Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 4. 1962.
Art and Anarchy in New Zealand
Art and Anarchy in New Zealand
Recently showing at the Centre Gallery was an exhibition of oils and watercolours by a Christchurch painter, Andre Brooke. Brooke, a Hungarian by birth, has painted overseas and runs the Durham Art Gallery in Christchurch.
In the collection of some fifty paintings no great talent was displayed; there was a certain maturity of style evident and certainly a fixed set of ideas, but only one or two canvases could really be called good painting. One, Still Life No. 4 (how annoying it is that Brooke does not name his paintings!) was superb; the great majority of his watercolours were less than mediocre, insipid, unrewarding sketches, filled in. Obviously Brooke has a greater talent in oils than watercolours, and when one realises that all the oils are abstract or semi-abstract, one wonders just what a representational work by Brooke would be like. However, Brooke has a fine sense of colour harmony, even though he does seem to be somewhat erratic in his work. He does not appear to be a consistent artist; consistent in theme he is, but not in quality
Derivative artistry, imitation of the circumabient artistic style is far too prevalent in our New Zealand society and Brooke appears to be no exception: A Raoul Dufy-like concentration on ships, yachts, sea and sky is unmatched by Dufy's, for want of a better word, aesthetic art. I do not say Brooke is derivative of Dufy but in theme and ideas there is more than a casual relationship. His colour sense, in some canvases line, is as said before almost non-existent in his watercolours and many of the oils. Trees was a quite clever study, semi-abstract and well composed, but those ever-evasive "poetic qualities" which one always hopes to find are absent. Not since Douglas MacDiarmid's exhibition last year have I seen these constable-some poetic qualities. S. B. Maclennan's watercolours have, however, a certain quotient of these qualities: of course compared with painters like Claude or Watteau— the past masters of their personal aestretic—they pale in comparison.
On the whole then, Brooke's exhibition was an interesting one, but if he finds himself succeeding in expressing himself, his creative spirit in terms of pure form and colour—though not entirely freed from a certain trace of naturalism, I find, like that great critic Berenson, meaningless and sterility. As I say, it is interesting in a diversionary sense.
I am reminded of a quotation I read some time ago by Jacques Maritain an art lover as well as a philosopher: "There is no exercise of the free creativity of the spirit without poetic intuition. In actual fact all . . . efforts of poetry ('the inner life of each and all the arts') cannot prevent non-representative art from tending of itself to the most limited form of beauty, with almost no echoing power, of the best balanced objects produced by mechanical arts. All in all abstract art taken as a system is in the same predicament as idealist philosophy. Both are walled in The conclusion of Maritain is that "of itself it (non-representative art) rather points to a period of stagnation and regression". Certainly this is true of the pretentious trash and rubbish which is hung in New Zealand today. With notable exceptions, it is true of the large majority if all non-representative work. There are almost no craftsmen in New Zealand today, rather "creators", or pseudo-creators, suigeneris. Artists prostituting their talents to produce monntrous absortions of ugliness and meaningless in their desire to be "modern". Too many Sunday painters, too little instruction on behalf of the various Art Galleries, absolutely no professional art criticism of any standard whatsoever and lamentably, as yet, no university, Art Historians—men like Oxford's Edgar Wind.
April 2nd-13th: An exhibition, which should be of some interest, of etchings and engravings by Louise Henderson and Kees Hos. The ancient craft of print-making by hand has been unexpectedly revived today and though knowing nothing of these two artists a visit should be well worth while. Both Henderson and Hos have had considerable overseas experience in the graphic arts, and are extremely well qualified.
There will be an exhibition of "Contemporary New Zealand Paintings" round about April 17th-27th. April 30th-llth May, Max Coolahan will have another showing of photographn.
Hays Art Competition
We learn from the Directors of Willeston Galleries that about 17 of the Hays paintings will be on show in Mid-May. This is one show everyone should see and judge for themselves the winners of this controversial Art competition. John Summers, reviewing the show in the "New Zealand Listener", is not known to me but his review was, though I have not yet seen the show, of dubious partiality. In fact, it was about as good as any other piece of film or radio criticism one reads, in the Listener, and that's not saying much! The Hays attracts the crazy abstractionists; the Kelliher the imitating of nature mannerists. Into this dichotomy fall most of our painters. The few that refuse both these extremes provide some enjoyable painting but who wants such painting?
Apparently Sir Daryl Lindsay, this year's judge, did somehow, bring some sense of proportion to this year's show but next year as Summers—who, incidentally, does not "care too much about him (Lindsay) points out "the last might next time so easily become the first". I ask you, just what sort of standards in judging and criticising in New Zealand are indicated by this very true statement? In one word, nihilism.
Art and Anarchy
Gary L. Evans