Thursday, 11 September 2014

From pop art to urban style: The evolving prints of Brad Novak

For so long pop art has been the genre that many contemporary artists felt comfortable being labelled with.  However with the pop art movement now nearly 50 years old there has recently been a shift toward a more urban feel in contemporary art, heavily influenced by the most exciting thing in modern art right now - street art.

Auckland printmaker Brad Novak's career has bridged this change of tone.  Novak's butterfly tiki prints were firmly in the NZ pop art tradition but he has recently taken on a harder, more urban edge whilst still retaining this strong sense of NZ identity.  

Brad Novak "Reservoir Birds"
Limited Edition Screenprint
His new Reservoir Birds print references both the cult movie "Reservoir Dogs" and the bird paintings of Christchurch painter Bill Hammond.  However he brings a grittier sensibility to this new print that is clearly post-Banksy - you could imagine this image stencilled onto the wall of an alleyway in downtown New Zealand.

Here is Brad Novak's video, "The making of Reservoir Birds" filmed at Artrite screenprinting studios in Auckland.  The print is available for sale here.  Please note the black paper version was not able to be released due to a fault with the batch of ink used, the white paper print is the only version that is for sale at New Zealand Fine Prints.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Tiki: More than decor - a symbol

We believe there is now emerging a deeper meaning to New Zealanders buying prints of symbols like tiki and koru than just a superficial decor trend.   This article is a call to critically examine a casual dismissal of the extensive use of the tiki motif in particular as just another (temporary) phase of a wider kiwiana trend in NZ art prints that will pass.

More than just a decorative piece a tiki print first and foremost represents an ongoing connection to Aotearoa/New Zealand.  When a tiki is given as a present it's often a deeply meaningful gift that symbolises a connection with NZ and/or the person or people who gift the artwork, in essence a tiki has grown to mean friendship and connectedness with a uniquely NZ slant.

Picasso Tiki by Lester Hall
Tiki are now a symbol that is accessible to - and understood by - nearly all New Zealanders and this recognition extends to people who may have a passing acquaintance with NZ, may live in another country etc but to whom this idea of the tiki's meaning still makes sense.  It's becoming clear to us that for New Zealanders today tiki are not being purchased just to decorate in the supremely superficial manner like the kitch decor of an American tiki bar that is practically divorced from all meaningful connection with its Polynesian origins beyond the historic accident filtered through the decades.

Tiki in pre-colonial Maori culture

Whether as a memorial to the ancestors or associated with fertility and childbirth tiki were undoubted connected with the sacred, the spiritual and a sense of connection to place or people by Maori. Unlike other Polynesian cultures where tiki were predominantly carved wooden objects in Aoteaora the pendant known as the Hei-Tiki is the most well-known expression of the tiki form.

Tiki in NZ Art

Tikis were first re-worked in a fine art context by Dick Frizzell in his response to the debate around cultural appropriation in the 1990s and are now part of our collective cultural identity. The evidence that a tiki is now more than just a decorative motif is also that despite the ongoing popularity of Tiki prints as a genre they simply not becoming stale or boring because the idea of the tiki continues to evolve and deepen as successive artists re-mix, re-invent an re-interpret the tiki shape and form. Whether referencing pop art, Aboriginal art, Picasso (see Lester Hall's latest print above left) and even Dick Frizzell himself in wonderfully circular fashion in "Tiki to Diki" - or used as an anthropomorphic symbol of Maori ancestry in the prints of Shane Hansen such as this one below.

Shane Hansen Print "Boy and Friendy"
As non-Maori New Zealander's are now becoming a distinct culture,  often referred to as Pakeha or even as "white Polynesian" this also means we are becoming more likely to unselfconsciously give the gift of a tiki or a koru (a symbol of renewal or new life) than, for instance, to reach for a religious artwork such as Durer's Praying Hands which would have held a similar sense of shared meaning in an earlier more religious time.

When a friend or work colleague returns to their home country after time spent in New Zealand colleagues and friends send them home with a picture of a tiki,  not just to remind them about their time here, or to celebrate our unique Maori culture - but most importantly as a symbol of the recipient's special connection that they will always have with New Zealand.  We also send tikis to New Zealanders overseas to remind them of their connection to home instead of the more obvious picturesque views of their favourite landmarks.  Mickey to Tiki may be easily the most well-known tiki print, regularly delivered by us as a gift for weddings, birthdays and Christmas for a decade now - but we believe there has been more to its popularity as a gift than it just being chosen because it was a safe choice as NZ's most popular print over this time.   Given the messages included with the print we know there is usually this kind of underlying heartfelt and sincere meaning behind the gift of this most famous of all artworks featuring a tiki.

There is now an ongoing place for tiki as "more than just decoration", it is not just a decor trend because this greater idea of the tiki is now part of the NZ identity.  This deeper wellspring of meaning means artists will continue to find ways to drive the idea of the tiki into new and unexpected directions (so much so we have now even created a permanent tiki prints collection). But just as there is a difference between a plastic tiki and a hand carved tiki we think there is a distinction between a watered down version that verges on cultural appropriation to a sincere reworking of what has become a cultural icon for both Maori and non-Maori New Zealanders.

New Zealand artists & the future of the Tiki

And considering tiki are a Pacific wide icon it is exciting to see that tiki art from NZ are clearly now
Drippy Tiki by Greg Straight
the best tiki artwork available because thanks to artists like Dick Frizzell we have taken an indigenous motif and taken it further to imbue it with even more meaning and resonance when you see it on the wall!  Not taken an indigenous icon out of context (as a decoration for a tiki themed bar for instance) but to be an emblem of our NZness with deeper meanings beyond the visual representation on the wall.

Mickey to Tiki is accessible to non New Zealanders not just because Mickey is so recognisable but also because the tiki is increasingly well known outside of the Pacific.  And New Zealand artists are leading this growth in popular consciousness because they are evolving the tiki from an emblem of an historical culture - without sacrificing its meaning - into a fresh and contemporary form that incorporates and includes while (with a few grating exceptions) still respecting and paying homage to the underlying symbolism of the hei-tiki in Maori culture.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

McRangi - is "Maori Art" selling out or promoting Maori culture?

McRangi by Shane Hansen - Edition of 40 prints
Shane Hansen is one of NZ's most widely known contemporary Maori artists. He has accepted commissions from high profile clients such as Maori Television, Air New Zealand and his artwork adorns the New Zealand Tourism head office in Auckland.  He has even followed in the footsteps of Andy Warhol with an art car project for BMW!

But he is uneasy about the popularity of a genre known as "Maori Art" in a way that is in some ways similar to our misgivings about the re-branding of non-Maori New Zealand art as "kiwiana".

Hansen's new print of a Maori Ronald McDonald figure is his expression of this questioning of the balance between commercialisation and celebration of Maori art by artists like himself.

Shane Hansen at work in his Auckland studio
McRangi (pictured above) is a much looser artwork than his usual crisp style based on what Hansen describes as an "old school image of Ronald waving that had a creepy nostalgic feeling about it". In this print McRangi asks in Te Reo "Ko tenei taku titiro kite ao whanui? - "is this how I see the world?".  Hansen is wondering if his artworks are cheapening Maori culture or exposing it and communicating it to others in a good way.

We don't think that Hansen has anything to worry about as his thoughtful and original series of prints push the boundaries of New Zealand art forward, refreshing and re-interpreting as well as adding a completely new style that is completely his own.  But even if there is a less vivid expression of "Maori art" being produced in the gift/souvenir market to meet the current demand that could be seen, as Hansen puts it, to be "cheapening" Maori culture is this anything new?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The amazing prints of Michael Smither

If an interior designer gave us the brief to decorate an entire building to showcase the best of what we stock BUT we were only allowed to use the prints of a single NZ artist - right now we'd recommend the superb range of prints by NZ painter, printmaker and composer Michael Smither.
Michael Smither with print

Printmaking is central to his artistic practice, we are sure that it is in his blood because we have been told that Smither's father was also able to screenprint!

Stones in Blue Bottle print by Michael Smither
Stones in Blue Bottle | Screenprint | Ed. 71
Shown here are a couple of our favourite Michael Smither prints.  In particular we love the "Stones in a Blue Bottle" print because it brings the iconic Smither rockpool study indoors, a “still life with rock pools” and the "Coral Head with Fish" print because the depth of the image is astonishing and this print looks truly amazing with the right kind of lighting at night.  These are the kinds of prints that stop people in their tracks to check them out even if they have no idea who the printmaker is because they are just magnificent in both ideas and execution.

Coral Head with Fish | Limited Edition Screenprint 
We have just about completed the task of cataloguing all the prints that are currently still available from editions created by Smither from an entire lifetime of printmaking.  Alongside Dick Frizzell this is one of the most significant and large bodies of work currently available to collectors of NZ prints and yes - in answer to another common question - it's Michael Smither prints that we have on the walls at home, he's definitely very well represented in our own personal collections.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Future of Printmaking in NZ

On July 26th there was a panel discussion in Auckland at the Gus Fisher Gallery timed to co-incide with the opening of “Printmaking: Beyond the Frame”.  Billed as “The Future of Printmaking in NZ” the discussion was led by the former Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland (and practising printmaker since 1975) Dr Carole Shepheard and Steve Lovett of the Manakau Institute of Technology Diploma of Visual Arts programme.

I was intrigued to read the useful summary of the discussion by Delwyn Archer, I was unable to hear the discussion first hand so I am grateful for her comprehensive notes.

What caught my attention was what seemed to be missing from the discussion - one obvious way to continue to strengthen printmaking in NZ is simply to grow the number of collectors.   

Professional development and support are important issues, collaboration and comparison spur progress, but these are internally focussed within the printmaking community.  I could only find one reference that wasn’t inwardly focused, when Dr Shepheard says printmakers should be making “amazing work that cannot be ignored”.

I think the printmaking community in NZ should have a much greater focus on the print collector and propose the modest goal of increasing the number of serious print buyers in NZ by 100 each year  - a relatively small number which is surely achievable. After a decade that is an extra 1000 people purchasing say 10 prints a year, at $200 per print that's an extra $2m going to support printmakers.

The place to start on the path to achieving this goal is working through the media to educate the NZ public about the delights of collecting original prints.

NZ Fine Prints would be happy to financially support a campaign for greater awareness of original printmaking as a collectable artform to help achieve this goal of 100 new serious collectors in NZ each year.  In return we need original printmakers to support our goal to offer a wider range of original prints to our customers (the first step is get in touch with me, I manage our catalogue of prints).

Encouraging more collectors of original prints will be a key factor in the future of printmaking in NZ looking back from 2024 and we are here to help.

NZ Fine Prints have a proven sales channel in place to support artists financially so they can get on with their practice.  The internet has changed the way art is sold and NZ Fine Prints uniquely has nearly 50 years of print selling expertise in addition to 15 years experience of online selling. We are not shy about the commercial opportunities we can see for prints and printmaking and think it is ok to mention the financial benefits of print collecting  - and we are print collectors ourselves.