R. N. Field: The Dunedin Years 1925–1945

15 December 1989 – 7 January 1990

This exhibition features the work of the sculptor, painter, poter and teacher, Robert Nettleton Field (1899-1987). Field's name is not widely known these days mainly because the public has had little opportunity to view his work in recent times. The majority of exhibits, brought together by the Manawatu Art Gallery and toured nationwide with the New Zealand Art Gallery Directors' Council and Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand, are drawn from private collections from all over New Zealand so this is a show not to be missed.

R. N. Field emigrated from England in 1925 to take up a teaching position at the King Edward Technical College of Dunedin. He brought with him ideas which were still considered avant-garde even back in London at the time and quickly became known in Dunedin and Christchurch art circles for his modern approach to art.

Field was influential both as a practising artist and as a teacher. His painting and sculpture challenged nineteenth century assumptions regarding the nature of art and the role of the artist. The principles of simplification and the expressive use of form embodied in his work represented a reaction against Victorian naturalism. Rather than trying to reproduce the world around him as a camera might, Field aimed at representing an idea of what he saw, having realized that colour, line, form, design and materials could be enjoyed for their own sake, irrespective of the subject.

Field's art and teaching helped oust the notion of there being only one correct way of painting and drawing – a notion which pervaded the New Zealand art societies and schools of art at the time. The pupils he inspired included Doris Lusk, Sir Tosswill Woollaston and Colin McCahon, who wrote of his time at the King Edward Technical College between 1937-1939 "the painter's life for me was exemplified by the life and work of R. N. Field".

R.N. Field: The Dunedin Years 1925-1945, includes examples of Field's sculpture, drawing, painting, print-making and pottery with the idea of capturing some sense of his shifting interests and artistic output as a whole. The sizeable catalogue which accompanies the show provides a biographical and art historical context within which the works themselves may be better understood.

('R. N. Field: The Dunedin Years 1925-1945', Bulletin, No.66, December 1989/January 1990, p.3)