Talking Bensemann

Leo Bensemann Pass in Winter 1971. Oil. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, Harry Courtney Archer estate 2002. Reproduced with permission

Leo Bensemann Pass in Winter 1971. Oil. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, Harry Courtney Archer estate 2002. Reproduced with permission

Leo Bensemann was one of the most respected figures in the Christchurch arts scene, and played a pivotal role in influential arts collective The Group. Always something of an odd-man-out, he produced a large body of work across several different disciplines before his death in 1986. In an attempt to get a fuller picture of the man himself, Gallery director Jenny Harper spoke to two artists who knew him well, John Coley and Quentin MacFarlane.

Leo Bensemann Self Portrait 1938. Oil on canvas. McLaughlin family foundation, New York. Reproduced with permission

Leo Bensemann Self Portrait 1938. Oil on canvas. McLaughlin family foundation, New York. Reproduced with permission

Jenny Harper: How did you first come to know Leo Bensemann? As art students in Christchurch during the 1950s, were you particularly aware of his presence or reputation in the city's arts scene?

Quentin MacFarlane: I went to art school in 1954, a year ahead of John, and probably met Leo at a Group show, because otherwise there was no reason for us to go to The Caxton Press. At the time he would have been about forty-three. We got to know him and a number of other senior artists through Bill Sutton during our art school years, and they became our friends.

John Coley: I came from Palmerston North into what was a fairly vibrant cultural scene in Christchurch. The thing I noticed was that there was not only a colony of established artists, an amazing group of art students and a large, supportive arts community, but also a number of European émigrés—people like Rudi Gopas, Frank Gross and André Brooke. It was an interesting and exciting time.

Leo was highly respected and had a long history of cultural activity in the city. He was associated with Rita Angus and Doris Holland, was a leading member of The Group and was a noted typographer and print designer. Although a third-generation New Zealander, he was of German heritage, and I felt he was more in tune with the group of recent arrivals from Europe. They had a different attitude to the kind of received English-oriented tuition of the art school. They would gather in coffee shops and argue about art, books and ideas generally.

JH: John, you and Bensemann both painted each other's portraits—what was he like as a sitter? And conversely, how was it sitting for him?

JC: Brian Muir, director of the Robert McDougall at the time, devised an exhibition called Canterbury Confrontations for the Pan Pacific Arts Festival. A group of local artists drew names out of a hat to be paired to paint each other. Carl Sydow exhibited an X-ray of Alan Pearson's skull while Pearson made a fine oil study of Sydow. I drew Leo's name and he drew mine and, although I had only done one head study since leaving art school, Leo came to sit for me. But he would have been on the sauce the night before and he'd nod off—his head would slowly droop, and I would actually have to follow him down drawing as I went. When he realised I was having a struggle he gave me some extra sittings. But I got the portrait done; it's now in the Gallery's collection.

In his portrait of me I feel Leo got my essential character somehow—sort of a hawk-like bird peering out, looking stern but soft centred. Leo gave me the portrait, and we called it the 'Ayatollah Coley' in our family because of its resemblance to the Muslim cleric.

JH: As one of the older generation of artists in The Group, what did you feel his attitude was towards younger members?

JC: We always appreciated Leo's praise when it came because we respected him greatly—he carried with him a kind of aura of knowledge and good judgement. He had a tremendous work ethic but he lived a fairly robust life as well. We used to marvel at his capacity to out-drink people and yet maintain his equilibrium and his intelligence. He was always interested in and encouraging of the younger artists. The Group shows were a great attraction when I came to Christchurch as a student. Later, as a young man, to be invited to join The Group was a tremendous honour.

QM: When we joined The Group it was quite strange. There were divisions in it, and I think that some of the older artists resented the younger members (we were probably fairly pushy, being in our twenties) but Leo had our absolute admiration and was really keen on revitalising things. Of course, there were other people who championed the young too—Frank Gross was very warm hearted—and you soon got to know who these people were.

JC: They always popped around to see you at work, and have a talk to you about art.

QM: There was also the so-called 'boozing' culture. But going to the pub after work was going to see your friends and talk about art in general—it was part of Christchurch's great strength, that people did get together. Leo and his printers' circle would drink a couple of beers... they'd let the beer go flat and then drink it, and then they would follow that with what they called 'stingos'—double whisky and water. In those days of 6 o'clock closing we would meet for a drink at the Market Hotel and all those rat bags would be in the back bar waiting for the pub to close so they could carry on behind closed doors after 6pm.

JC: The Market meetings were great tutorials actually. You could learn a lot from those fellows. I certainly did.

Leo Bensemann Albion Wright 1947. Oil on canvas on board. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, N. Barrett Bequest Collection, purchased 2010. Reproduced with permission

Leo Bensemann Albion Wright 1947. Oil on canvas on board. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, N. Barrett Bequest Collection, purchased 2010. Reproduced with permission

JH: What was Bensemann like?

QM: I always regarded him as fairly reserved, but years later I realised that he was quite a shy man.

JC: He had a tremendous intellectual integrity and he was very much his own man. He wouldn't be swayed by any 'ism' or movement or strong influence that came through. Perhaps Rita Angus had an influence on him, but he really followed his own path, which was actually dictated by kind of a north German rigour and craftsmanship. Although Leo was born in New Zealand, he had strong ties with the region around Hamburg and it influenced the style of his work. You can see quite a Grimm Brothers' fairy-tale fantasist in his illustrations.

QM: Those wonderful pencil drawings, they just take your breath away. And the sense of craftsmanship that he carried with him, that was one of the reasons you respected him, because he was self taught in almost everything he did. I don't believe he ever attended a school of typography—I think he learned that on the job at The Caxton Press. I could be wrong there, but he certainly had an exquisite sense of design. He also taught himself to play the guitar, and was a very skilled classical guitarist. In fact, classical guitar performers giving concerts would stay with Leo. He would make them welcome and they respected him. He played an enormous range of music really.

JC: Leo's generation were born around the First World War, brought up in difficult times when options were restricted. Quentin's and my generation had much more freedom in the post-War 1950s. Leo and the older artists appeared very mannerly, courtly almost in their interactions—a hint of Edwardian virtues. They had pretty good parties but were always in control. I think of them in well-tailored tweed jackets, Viyella shirts, knitted or club ties, Bedford cord trousers, desert boots—Rex Harrison, Michael Redgrave sort of chaps. Of course, Leo could get quite acerbic and you didn't want to get on the wrong side of him—he could bite back sharply if something especially provocative was said. His eyebrows would get lower...

QM: They would join in the middle.

JC: ... and he would point his pipe and then shake it at the offender and say something like, 'Do you really believe that? That's nonsense! Now think of this...' He wouldn't let a fuzzy idea go unchallenged, but he would never hold a grudge. But I used to worry about him. I worked nearby at the Teachers' College, as indeed did Quentin, and I used to go to the Post Office over the road and I'd see ambulances going into the Caxton. And I always thought they would be there to pick up Leo and take him to hospital because I didn't know how a human being could sustain the kind of life that he led. I mean, he drank a lot of beer, or appeared to, and certainly worked till late. So I thought he was due for a heart attack. He said, 'You always seem to show great interest in my health, John', and I said 'Well I see the ambulances going in and I get terribly frightened that one might be for you dear chap'. To which he replied, 'John, they are going to the automotive repair place next door to check up on their internal electronics.'

QM: I'll give you an idea of what it was like when we went to the pub. We used to drink at the Market Hotel—all the artists used to go there—until they pulled the building down and we moved up to the New Albion, which was a family pub opposite Johnson's Grocery in a little village-like enclave in Colombo Street. There would be Leo talking with Bill Sutton, Norman Barrett, myself, Trevor Moffitt, you sometimes...

JC: Trevor Moffitt was more a regular than me.

QM: And in would walk the stork-like figure of Rudi Gopas, forever smoking the same cherry-wood pipe. The artists talked about art, intermingled with people whose conversation centred around North Canterbury. Leo was inclined to get brisk with Gopas, and the situation would be managed by a gentlemanly Mr Barrett, with Bill offering advice from the sideline. There was never a punch-up.

In the sixties and seventies, Leo would be wearing quite stout open-necked shirts with shorts; sometimes in the winter he would have a collar and tie with a tweed coat and corduroy trousers. He hadn't really changed from the thirties. And he would be wearing these Riekers, but he had a curious sort of way of tying them up on the side (they didn't have the laces on the front down the middle) that was very Germanic.

JC: The strange thing about Leo was that although he had been born here, he still had a strong spiritual connection to his ancestral homeland. There was no doubt that, to us as young people, he was in a way as foreign as Rudi Gopas or André Brooke were. Wonderfully exciting men because through their example, work and conversation they were enormously influential. Leo seemed to be a latter-day European immigrant in a way—and greatly respected. He could speak German, and certainly read it. He had studied with his mother and probably his grandmother. He had a broad cultural view that seemed to be characteristic of the German migrant families in Nelson.

In Leo's time, and indeed today, only a small percentage of artists could live comfortably from painting alone. In his case it was printing that provided for his family, his wife and children.

JH: Did you ever visit him at The Caxton Press?

QM: Once or twice I had to go around to the Caxton to pick up the invitations, which always amazed me. We would take a handwritten copy around and he would handset the whole thing—he must have worked through the night to get the Group Show catalogues done.

I actually got to know Leo in a slightly different way when I first began teaching in Christchurch during the 1960s and taught three of his children. There were two girls and a boy, and I got to know Leo as a parent, as well as a well-respected friend. I set up the school magazine and I had to take all the copy over to Leo and he was wonderful. He would be there standing behind the typesetter's 'stone', as they called it, and was always so helpful. He never got flustered.

He used to work for Bullivant's—the big advertising agency and printery—doing graphic art so it was quite a big move for him to go to Caxton, which certainly struggled in its early years. It had a bravely liberal reputation, taking chances on new novelists, poets, journals. Caxton published Landfall and Acsent.

JC: There was lot of heart in that business—everyone at Caxton took great pride in their work, largely due to Leo's and Dennis Donovan's attitudes and leadership.

JH: Well, are there any good stories about Group shows or openings that you could share with us?

JC: They were a great annual affair, the star show of the year, really. All the Canterbury Society of Art shows were seasonal ones, but then here was this marvellous show where artists invited their peers to exhibit with them, exposing all this new talent. You could come from anywhere: Colin McCahon, a member of The Group, might recommend Janet Paul and so she would send a number of works. A Group show was really a collection of self-curated one-person shows. One of the characteristics of the arts scene in Christchurch at the time was that you had this big exhibition space, the CSA, but no one artist could fill it adequately in a solo show without working for three or four years, so the alternative was to exhibit in the CSA group exhibitions. The Group had been formed as a kind of self-selecting democracy of artists to avoid this situation.

There were a lot of wonderful stories around hanging shows before an opening. An elaborate dance would be performed while the senior artists decided in which part of the gallery they would or could display their work, and who would hang where. Tantrums would erupt over the prime spaces.

QM: I have got to say that Leo never suffered from that.

JC: No, he was very accommodating but with one or two others there would almost inevitably be some kind of spat.

QM: Usually between Frank Gross and Rudi Gopas. If one of Rudi's star ex-pupils, perhaps Philip Clairmont, was showing, he would make sure that he was put in a good position, even if it meant he had to move someone else's work.

JC: It was always richly fascinating and I still think that they were extraordinarily important. Not only for developments in Canterbury art but as a contemporary art forum for the entire country.

QM: In the end though, I remember them being relieved in some respects that The Group was winding up because I think they were finding it difficult to maintain progress.

JC: I think Leo had something to do with that—he was a pragmatic man and a good businessman as well. He discerned that The Group idea was playing out. It had lasted almost forty years, but increasingly artists were saving their work for one-person shows at the dealer galleries that were springing up through the country. Even the highly respected Russell Clark only had his first one-man show at the CSA in 1957. I was astonished to find that was his first one-man show at around sixty years old.

QM: In Christchurch, the CSA was beginning to represent and promote individual artists. And the Brooke Gifford Gallery had opened two years before...

JC: The senior artists tended to get into other venues. Bill was showing some big works up in the Academy. Leo, who was a good friend of Barbara Brooke's, one of the owners of the Brooke Gifford Gallery, probably talked him into his first show there. It was a most successful show. It meant though that some of those people who had produced about five or six paintings a year had to really get down to it and produce more work if they planned a one-person exhibition.

JH: As painters yourselves, what do you think of him as an artist?

QM: When I remember his work in The Group I think I personally regarded it as being fairly strict and almost primitive. I didn't until years later realise that there were undertones of symbolism and surrealism in it, but it took me quite a while to get used to it. Everyone had a distinct handwriting to their work; Leo certainly did.

As Bill Sutton said, you didn't need to see a signature on a Leo Bensemann to know it. Years later I discovered that Leo had made his name as a portraitist—he was remarkably fast apparently at painting a portrait, but he would get the initial likeness and then give it the Bensemann stamp.

JC: He put a little bit of himself into the portrait. And he could actually paint women, which Bill Sutton said he, Bill, couldn't do. Look at Leo's portrait of Rita Angus, a work of tremendous presence, absolutely marvellous.

I struggled sometimes with his landscapes, but then I struggled with other landscapes that I wasn't sure about. His were so out of left field that they were difficult to cope with—he made the mist over the Takaka Hills look like a tablecloth and he would make strange quirky things. He was a singular person with an original vision that demanded long, hard looking.

QM: That is exactly what I felt, admired or was intrigued by. Even if you couldn't quite get on the same wavelength you respected the individuality of his vision, which stemmed from and grew entirely out of the core of his being.

There was one aspect about Leo's painting that was interesting: he would listen to criticism about his work, but he had not the slightest intention to change. He never let a work out of his studio until he thought it was totally complete. Whenever we dealt with him at the Brooke Gifford Gallery, he would make sure that everything was varnished within an inch of its life so that it met his standards. On very rare occasions he would take a painting away, do something to it, and bring it back.

Some of the symbolism in the later works used to baffle me a bit, but then as I got to know more about his background after his death I began to see a lot more in it. Actually, later I used to enjoy going out to see the works in Parnell. There was a little gallery there that would show work by some of the older generation painters and they would acquire the odd Leo. They still looked pretty good.

John Coley is an artist and former director of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch. Quentin MacFarlane is a marine and modernist artist. They were interviewed by Jenny Harper in Auckland on 22 December 2010.

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Hills and Plains, Waikari
William Sutton Hills and Plains, Waikari

William (Bill) Sutton spent most of his life in Christchurch, apart from two years from 1947–49 studying and painting in Britain and Europe. This time away helped attune his eyes to the distinctive qualities of the local regional landscape. Teaching full-time at the Canterbury College School of Art from that time, Sutton lived in a rented studio flat overlooking Victoria Square and became the owner of a Matchless motorbike – upgraded to a 500cc BSA Golden Flash in 1956 – on which he’d leave the city on his weekends in pursuit of countryside to paint.

Human presence has reshaped this landscape, with its bending macrocarpa windbreaks, simple corrugated iron structures and undulating patchwork fields. A palette of subtle ochres, greys and gold presents a characteristically Canterbury scene and typifies the work for which Sutton became appreciated and known.

(Beneath the ranges 18 February – 23 October 2017)

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Te Tihi o Kahukura and Sky, I
William Sutton Te Tihi o Kahukura and Sky, I

This painting by Bill Sutton expands our view of a familiar site on Christchurch’s Port Hills, encouraging the viewer to consider what mysteries may have been present before the arrival of Māori tangata whenua, the people of the land. Te Tihi o Kahukura, or the Citadel of Kahukura, is the first name of Castle Rock, the foregrounded point at the left of the painting. The extended Māori name translates as ‘the Citadel of the Rainbow God (and a) sky full of boiling clouds roaring around all over the place’. According to Kāi Tahu tradition, Kahukura is the atua, or god, who clothed the land; Kahukura later transformed to become the atua of rainbows. Here, Sutton’s interest in landscape, light and colour is applied to a location of significance for Māori. There is an intimacy in the site for Sutton, as he was able to see it “from my upstairs back-landing window”. Sutton’s house remains in what is now known as ‘the red zone’, an earthquake-battered place of an undetermined future.

(Te Tihi o Kahukura: The Citadel of Kahukura, 18 Februay 2017 - 18 May 2018)

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A Goddess Of Mercy
Rita Angus A Goddess Of Mercy

The Canterbury landscape was violently shaken by the sequence of earthquakes that began in the dead of night on 4 September 2010. Parts of the vast Canterbury Plains, including the reclaimed swampland that Christchurch was built on, were literally ripped apart, while many of the volcanic outcrops and cliff faces on Banks Peninsula shattered and fell. Memories of those scenes provide a stark contrast to the serene, idealised Canterbury landscape watched over here by Rita Angus's A Goddess of Mercy, with its green and golden pastures, ploughed fields and foothills extending to the mountains beyond. Radiating peace, order and oneness with the landscape, it offers a reassuring vision after the uncertainty, stress and loss of living through the earthquakes.

In the vast emptiness, 8 January - 21 August 2016

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Sunset, Craigieburn
Colin S. Lovell-Smith Sunset, Craigieburn

Colin Lovell-Smith often went on painting trips to this area with his wife Rata, who was also a landscape painter. Craigieburn is in the Southern Alps, about 100 kilometres northwest of Christchurch. Although set beside a small riverbed close to the main road, the painting focuses on the steep eroded slopes of the Craigieburn Range. Lovell-Smith has paid close attention to the landform details, capturing the distinctive qualities of the Canterbury mountain region. Shades of ochre are subtly orchestrated with the soft grey of the predominant greywacke rocks. Born in Christchurch, Lovell-Smith studied at the Canterbury College School of Art then worked for his father’s printing business. During World War I Lovell-Smith was with the Royal Engineers on the Balkan Front and was subsequently awarded the Serbian Gold Medal of Merit for his work. On his return to Christchurch in 1919 he taught, first at St Andrew’s College, then at the School of Art, of which he was Director from 1947 until his death.

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Canterbury Plains From Cashmere Hills
Doris Lusk Canterbury Plains From Cashmere Hills

Bill Sutton once commented that “on the Canterbury Plains you don’t look up and down but from side to side”, which seems entirely appropriate for this vast landscape painting of the plains by his friend Doris Lusk.

In the vast emptiness, 8 January - 21 August 2016

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Nor’west
Juliet Peter Nor’west

According to Kāi Tahu, within the story of the creation of Te Waipounamu (the South Island), Aoraki was an atua, or demi-god, who left the home of his father, Raki, in the heavens and voyaged with his brothers to visit Raki’s first wife Poharora o Te Po. They set out to return to his father, but there was a fault in the karakia (prayer) for their return. Aoraki’s canoe – Te Waka o Aoraki – was stranded, and Aoraki and his brothers turned to stone, becoming the mountains of Kā Tiritiri o Te Moana, the Southern Alps.

'This work is interesting because it offers an unusual perspective on Aoraki [Mount Cook] – but Aoraki is full of different perspectives in Kāi Tahu culture. The mountain is, above all, a symbol of our tribal and regional identity. That’s got nothing much to do with its location – although that obviously commands cultural attention – but mainly because of its centrality in the Te Waipounamu creation story. And it is a distinctive creation story, part of a creation myth which has survived here in the remote outskirts of Polynesia while it has been lost at the centre where it came from. Aoraki made us distinctive, and it makes all people distinctive that live under its span. Juliet Peter’s depiction of it is unusual, but every way you look at Aoraki you’ve got a different perspective.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

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Mackenzie Country
Esther Studholme Hope Mackenzie Country

The viewpoint Esther Hope chose for this work allowed her to show the vast expanse of the Mackenzie Country, which stretches out before the viewer towards the Southern Alps. This region was a favourite subject of Hope’s, one that she returned to throughout her career.

She said that “this land is a part of me … I have never regretted my choice of environment [and] have always felt a strong feeling of primitiveness [here].” Hope’s mature style is seen here, with broad wet washes of colour confidently used.

Hope was born near Geraldine, South Canterbury. She was first introduced to painting through her mother, Emily Studholme, an accomplished amateur artist. She also took lessons from Edwyn Temple and Margaret Stoddart. In 1912 Hope left New Zealand for England where she enrolled at the Slade School of Art, London. In 1919 she returned to New Zealand, married Henry Norman Hope and settled at the Grampians Station in the Mackenzie Country.

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Dry September
William Sutton Dry September

'The Bruce is a route, it’s a river; it’s a place my grandfather, a West Coast MP, used to walk, east and west. If there was no coach, he’d go up the Bruce and down the whatever. His diary is always taking about up the Bruce or down the Bruce.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

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Canterbury Spring
Leo Bensemann Canterbury Spring

Exhibited at The Group show in 1961, this work by Leo Bensemann was part of a ‘Four Seasons’ suite which also included Autumn, Winter and Summer. It marked a change in his work in that landscapes came to dominate his paintings from this period on. Bensemann has given the landscape a structured composition, with objects outlined in a strong, clean and definite manner. This has similarities with work by other Canterbury landscape painters who shared a concern for painting the unique regional imagery of the Canterbury landscape in a formal simplified manner.

Born in Takaka, Bensemann shifted to Nelson with his family in 1920. He moved to Christchurch in 1929 and he worked for an advertising agency. He attended evening classes at the Canterbury College School of Art between 1932 and 1936. It was in 1934 that Bensemann met poet Denis Glover and became involved with the Caxton Press as a typographer, an association he maintained until his retirement in 1978. He was a regular exhibitor with The Group from 1938.

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Camp in the Kowai
Austen A Deans Camp in the Kowai

'The Kowai would, in standard Māori, be pronounced Kōwhai – it's named after the kōwhai tree [native tree with yellow flowers].' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

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Mountains, Cass
Rita Angus Mountains, Cass

“I was glad to see this painting again for a few minutes. […] I was ‘knocked out’ by the clear admission of truth. I am amazed that at one time (years ago), and in about three to four hours, I had the power & courage to paint Cass.”

—Rita Angus

In the vast emptiness, 8 January - 21 August 2016

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Plain and Hills
Louise Henderson Plain and Hills

Mystery still shrouds the exact location shown in this work by Louise Henderson, but the vista, as well as the work’s date, make a convincing argument for it being painted on the same inland venture with fellow artists Julia Scarvell and Rita Angus in 1936, when Angus painted Cass.

'Those passes and those routes – Noti Raureka [the Browning Pass], Tiori Pātea [Haast Pass] – they were 
all done and opened up with Māori guides, even though they’ve been named by Pākehā surveyors since.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

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The Long Lookout
Ivy G Fife The Long Lookout

'Tu-Te-Raki-Whanoa, the son of Aoraki, is the atua [demi-god] who shapes the wrecked waka to ready it for people. His first great task is to defeat the south-easterly winds roaring along the side of the wreck. He invents peninsulas. He rakes all the rubbish of the wreckage and piles it up like a gigantic break water. Thus you have the Canterbury Plains and a sheltered place for his next invention, Whakaraupō [Lyttelton Harbour] and Akaroa Harbour. He then depresses his heel and creates Waihora [Lake Ellesmere], later claimed by the exploring ancestor, Rākaihautū, as Te Kete ika o Te Rākaihautū [the fish basket of Rākaihautū].' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

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Cass
Rita Angus Cass

'The word for a pass or saddle in Māori is nonoti or noti; Noti Raureka is the Browning Pass, not that far from Cass, which is closer in proximity to Arthur’s Pass. There’s a story about a woman named Raureka of the Ngāti Wairaki tribe on the West Coast. Raureka travelled to the east coast carrying a piece of pounamu [greenstone], which is a traditional story of how the eastern migrants found out about pounamu. I often doubt that explanation. By the seventeenth century, when Kāi Tahu were coming here, they knew about pounamu but not of the routes required to reach it. Finding a route to the West Coast was important. The man who becomes significant in that story is Te Rakitāmau, who features in the traditional accounts of the routes across the Alps. In later years, the Noti Raureka route was reserved for war parties and for freighting pounamu back to Kaiapoi. The Lewis Pass was preferred because it’s an easier walk with freight, and Browning is quite stiff.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

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Evening
Colin S. Lovell-Smith Evening

'Well, this is Haumuri Point south of Kaikōura. Pākehā called it Amuri – you’ve got Amuri Motors, Amuri buildings, Amuri district or whatever. It is called Haumuri, and it was always explained to me that the name was given because the wind there is always behind you.

'In the Te Waipounamu creation story, Tu-Te-Raki-Whanoa had two assistant atua [demi-gods], Marokura and Kahukura. We could say that Kahukura was in charge of all parks and reserves, and Marokura was in charge of 
the Ministry of Fisheries. The whole coast is inhabited by the work of those atua. The land is clothed and beautified by Kahukura. Marokura goes off to make his own peninsula at Kaikōura. He was a fishing atua – he wasn’t much of a civil engineer – so it’s only a small peninsula. He puts the great riches of the sea into the coast, which was his skill. The coast is called Te Tai o Marokura; some people call it Te Koha o Marokura.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

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Hawkins
Rata Lovell-Smith Hawkins

By the early 1930s Rata Lovell-Smith was highly regarded for her paintings of the Canterbury landscape. One Christchurch reviewer in 1933 glowingly commented on her work:

'Of the painters who direct their attention towards the essential characteristics of New Zealand scenery […] Mrs Lovell-Smith makes an extremely direct statement of her subject. She paints with a large full brush in a series of broad planes. There is nothing 'bitty' about her work. This, perhaps, is its greatest virtue, a virtue that cannot be too highly praised. She glories in the colour contrasts of the New Zealand landscape. […] There are no subtleties but a series of vivid and simplified impressions of her native country. Whereas many pictures by [other] exhibitors […] might have been painted in other countries, there can never be any doubt about the locality of Mrs Lovell- Smith's landscapes. It is as though she had never got over her first impression of violent tone and colour contrasts, and in a state of beatific astonishment had set herself to establish that impression at the expense of anything that tended to modify it.'

In the vast emptiness, 8 January - 21 August 2016

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Summer Kowai, 1934
Cedric Savage Summer Kowai, 1934

Kowai Bush is a farming area in the foothills of Central Canterbury, where typically the summers are very hot and dry. Like other Canterbury landscape artists of the 1930s, Cedric Savage was interested in recording the unique features of the Canterbury region. He was essentially a plein air (outdoors) artist concerned with painting directly from nature but in Summer, Kowai he has worked in a careful manner, keeping control over the application of paint. Born in Christchurch, Savage studied at the Canterbury College School of Art. He later studied with Sydney Lough Thompson (1877-1973) and Archibald Nicoll (1886 - 1953). After travelling, he returned to New Zealand in 1933, settling in Christchurch where he became vice-president of the New Zealand Society of Artists. Savage’s eyes were injured during World War II and for the rest of his life he could only paint outdoors. Although he won the Kelliher Art Award in 1962, Savage felt unappreciated in New Zealand and spent many years living away from the country, finally settling in Greece.