Meticulously observed, with a dense paint surface of sap green and umber, Michael Shepherd’s plein air painting of Maungataketake Mountain, Ihumatao (1985) is a work of profound importance. Recording the quarrying process of the mountain’s destruction and delivered with a sense of veracity and naturalism, Shepherd recognises that history is embedded in the ground. He builds a timeless metaphor of New Zealand life: what we should value and what we did not. Ihumatao, the site of the Otuataua stonefields, large pa, wahi tapu and the oldest Maori settlement in Auckland, was confiscated by the New Zealand Government in 1863 as punishment for support of the Kingitanga movement. It remains a very contested site as well as one of considerable historic, cultural and anthropological significance.
Openly acknowledged by other artists for his rare technical virtuosity, Shepherd is a master of chiaroscuro (see Dark Collar and Tie, 1979). He can reinvent the still-life convention with meticulously observed contrived compositions (see Military Moments, 1980) and demonstrates in Promised Land and Measure (2016) groundbreaking sculptural and painterly use of organic materials. These among many attributes (evidenced in the Waikato Museum survey exhibition and Elizabeth Rankin’s accompanying book) (1) mark him apart as an artist of real distinction and restless invention.
Neil Adcock’s extended Tiki Series moves to an increased scale where the disposition of the body builds distinct sensations, suggestions and shadows while the colour and tonal alterations of the pounamu deliver numerous landscape allusions alongside mysterious occlusions.
Damien Kurth’s Assemblage (2020) and Truss (2020) are not what they at first seem. Delivering face-on, still life conglomerations of the used and mundane, Kurth builds visual songs and tonal rhythms which rejoice in the here and now.
Simon Clark in contrasting kiwiana objects, the concept of nature and the politics of myth, continues his examination of the parallel formation of national identity by creating “realistic settings invaded by something strange...” (2) This interplay between identity presumed and one assumed is revealed in the visual tropes and puns, such as the material contradictions of 24 karat gold and the Edmonds tin. At once beautiful and dissolving into parable, Clark’s courage is matched by his certainty of delivery.
Rebecca Harris turns the light down and stands still, embracing the waning atmospheres of dusk or early evening as key devices. In the compelling Waltham Bridge (2020) we begin a journey commanded by the lingering lights on the Heathcote River before grasping the broader environment. Enclosed, surrounded and witnessing Harris develops vivid sensations of place.
Craig McIntosh, with a jeweler’s eye and a sense of restraint, builds objects that seem sourced from and to echo the natural world but with parts that could only be made by man. Suggesting function while establishing form, McIntosh in his characteristic manner revels in visual paradox.