To me this is a very formal painting compared to the elegant flowing lines and shapes of another Binney Brian bought for the Manawatu Art Gallery – Pond Bird (1970) – or the painting we bought for ourselves on the eve of our departure from Christchurch entitled The Entrance to the Manukau Harbour.
These three paintings that I have loved and lived with over the years gave me an insight into Don’s ability to study and then capture the essence of each subject that he chose to work on.
An environmentalist and conservationist, Don’s love of painting the New Zealand landscape, with or without birds, was an interesting choice as New Zealand was inhabited mostly by birds before humans came here. I would like to quote Don’s own words from 1971 – I feel they say it all about his lifetime love of our country:
New Zealand’s remote and isolated ecology was one of the most sensitive and integral in the world. Remarkably specialised birds filled the roles more usually occupied by mammalians elsewhere. Their whole existence was reciprocal to a delicate and specialised forest system. I think a characteristic of this, and a lot of work from this period is the structural coordination of bird and land form – what I think of as resonance really. A physical resonance between one shape and the other. Why? Because as an ornithologist I’ve always been thoroughly involved in the way in which the land, the environment, the creature lives in, modifies the creature. The creature of course also modifies the land: it’s symbiosis really, isn’t it?
My last memory of Don was when I attended the opening of the new Christchurch Art Gallery. Don was there, elegant with his walking stick. He invited me to accompany him through the new galleries. Of course everyone knew who he was, so it was very special for me to be given the VIP treatment by one of New Zealand’s major artists, who produced paintings from the 1960s onwards. Thank you, gentleman Don.
Along with his contemporaries Michael Smither and Robin White, Don Binney was part of a new generation of realist painters in New Zealand during the 1960s and 1970s. Renowned for his paintings of birds, during his teenage years he kept sketchbooks of them and they were to be a constant source of imagery for him throughout his career. While many of his birds soar through the sky, the plump pīwakawaka in Canterbury Garden Bird has settled on a branch. In 1970 Binney was invited as a guest artist to contribute works to The Group Show exhibition in Christchurch. He exhibited this painting, which was duly acquired by Muir for the Gallery’s collection. (1969 Comeback Special 27 August – 6 November 2016)
I hit browse and there it was. The collection. I had slowly built up both a resistance and a feeling of attachment to this collection. Stuffy musty rooms from 1986. Quiet and fresh white walls when it was raining outside. Sunshine on a book through the window on a late-winter afternoon. Christchurch. This collection I recognised instantly, and I felt the repulsion as well as the comfortable feeling.
I’ve been continually fascinated by the plethora of creative interventions inserted into the wasted post-quake city. A number of works have offered sharp reminders that what we have been witnessing in the past five years is not normal.
Selwyn Toogood, Levin
I spent much of my adolescence in hospital, confined to bed due to a chronic illness. With a 14" TV beside me, I’d travel to imaginary places via the controller of my Nintendo games console. At the time, I couldn’t imagine walking to the letterbox, let alone experiencing the more exotic places of the world.
Julian Dashper's Untitled 1996
Sound artist Paul Sutherland chooses his favourite work from the Gallery’s collection.