Fomison: What shall we tell them?

29 July – 11 September 1994

The artist Tony Fomison died at the age of 50, on 7 February 1990, after collapsing at the Treaty Celebrations at Waitangi. His death was tragically premature, leaving a considerable gap in New Zealand's art history.

During his controversial 30 years career, Fomison was recognised as one of New Zealand's most extraordinary artists. His art does not fit easily into any of the categories we have become accustomed to. While regarded by some as a Gothic curiosity, it is seen by others as expressing with exceptional force some of the deepest issues of our culture.

"The City Gallery is honoured to launch this major retrospective of Fomison's work, the initiation of which has attracted wide institutional and public support, as well as the backing of family and associates," says Paula Savage, City Gallery Director.

Works have been gathered from public and private collections throughout the country, showing Fomison as one of the most compelling and important artists of his generation. The exhibition, curated by writer and freelance curator Ian Wedde, forms a large part of the gallery's contribution to the 1994 Festival of Arts.

The show will also include items from Fomison's extraordinary collection of curios and naïve art. His painting logbooks also provide a viewer with insight into his working methods and his complex and intriguing character. Portraits of Fomison by leading New Zealand artists Richard McWhannell, Philip Clairmont and Mary McIntyre add their interpretation.

The exhibition reflects Fomison's lifelong involvement with indigenous cultures. Curator Ian Wedde says of Fomison, "He was a fine artist, a shrewd scholar with an unfailing commitment to cultural risk taking."

Hands and faces dominate many of Fomison's paintings. They form an elementary index of fear and emotion. Hands in gestures of blessing or curse, healing or violence; faces which press up against the picture surface, often distorted and too close for comfort.

Among the 100 works that make up What shall we tell them? are works that pertain to the artist's strong archaeological and ethnographic interests. Included are a dozen 1980s lithographs, in conjunction with samples of his tracings of ancient Maori rock shelter drawings.

Fomison, What shall we tell them?, is presented by the City Gallery, Wellington and supported by QEII Arts Council which, in association with Alan and Jenny Gibbs, GP Print and Communication Arts, is also supporting the City Gallery, Wellington's publication of a definitive 192 page catalogue including essays by writers from new Zealand, USA, Samoa and Australia.

('Fomison: What shall we tell them?', Bulletin, No.90, June/July 1994, p.1)