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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 3 (June 1, 1937)

The Artist and His Country

The Artist and His Country.

We have had a visit from a famous English artist and some of his comments on Art in New Zealand, while pleasing and encouraging in some directions, were also critical of certain defects in the work of our painters and the contents of public galleries. The stimulating note was strong. Mr. Lamorna Birch, marvelling at the clearness and crispness of much of our scenery, and, per contra, the lush rich moist colouring of the rain-forest and lake districts, advises the young artist to paint exactly what he sees, as he sees it. The courage of this opinion should be expressed in his brushwork. “Never mind other people,” was in effect one of his bits of advice; “trust to yourself. If you see that a white cloud casts a black shadow on the earth or the water, paint it black.”

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Lamorna Birch perhaps tried to paint more of New Zealand than he should have attempted in so short a visit. Certainly he saw more of the Dominion's varied landscapes in a few weeks than many New Zealanders see in a lifetime. He took away with him a great number of sketches and colour notes for future use, and these and his finished pictures will help to spread the fame of our scenery. The artist took a great fancy to the pohutukawa tree, not so much for its flowers as for its glorious lawlessness of growth, its irregularity of shape, all elbows and knees, and its fearless habit of rooting-in on cliff-tops and coast edges. In that liking for the pohutukawa and its sister the rata, he brought to my mind an artist of the older generation in the North, the late Kennett Watkins; it was his favourite picture tree.