Tony Fomison No! 1971. Oil on canvas. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, purchased 1973

Tony Fomison No! 1971. Oil on canvas. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, purchased 1973

Tony Fomison's No!

I’ve chosen this because it’s probably Tony’s best-known painting (it’s the one that the Gallery chose to upsize onto an inner-city wall) and because it’s emblematic of his art, which was confrontational and definitely not user-friendly. In a long profile I wrote of him in the 1970s he said of his middle-class patrons: ‘I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about them. They’re the swine I rely on to buy my paintings. I hope these paintings fester on their walls and they have to take them down and put them behind the piano. I hope the paintings get up and chase them round the house.’

I also chose it because it reminds me of Tony, who was a good friend for years (precisely because we lived in different worlds). For a brief period, I was a near neighbour at his Linwood family home and I kept in touch with his mother for decades.

I knew Tony the artist – I had some fun with him and his partners-in-crime, Phil Clairmont and Allen Maddox (all three of them dead long before their time; Tony only made it to fifty). I attended one of the painful Auckland sessions where Tony got his full-body traditional Samoan tattoo, turning himself into a living Pacific artwork (the tattooist described the process to me as feeling like ‘a hot iron up the arse’).

I’ve kept the letters he wrote me in his unique spidery hand, and they form the most vivid record of the ‘life of the artist’. My favourite is his description of the events which led to him being stripped of the residency at the Rita Angus Cottage in Wellington in the 1980s. And I was there at the end – Llew Summers and I were among the pallbearers at his extraordinary three-day Auckland funeral.

But mainly, I knew Tony the political man (up until his 1990 death he was a member of the organisation that I have fronted for many decades). The man who got his ribs broken in a 1981 Springbok Tour protest in Auckland. The man who came on a 1970s Christchurch protest against US bases with a homemade placard that read ‘Gay Liberation Front supports this march – so look out, us camps say ‘No’ to US camps’. Tony brought his own unique style to everything he did. ‘I decided my best way to protest was through my painting.’

I chose No! because it symbolises so much of what Tony rejected in art, politics and life. He was a one-off and he expressed that with his art. And I end with a plea to the Gallery. Tony Fomison was a major New Zealand artist who came from Christchurch – the Christchurch Art Gallery needs to have more of his work.

Related

Exhibition
Faces from the Collection

Faces from the Collection

Treasured portraits populate empty spaces in our changing city.

Collection
Tony Fomison / Philip Clairmont
Marti Friedlander Tony Fomison / Philip Clairmont

Here Marti Friedlander has created an iconic image of two important New Zealand artists. She captures something of their friendship, together in the living room of fellow artist, Alan Maddox (1948 -2000). Tony Fomison (1939 -1990) and Philip Clairmont (1949 -1984) shared a studio in the early 1970s. This is one of a series of documentary photographs Friedlander made of New Zealand artists from 1977 to 1979. Although image records one particular moment, it also speaks eloquently of the character of these two bohemian artists. Friedlander was born in London, studied photography at Bloomsbury Technical School and worked as a photography studio assistant in London. In 1957 she travelled through Europe, photographing people and places as a visual diary. Friedlander arrived in Auckland with her New Zealand husband, Gerrard, in 1958. During 1963 she travelled to Israel, lived in Tel Aviv and studied Hebrew. On her return to New Zealand she began taking photographs full-time. She was awarded the Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit in 1999.

Collection
No!
Tony Fomison No!

Talk to the hand. The character in Tony Fomision’s No! holds up his hand to the viewer in a gesture of defiance and refusal as he looks away. The antagonistic stance is based on an image cut from a 1966 newspaper of a local blacksmith horrified at the idea of a proposed urban subdivision near his village. This work was completed after Fomison returned to Christchurch from his overseas sojourn, a moment in which he developed his mature style: Overseas I had found a way of painting that is my way of painting, derived completely from my drawings. I had got on the right track after being put on the wrong track at Art School. Much of Fomison’s subject matter is gritty with a psychological intensity, as seen in No!, where the subject actively rejects the viewer, refusing to acknowledge them. Fomison stated: My paintings are brutal and lonely, and try to make the statement that the personal condition is more important, that self-knowledge is more important, than just painting flowers and landscapes.

(No! That’s wrong XXXXXX, 25 June 2016 – 30 April 2017)

My Favourite
My Favourite

My Favourite

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.