorial on youtube which was good. It’s all out there. There are a lot of different colours. You got to keep looking and put them in there.

TeRawanake’s cloak was hard to do. Am still on painkillers from doing that. Photorealist paintings are large and transferring the image onto canvas is assisted with a grid system and/or a projector. I used a projector. You are probably thinking that is cheating and I thought “great”, all I need to do is color in. I was disappointed this was not the case. It gave me the rudimentary outlines which was of some assistance but not much use on hair, skin and garments.





Dean Buchanann in conversation with Paul Lambert on Hutt Radio

 Tama Iti, Dean Buchannan

Tama Iti, Dean Buchannan

Early in March, gallery volunteer Paul Lambert spoke to Dean Buchannan, finalist in the Adam Portraiture Award 2016. His portrait of Tama Iti, is one of the largest in the exhibition, painted on a large roll of unstretched canvas. 

Dean talks about how the portrait came about, and why Tama Iti was his preferred subject.

Click here to head to the Hutt Radio website and listen to the full interview.

The Adam Portraiture Award 2016 – The People’s Choice Award: Why I voted for…The Empress of Auckland, by Hugh Major

Friend of the New Zealand Portrait Gallery, Jane Kirkcaldie writes the portrait she voted for for the 2016 Adam Portraiture Award, People's Choice Award.

The Empress of Auckland (Charlotte Drinkwater), by Hugh Major, finalist in the Adam Portraiture Award 2016.


I voted for Empress of Auckland by Hugh Major for her strength and serenity that captured my attention instantly, for the breathtaking colours and to my eye the juxtaposition of contemporary setting with this fairytale-like figure dominating the foreground. 

Modern suburban Auckland with its villas, cars and front gardens giving evidence of city life and people, forms the back-ground to the Empress who sits in splendid isolation commanding attention from the peace and quiet of a magical glade overlooking the city.  The luminous colours of emerald and sapphire with splashes of ruby red and orange remind me of medieval manuscripts and the Empress herself completes an air of pre-Raphaelite elegance and grace. 

My eye lingers over the minute and precise details of the wildlife, the hydrangea petals, the foliage and then back to the detail of the city, and I feel a sense of enchantment. I wonder about her ‘story’.

Saturday Sittings

On the last Saturday of each month, from 1 – 3pm the New Zealand Portrait Gallery hosts Saturday Sittings. These informal portrait sessions are for everyone, young and old, experienced and just starting out.

We provide materials, some light snacks and a different sitter each month, and Mojo Coffee provides us with piping hot coffee to keep the creative juices flowing.

Last weekend we had the lovely Judy sit with us, and ended the session with a diverse range of portraits, some which can be seen below.

Saturday Sittings are held on the last Saturday of each month. The next Saturday Sitting is on the 28 May. For more information, check out our website or contact office@nzportraitgallery.org.nz


The Adam Portraiture Award 2016 – The People’s Choice Award: Why I voted for…Domestic self-portrait by Priscilla McIntosh

Clémence Vole, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Host reflects on her People's Choice.

  Domestic Self-Portrait,  2015. Pricilla McIntosh. Enamel paint on board. Adam Portraiture Award 2016 finalist.

Domestic Self-Portrait, 2015. Pricilla McIntosh. Enamel paint on board. Adam Portraiture Award 2016 finalist.

The portrait I chose for the Adam Portraiture Award People’s Choice is a small painting entitled Domestic self-portrait by Priscilla McIntosh. I hope you noticed it tucked away at the rear of the central moveable wall, because it’s worth having a close look at! This portrait immediately struck me, as I am often receptive of small-format artwork, and I enjoy taking a close look at small detailed paintings. From the moment I set eyes on it, this self-portrait gave me a warm and intimate feeling. It’s beautiful to look at, and I enjoyed losing myself in the various details present in the painting.

Rightly or wrongly, upon seeing Priscilla McIntosh’s Domestic self-portrait I was reminded of historical portraiture practices like medieval illuminations and Japanese prints, which I’m really fond of. Perhaps this was due to the portrait’s small size, the fact that it was painted on a board, or the striking combination of colours and perspectives. 

  Le Livre des cleres et nobles femmes  [anonymous French translation from  De mulieribus claris , Giovanni Boccaccio, 1374], 1488-1496, Cognac (France). Illustrations by Robinet Testard - BNF, Paris

Le Livre des cleres et nobles femmes [anonymous French translation from De mulieribus claris, Giovanni Boccaccio, 1374], 1488-1496, Cognac (France). Illustrations by Robinet Testard - BNF, Paris

  Young woman ,  Kunisada I, 19th century.

Young woman,  Kunisada I, 19th century.

I think the angular almost jagged dimension of the perspective gives this portrait with a real energy and singularity. This is emphasized by the position of the carpet in the foreground, and by the staggering angular position of the body, which simultaneously reinforces the presence of the artist and creates some movement in the painting. I also really appreciated the application of colour and shades in this painting. The layout is comprised of flat areas of opaque colours and delineated shadows and the pure, vibrant colours of the portrait are well enhanced and contrasted by the deep black of the eyes, hair, t-shirt, suitcases and frame. The delicate brush strokes and glossy finish of enamel paint contribute to this portrait’s great finesse and subtlety.

I find that the techniques applied in the creation of Domestic self-portrait mirror the atmosphere created in this painting. By observing the detail, we can notice numerous elements in the background which give us a glimpse into the artist’s intimate space. This personal world seems to be delivered candidly, and yet, with quiet restraint and keeps the objects partially hidden from view, lending the portrait an air of intrigue. The room is depicted as an intimate setting, where the artist, in her solitude, can get inspired and dedicate herself to creation.

I was very moved by the representation of the artist, which shows her relaxed (in her thick socks!) and reserved all at once, with her hands hidden between her legs, and her feet locked together, barely scraping the ground. With a sideways glance and a vaguely lost look, the artist’s neutral and gentle expression displays a great earnestness and sensibility. I like the way the portrait combines a feeling of comfort with a certain humbleness and shows a solitude that encourages artistic creation. I think this portrait provides an enriching reflection on contemporary portraiture and self-portraiture, and especially on how artists can depict themselves with great humility.

Emerging in Full Colour, Charlotte Giblin

Earlier this month New Zealand Portrait Gallery volunteer Gillian Clark Kirkcaldie spoke with artist Charotte Giblin about her work in the Adam Portraiture Award 2016.

  Emerging in Full Colour  (2015), Charlotte Giblin. Acrylic on canvas. Finalist in the Adam Portraiture Award 2016.

Emerging in Full Colour (2015), Charlotte Giblin. Acrylic on canvas. Finalist in the Adam Portraiture Award 2016.

Charlotte Giblin comes from an eclectic background. She studied in the UK where she considered becoming a sculptor, eventually graduating with a degree in pottery. For the next 10 years she established and ran a very successful pottery business. She worked in the administrative and marketing side of her business whilst simultaneously producing whimsical domestic pottery. This background would provide Charlotte with a great knowledge of the business side of art and give her the experience and confidence to promote her own work.

In 2009 Charlotte immigrated to New Zealand with her New Zealand partner. She continued to work in the administrative and curatorial side of the art world. She became director of the Wallace Gallery in Morrisville where she developed a successful programme of exhibitions and events. During this time she also developed a close relationship with the Wallace Arts Trust.

From the time of her arrival in New Zealand Charlotte and her partner made frequent visits to Whangamata, where his family had a house. This was Charlotte’s introduction to New Zealand’s “far north”. In 2012 they moved north to Whitianga where Charlotte took on the role of part time administrator of the Mercury Bay Escape.

It was in 2012 that Charlotte began her landscape paintings. These would become the Big Skies Series, a collection of 120 paintings. Copies of these paintings would become Charlotte’s book Wandering Under Big Skies, the Coromandel Peninsula Through the Eyes of an Artist, launched this year.

The landscapes evolved as Charlotte wandered the Coromandel Peninsula; they are light hearted and a little whimsical. In each landscape the viewer sees a solitary figure, always in the background and never face forward. It seems that this figure is also looking out into this gorgeous landscape.

  North beach,  2014, Charlotte Giblin. Acrylic and pen on paper.

North beach, 2014, Charlotte Giblin. Acrylic and pen on paper.

This figure is Charlotte in her blue shorts and yellow t-shirt and yes, she is inviting you, the viewer to come along with her as she meanders through our beautiful countryside.

In 2014 Charlotte stepped down from her post at Mercury Bay Art Escape to become a full time artist. The quantum leap was accomplished. Charlotte emerged as a full time artist - “coming out with gusto”.  She launched her a series of five self-portraits which became the Emerging Series.

This was the first time Charlotte had painted herself in 20 years.

 Charlotte's first self portrait - painted age 18. 

Charlotte's first self portrait - painted age 18. 

The impetus for this series of paintings was Charlotte’s first self portrait painted at age 18. Here the figure is naked and seated upon a tiny green stool. This is not an easy image for the viewer, the figure fills the canvas, she is foreshortened and totally confined within the space. She is looking out, yet cannot break free of the confines of her space. The space both defines and confines her.

How very different is Charlotte’s next self-portrait; Emerging in Full Colour, 2015.

Here the figure is immediate and alive, you, the viewer cannot escape her as full frontal she bursts out of the confines of not simply the picture, but also the frame. Her cheeks are rosy, her legs a little grubby, her toe nails manicured red. Is she angry?  Defiant?  Or just determined to escape?

This is a powerful image intended to both challenge and empower the viewer.

The inspiration for this series came about as Charlotte herself, emerged as a full time artist and later, as she looked at other portraits she noticed how few portrayed an image that might challenge the viewer.

Charlotte wished to speak to the needs of women and to quote her “What happens when a strong woman decides she no longer wishes to play the role “her society” has dictated for her”. This is a concept she wished to explore through her visual images.

Here Charlotte is in her familiar blue shorts and yellow t-shirt bursting out of the canvas, leaping out of the frame. There is no distracting background, she is looking straight to the viewer as she explodes onto the scene.

For Charlotte there was a sense of joy when painting this image; however, creating the pose in itself became quite a challenge as it proved rather “difficult to paint one’s image whilst trying to balance in a doorway” (Charlotte’s words). To create this pose and the expression Charlotte used photography and mirrors. The experience proved to be quite cathartic in itself.

A powerful self-portrait emerged. Charlotte entered Emerging in Full Colour into the Adam Portraiture Award 2016 where it became one of the 59 finalists.

View more of Charlotte's work here.

- Gillian Clark Kirkcaldie

From the Collection: Rediscovering McCahon and Brown

  Colin McCahon, Partridge St.,  1968 (printed 2004), Gordon H. Brown, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Collection, Gift of Avenal Mckinnon.

Colin McCahon, Partridge St., 1968 (printed 2004), Gordon H. Brown, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Collection, Gift of Avenal Mckinnon.

Portraits navigate being equally authentic and inauthentic – wrapped up conflicting opinions, status, truth and interpretation. Whether glimpsed by means of a lens or brush, portraiture walks the line between conveying the intangible spirit and a visual shell. 

In striving to unearth more about the genre, I stumbled across this photograph taken by prolific New Zealand art historian and artist, Gordon H. Brown. Amongst art lovers and aficionados, Brown is revered for the wealth of work he has contributed to our country’s cultural heritage. One of the most pivotal aspects of his legacy results from the relationship he held with one of our most prominent artists of all time, Colin McCahon. 

Colin McCahon, Partridge Street, (1968), was taken by Brown in what he once described as a “come-what-may situation” outside McCahon’s Auckland residence. 

It was here that my gaze met the true force of McCahon 

Donning a checkerboard jersey and bathed in a hazy light, McCahon superimposes the chaotic flora of the background. As shadows imprint themselves on the stoic wooden slats of his home, the eye is drawn into a silently dramatic black and white image. 

What struck me wasn’t his troubled artist persona or his iconic status, but the capricious nature of a man who took no joy in being photographed. With his guarded posture exuding a thinly veiled guise of a challenge, McCahon is captured in a moment that is powerfully ubiquitous. Despite his unintentional manner, Brown beautifully highlights the life of a man constrained in the public eye. 

Regardless of McCahon’s obvious physical ties to the location, nothing in this image truly ties him to his surroundings. Within the work, the modern master is irrevocably displaced from the space he inhabits and we as mere observers, witness an overwhelming scene of isolation. It was this snatched glimpse of McCahon, so detached from his present and disavowed in the act taking place, which poignantly resonated with me and renewed a sense of fascination in the man behind some of New Zealand’s most celebrated paintings. 

When asked about the work, Brown stated “there was no time to seek out an ideal background” - perhaps there is none truly fitting for an artist so intrinsically complex. As I discovered in the commanding presence of McCahon, when standing before portraiture all else becomes irrelevant. 

- Myrah Walters

Welcome to the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Blog

This is a space where you will find writing from artists, staff, curators, volunteers and friends of the New Zealand Portrait Gallery alongside images, videos and pictures from behind the scenes.

We will be updating the blog regularly and we can’t wait to share with you some of the amazing insights from the people we work with, so keep coming back to see what is new. First up some notes on Colin McCahon, Partridge Street, by Gordon H. Brown from Victoria University Art History student (and NZPG volunteer) Myrah Walters and Gillian Clark Kirkcaldie talks to Adam Portraiture Award 2016 finalist Charlotte Giblin.

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