Michael Shepherd: Still Lies

This exhibition is now closed

Exquisitely rendered, illusory and enigmatic paintings from 1992–9 re-interpret and challenge New Zealand's early social history.

This exhibition featured 17 works produced between 1992 and 1999 by Auckland-based artist Michael Shepherd, drawn from both private and public collections. Shepherd's illusory, enigmatic and exquisitely rendered paintings look to the past for both their technique and subject matter. The early social history of New Zealand has long held a fascination for him, and he has found fertile ground for inspiration within the relationships, conflicts and cultural negotiations of Māori and Pākehā. In The Nervous System, by Allan Smith, Shepherd stated that this 'obscure, fought over history' allowed him to 'ride the boundaries between art, geography, sociology and history (creating) a model through which time and narrative might plausibly be depicted.'

Using techniques mastered by artists in the seventeenth century, and often working from photographs and historical documents, Shepherd's work is an oblique kind of history painting, which acknowledges the inevitable failure of any attempt to definitively record the past. Many of his paintings deliberately emphasise the absence of what they purport to recall, with subtle details alluding to the gradual translation of historical 'truth' over time.

The artist became particularly aware of this phenomenon when researching the life of his great-uncle who fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. As described in Lands and Deeds (1996) by Gregory O'Brien, Shepherd's great-uncle and 'another man had entered New Zealand history in two lots of three minutes. They had carried out two brave deeds within the space of half an hour. And his life was over by 1917. All I was left with was this shadowy stuff of memory itself and my own pseudo-attempts to bring this to life.' Shepherd contrasts the minute realism of his paintings, and his unswerving attention to historical detail, with this inability to authentically represent the past, as seen in Treaty (1996). Featuring official-looking seals and signatures, the document Shepherd depicts is, in fact, meaningless, as the wording becomes indecipherable against the darkening surface of the 'aged' document.

Shepherd was born in Hamilton in 1950 and graduated with a Diploma of Fine Arts (Honours) from Elam, University of Auckland in 1979. In 1982, he was awarded a Queen Elizabeth Arts Council Travel Grant, which he used to study 17th century Dutch painting materials and techniques in Amsterdam. Shepherd has exhibited throughout New Zealand since his first solo show at Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland, in 1980. His work has been purchased for private collections within New Zealand and internationally, and is held in most major national public collections, including those of Te Papa Tongarewa, Auckland Art Gallery and Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū.

Felicity Milburn

This exhibition was held at the Robert McDougall Contemporary Art Annex in the Arts Centre.

Collection works in this exhibition

1 item