Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Do prints typecast painters by freezing their artwork in time?

Christchurch artist Hamish Allan is well-known for his weatherboard houses and contemporary landscapes and in an article in the Press promoting his latest exhibition of paintings he made some comments about his work that are similar to the sentiments expressed privately to me by many artists over the years.  His latest exhibition was described as featuring a variety of paintings that follow "Allan's signature themes of nostalgia and New Zealand icons with some updated twists."

However I noted with interest that Allan is quoted as saying he doesn't want to be "pigeon-holed as a painter of weatherboard houses or bungalows in a landscape setting, so there is an [increasing] awareness of that which makes New Zealand buildings within the local landscape unique, such as their architectural details, and I've introduced vehicles and the like".  This highlights a conundrum for artists - art buyers want their work to stay the same (eg Stanley Palmer's prints of Nikau Palms on the West Coast are what we are always being asked for with hardly any enquiries for his other paintings and prints) whereas the artist wants to keep progressing - or to simply change the focus or theme of their painting.

Prints exacerbate this dilemma when an artist finds their lifetime's artistic output represented in the public's eye by reproductions of paintings that they have moved on from both through time passing and in terms of the development of their artistic style.  Print buyers keep buying prints of the paintings that they are best known for (eg Bill Hammond's paintings inspired by Buller's Birds of New Zealand) when they may represent just one phase of an artists career.  Jane Puckey even had to be dissuaded from shredding her popular prints a few years ago so eager was her desire to not be frozen in time in the public's eye with a certain style of painting!

Is Hamish Allan afraid of being typecast like an actor who plays one role so convincingly they are forever forced to re-hash their performance in similar roles?  If he is I hope he succeeds in evolving from his current style and would personally be delighted if his portraits of Captain Cook etc sell as well as his Robin White inspired landscapes.  We have never understood why prints of famous New Zealanders (or people connected with New Zealand) are not more widely available.  It is only recently that we have started to sell portraits of eminent kiwis like Ed Hillary and Barry Crump  - good on you Fane Flaws for seeing that New Zealanders are just as interested in pictures of important historical figures as eg Americans are in hanging pictures of George Washington.  Now if only we could find a good re-print of that famous photograph of Michael Joseph Savage that used to hang in sitting rooms across New Zealand....

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