Tony Fomison

New Zealander, b.1939, d.1990


  • Purchased 1973
  • Oil on canvas
  • 1740 x 1790mm
  • 73/243
  • 1971

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)

earlier labels about this work
  • Brought to light, November 2009- 22 February 2011

    Typical of Fomison’s work in its intensity and edgy mood, this work was inspired by a Sunday Times photograph the artist saw in England. He often found his subject matter in the chance discovery of photographs or illustrations. The blacksmith, depicted here with ‘broad and sinewy hands’ and an angry face, captivated Fomison, who saw himself as an outsider and often explored that theme in his work. The Gallery archives contain a hand-written account of the circumstances in which this work was painted, including the type of canvas used and the various locations Fomison moved to (such as the flat he shared with Philip Clairmont in Riccarton) while in the process of completing ‘No!’

  • This work, typical in its intensity and edgy mood, was inspired by a newspaper photograph Tony Fomison saw when he was in England. Protesting against a proposed motorway, a man was emphatically refusing to sell his property. Fomison often found his subject matter in almost chance discoveries of photographs or illustrations. He saw himself as an outsider and his work often explored that theme. His paintings are characteristically dark with simplified forms and dramatic compositions. Almost monotonal, they belong to the expressionist style in which the forms and colours are distorted for maximum emotional impact. Fomison was born in Christchurch and studied at the University of Canterbury between 1957 -1960. An Arts Advisory Board grant took him to England and Europe in 1963. In 1973 he moved to Auckland where a lifelong interest in Māori and Polynesian cultures was often incorporated into his work. He died in Whangarei. (Opening Gallery hang, 2003)

    Note: the reference to a motorway protest is now known to wrong. The man was protesting a plan to build housing in his village.


My Favourite
Tony Fomison's No!

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.’

No! That’s wrong XXXXXX

No! That’s wrong XXXXXX

Three paintings by Tony Fomison, Philip Clairmont and Allen Maddox.

Talk to the hand

Talk to the hand

Tony Fomison's No! is currently being installed out on High Street.

No! by Tony Fomison

No! by Tony Fomison

No! was begun in 1969 while Tony Fomison was living in a house in Riccarton Road with Philip Clairmont and other bohemian artists. Typical in its intensity and edgy mood, this work was inspired by a newspaper photograph Fomison saw when he was in England during the late 1960s.

No Mail Today
Allen Maddox No Mail Today
Allen Maddox began producing his well-known ‘X’ paintings around 1975 when, in a moment of despondency, he angrily defaced a painting he was working on with an X. The motif stuck, and he began repeating his 'crosses in boxes' over and over on his canvases. There is a compulsiveness in Maddox’s ‘X’ paintings; at once ordered yet disordered, they demonstrate a combination of gestural boldness and neurotic energy. Maddox commented in 1977 that he ‘would like to be able to visually reproduce the little electric thought patterns that go on in your head when one is paranoiac… How I thrill to a composition resolved by “painterly” means. Splashes, strokes, aesthetic errors.’ (No! That’s wrong XXXXXX, 25 June 2016 – 30 April 2017)
Philip Clairmont Fireplace
Philip Clairmont’s Fireplace was originally part of a larger painting of an interior completed for a 1970s Christchurch's nightclub called ‘15 Jellies’. The painting survived a fire that closed the club and afterwards was separated into three works including Fireplace. In the late 1970s Clairmont stated: I started painting interiors in my honours year at art school because we lived in this cramped Clifford flat in Hereford Street and I spent a helluva lot of time at home there. … The house we lived in had such beautiful fireplaces surrounded by decorated tiles and things like that. … I have painting binges. Usually at night because I prefer artificial lighting. I like a lot of music because it makes me paint at different speeds. It’s almost like conducting with a paint brush. I like the gesture of painting… You’ve got to psych yourself into it. Into a state of attack really, because you've got something going on in your head. (No! That’s wrong XXXXXX, 25 June 2016 – 30 April 2017)