Friday, 7 December 2012

Lady Diana Isaac & her role in making Mickey to Tiki by Dick Frizzell NZ's most popular print ever

The recent death of Christchurch businesswoman and philanthropist Lady Diana Isaac was acknowledged by New Zealand's prime minister, John Key, who said “Lady Diana’s contribution to Canterbury and New Zealand was truly remarkable. From her early philanthropic work with her late husband Neil, right up until the time of her death, she was an outstanding champion for Canterbury, the arts and conservation”.

Mickey to Tiki by Dick Frizzell (original 1997 lithograph)
What wasn't mentioned in the many tributes was Lady Isaac's pivotal but little known role in the remarkable success of NZ's top selling print of all time, Mickey to Tiki Tu Meke by Dick Frizzell. The original Mickey to Tiki lithograph was printed by Dick in an edition of 50 on the 8th of October 1997.  Lady Isaac purchased number 5 of the edition and in 1998 she presented this print to the Christchurch Art Gallery.  It was Lady Isaac's print that was reproduced as a photolithograph (controversially including the 5/50 in pencil below the image that was to cause so much confusion initially about whether the reproduction was an original print or not).  Mickey to Tiki has been exhibited continuously at the gallery since Lady Isaac's presentation of the print to the gallery, most recently what has become Frizzell's most famous artwork featured in the "I see red" show at Christchurch Art Gallery and toured as part of an exhibition of the same name to other NZ galleries in 2009.

Tiki to Diki by Shane Hansen
The Mickey to Tiki image has become part of NZ's visual culture, it is widely studied at schools across NZ and is regularly referenced in artworks by other New Zealand artists such as in Shane Hansen's Tiki to Diki (shown here) and Lester Hall's Tiki Mouse.  Frizzell himself has re-visited his 1997 lithograph with his screenprint "Mickey to Tiki (Reversed)" which is half way through the edition already as we head into Xmas.

As the prime minister said in his statement “Lady Isaac was also a huge patron of the arts...her decades of philanthropy will be enjoyed for generations to come", and we'd like to say how much we appreciate her role in what has become New Zealand's top-selling print.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Art of early NZ Tourism "Selling the Dream" - Book Review

Selling The Dream: The Art of Early New Zealand Tourism
Published October 2012 by Craig Potton Publishing, by Peter Alsop, Gary Stewart and Dave Bamford.  400+ pages with nearly 1000 images and 11 essays. $79.95


Our verdict: This sprawling book is the essential sourcebook on early NZ tourism publicity.

The book is in two parts, a selection of illustrated essays followed by collections of NZ tourism and travel publicity material sorted by topic, such as "Sportsman's Paradise" and "Celebrations and Exhibitions", each with a short introduction.

Margaret McClure's essay on the development of early NZ tourism sets the scene, demonstrating how changes in tourism publicity material reflected changes in strategy and the balance between targeting domestic and international tourists.  Richard Wolfe places tourism publicity in its cultural context, using the material as a lens to understand the changing way that we view ourselves - and what we want to project to potential visitors as the essence of "New Zealandness".  Past president of the International Vintage Poster Dealers Association David Pollack offers a sense of what NZ designers were up against in their fight to attract tourists to NZ - both in terms of competing with global destinations and attractions but also placing NZ tourism posters in context alongside work from famous contemporaneous designers of the Art Nouveau, Bell Epoque and Art Deco periods.

Mark Derby from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage does a thorough job of examining the "poi girl, haka warrior" theme of much early publicity and justifiably laments what was "a remarkably limited vocabulary of Maori imagery".  Lee Davidson contributes a fluent and well structured essay on mountain tourism showing how the image of the rugged mountaineer was appropriated to attract tourists to resorts that were anything but "roughing it".

Art historian Gail Ross's first essay is a standout, she brings the world of the early NZ graphic artists to life in her lively description of training the "apprentice dream makers", her second essay on New Zealand Tourism Poster Stamps combines a well written potted history of NZ "Cinderellas" with a sharp appreciation of art and design.  In his essay Warren Feeney makes fascinating new connections between  fine art and commercial art in NZ and in passing highlights several enticing topics that seem to be crying out for further research.  Photography's enduring role in tourism publicity is discussed by Barry Hancox, with some hard work behind the scenes matching original photographs with the resultant poster. It was a revelation to realise that photographs from the Tourism department catalogue were "an essential and widely used reference for the graphic artists producing posters and other publicity materials".

The last essay is the second from an "outsider", in this case Nicholas Lowry from the vintage poster department of an American auctioneer who pinpoints what makes NZ poster design distinctive from other countries posters designed at the same time.  Lowry touches on some of waves of fashion for vintage posters that I wrote about when I tried to put the use of NZ vintage posters as decoration into some kind of historical context a few years ago.  Lowry offers a welcome note of criticism not seen often enough in "Selling the Dream",  however his critique of Leonard Mitchell's work because he dared to use colours that were not from "nature's paint box" seems unduly harsh.

The illustrations by topic are encyclopedic. "Selling the Dream" is the perfect sourcebook for designers to find visual inspiration and should be in every NZ graphic arts professional's library.  It is also an entertaining coffee table book that has been a pleasure to dip into repeatedly over the past few weeks to discover something new.

I did wish there were captions next to the images and the lack of an index means the reader is not easily able to find more images by a designer whose work appears under different topics.  But these minor grumbles are both forgivable and completely understandable given the enormity of the project that was written and researched outside office hours.

"Selling the Dream" is an inspiring example of private scholarship and research into the NZ arts that will give you many years of enjoyment - copies of the book are available throughout NZ at bookstores. NB: I have just been told that if you purchase directly from sellingthedream.co.nz you will receive a 10% discount of the cover price plus free NZ delivery.

P.S. The trio behind the book have run a marketing master class with the campaign for their entirely self-funded book. This writer might happen to be the perfect target demographic for a publication like this but as someone who has worked at the commercial end of arts marketing for nearly 20 years I am in awe of the sheer number of tweets, reviews, launch invitations and carefully targeted advertisments that I have come across for "Selling the Dream".   Quite simply you guys have run an exemplary publicity campaign that deserves to be a case study for modern marketing in NZ - as well as selling the entire print run of the book of course!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Framed Prints emerge from our stockroom

NZ vintage poster. Wooden frame (black) $NZ 209.95
Listed today were lots of new framed prints, a couple of one off picture framing examples and some clearance sale items.  It's still just $20 delivery for any number of framed prints shipped to one address.  Although we offer picture framing for all prints in stock with a turnaround of just over a week plus shipping time we are adding to the selection of framed prints and stretched canvas prints that we have on hand ready for immediate shipping (or pickup from our Christchurch gallery) as we come up to the Xmas gift buying season.  

In the 1970s NZ Fine Prints owned a picture moulding factory here in Christchurch (it was the time when "vertical integration" was a popular business strategy - I'm surprised the previous generation didn't invest in a tree plantation to grow the frames). This changed during the 1980s when our focus on to the mail order rather than the retail gallery side of the business meant we gradually dropped the framing operations, the slack taken up by the excellent network of custom picture framers that we continue to deliver to throughout NZ.  

Piha, Auckland. Framed Print in Black Wooden Frame with Glass
"Piha 1969"  Framed reto print $NZ 129.00
However we realised several years ago that offering basic framing saves our customers the time and hassle of getting a print framed once it is purchased but this writer was surprised to discover that NZ Fine Prints have been testing a picture framing service for over three years but it is only now that we are about to roll out a complete "ready to hang" state to browse prints.co.nz (apart from showing only prints that have a framing option this will also change all canvas prints to the stretched canvas versions that are ready to go on the wall, not delivered rolled in a mailing tube).  It hasn't just been the Christchurch earthquakes, we had to spend a lot of time researching what kinds of frames print buyers actually wanted, and then source frames and picture framers whose work would last for decades (because our company's label will be on the back). A couple of examples from today's arrivals include the first of the retro views of NZ available framed (Piha, 1969 by Contour Creative Studio) and one of the vintage travel posters in a standard black wooden frame, the fly-fishing poster "New Zealand: For the World's Best Sport" designed by Maurice Poulton.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Vintage Advertising Posters - Latest re-prints from NZ Fine Prints

New Zealand Pears Vintage Fruit Label Poster
Vintage NZ Fruit Label Poster "Packham's Triumph"
With the outstanding sales success of NZ Fine Prints' series of vintage travel and tourism posters released over the past few years (see previous articles NZ Vintage Poster Collection Launched and New Series of Vintage Posters) we have been busy sourcing and re-printing our latest collection of vintage posters,  this time finding classic and/or famous advertisements designed between 50 and 100 years ago.  Illustrating this article are a couple of the highlights, a NZ fruit label for "New Zealand Pears: Packham's Triumph" and the superb French vintage Martini poster below.

Vintage Martini Poster
Although we are still adding to the NZ vintage tourism and travel poster series the particular focus of our latest collection is on posters advertising iconic kiwiana brands and classic food and alcohol advertisements from famous Italian designers such as Marcello Dudovich or French poster designers, for example Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha

As well as being listed in our vintage poster gallery many of these new vintage designs are destined for our relatively new food & drink category - a culinary themed collection of art prints and posters to decorate kitchens, dining areas (as well as restaurants and cafes).  

Vintage advertising is a engaging way of decorating your home or office with a collection of unified yet eclectic artwork. Both NZ and imported posters can be hung side by side because they are united in theme (and perhaps period) but can be of disparate subjects that resonate with the owners or inhabitants of the space.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Xmas Gift Mailing Delivery Dates for NZ Prints

Making sure we deliver art prints purchased as gifts in time for Xmas is one of our most important jobs over the next couple of months at NZ Fine Prints.

With Christmas falling on a Tuesday in 2012 our close off mailing dates and courier deadlines for NZ deliveries are earlier than usual.  However unless you leave your gift buying until the very last few days  you probably won't notice.  And if you are leaving buying presents until the last minute why not just buy an email gift voucher that is delivered instantly anywhere in the world because although we can deliver the very next day almost until Xmas Eve but it does get kind of expensive freight wise if the gift you are buying is less than $NZ50.

Xmas Delivery Dates for Art Prints, Fine Art Posters and Canvas Prints (not framed)

Delivery overseas at our standard rate of $NZ15 (for any number of prints)

Australia & South Pacific
Please order by 10 December 2012

UK & Europe, East Asia and North America
Please order Xmas gifts by 3 December 2012

Rest of World
Place orders by 30 November 2012

Xmas Delivery to NZ Addresses
Standard Delivery for $NZ6

We need to have your orders for Xmas placed by 3pm Wednesday 19 December

Economy Courier Delivery $NZ15 please order by 3pm Thursday 20 December

Next day courier delivery via CourierPost guaranteed delivery for Xmas day is Friday 21 December at 3pm.

Framed Prints - please order 10 working days before these mailing dates to ensure we can deliver by Christmas.

Now the next step is to begin choosing the perfect NZ print for your friends and family this Xmas, the place to start is the gifts page at NZ Prints.

As we get closer to Xmas we will update any delays or known issues with Xmas delivery on our shipping & delivery page.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

NZ Street Art Series by Milton Springsteen

"Not So Square" by NZ street artist Milton Springsteen

NZ street artist Milton Springsteen's reworks of famous NZ paintings demonstrates more than a casual appreciation of NZ art history - as you can see shown in the pictures that illustrate this article.  Springsteen's "Corrupt Classics" is the first series of street art style prints that reference the artistic traditions of NZ on the New Zealand market. The selection of artworks to parody from painters such as Dick Frizzell, Bill Hammond and Robin White has got us wondering about the background of the artist known as Milton Springsteen.  From the beginning we were pretty certain Springsteen wasn't George Shaw (organiser of Nelson's Oi You street art festival where Springsteen's artwork first appeared) because the artists' knowledge (that veers toward reverence) of the classics of NZ painting doesn't fit with someone who has only been in NZ since 2009.  We don't think these artworks are the prints of a teenage graffiti artist either, this is someone who has studied their NZ painters carefully enough to imitate their style, a practising artist who has received their art education through the NZ school system and we'd wager at art school as well.

Street Art style Bill Hammond
Surrounded every day with the iconic works of famous NZ painters (these, after all, are exactly the kind of paintings of which reproduction fine art prints are made) the Corrupt Classics were received with delight as well as some degree of trepidation here at NZ Fine Prints.  We couldn't wait to surprise visitors to our gallery with the collision of the street art ethos and fine art, however this was mixed with anxiety at the idea of offending some of our favourite artists. Dick Frizzell?  Not worried about his reaction to "Not so Square" as he's NZ's pioneer of the notion popularized most recently by commentator Kirby Ferguson as "everything is a re-mix" and has even recently collaborated with his street artist son Otis with graffiti style paintings in the "Blockbusters" show, but Dame Robin White (who had recently given us permission to re-publish this fascinating interview about her early forays into printmaking), what was she going to think about her Maketu Fish & Chip shop apparently vandalised in "Fries with That"?

However after contemplating this series of street art style re-mixes released by the artist known as Milton Springsteen in our gallery for several weeks now our conclusion is not that s/he is sneering at these classic NZ paintings, Springsteen is, well, simply remixing them, to "cast sharp light on the anomolies of the modern world."  To us it's humorous (we smirk especially at the Hammondesque "Know How, Can Do") and the prints humour echoes the surprising lightness in the social commentrary of fellow street artist Banksy, whose revolutionary use of wit was as clear a break from the previously rather heavy (agressive/macho) grafitti scene in Bristol as was his use of stencils.

NZ Street Art collides with NZ Fine Art in "Fries with That"
Street artists have a tradition of anonymity due to the illegal nature of urban art, it's self-defeating to sign with a tag that is your own name if you are breaking the law. Unmasking the artists behind street art nom de plumes is not in the spirit of the game. Now we stock prints of his work we are often asked Who is Banksy? and although this writer knows the answer telling people is like revealing the murderer before someone goes to see a whodunit, the tiny thrill of sharing something you know and they don't is not worth spoiling the show. So, yes, we think we know exactly who NZ street artist Milton Springsteen is but we are not telling!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Maori Art Design Prints from Menzies "Maori Patterns" released


This afternoon NZ Prints have released the first of a series of prints of traditional Maori art designs first collected by JH Menzies at the end of the 19th Century.  Initially published in the NZ design classic "Maori Patterns: Painted & Carved" in 1904 what JH Menzies called "Maori patterns" make wonderful wall art today.  With plates from the original folio extremely rare and expensive NZ Fine Prints has reproduced a selection of designs from "Maori Patterns" in the original size on a superb watercolour paper.  The only difference from the original book plates is our series of prints of the designs from "Maori Patterns" are printed using the giclee process using extremely lightfast inks that will last for decades.  Below is Menzies original introduction to his book which offers a fascinating insight into both his motivations for collecting traditional Maori designs from meeting houses and also the mindset of a well-meaning but culturally insensitive Pakeha of the Victorian era. Although Menzies obviously admired the art of Maori  artists his assumptions about the past and future of art practice by Maori now seem extremely dated.

Introduction to Menzies' NZ Design classic "Maori Patterns: Painted & Carved"

Art Print of Design #7 from "Maori Patterns"
"Maori carving, as practised among the Maoris long ago, was a sacred work, as well as the beautifully painted patterns. Every design had  a name, and also a Karakia [ritual incantation] belonging to it, which had to be said while it was being carved or painted. No person was taught these Karakia necessary to the work, except a Rangatira [highly respected person]. Therefore no carving could be done amongst the Maoris except by a man of good birth. If any mistake - gross wilful mistake - in the pattern was made, then the work became very unlucky, both to the carver and also to the person who at any time owned the work done. In fact, a Hara [transgression] had been committed, and ill-luck would follow. It may be that the various patterns once had a meaning; I myself think that they had, but that the meaning was lost long ago, just as the meaning of most of the Karakias was probably lost long ago, too. [Menzies was quite incorrect here, his blithe assumption that the meaning of the designs was lost was symptomatic of his divorcing of the designs he collected from their origins, a separation that makes it difficult to trace where each design is from and its meaning. Menzies lumped all Maori art design together failing to distinguish that kowhaiwhai were specific to each iwi, not to Maori in general.].

I believe that the art has steadily advanced; for instance, it was at one time very shallow, and was composed of small triangular notches with lines drawn between them as seen in some of the oldest carving. Then the same patterns were produced more deeply, with straight lines as a ground pattern, instead of pricking, as done on other carving. Then the beautiful curved ground was introduced, turning itself round and round, the ends of the commas, if I may so call them [the design Menzies is referring to is, of course, the "koru"], which compose nearly all the patterns. Then this was improved upon by making these circular ground patterns with three lines and beads between the three lines; and then deep cutting was introduced to show up the pattern in places.

I wish, also, to point out that there is no trace of nature in Maori carving, it is entirely decorative - like Arab patterns. Then, as to the painted work, especially the many rafter patterns [kowhaiwhai], for nearly all the painted work was done in the roof, inside the Maori houses. In the arrangement of the two colours used, viz.: red and black - the red being a very carefully prepared hematite sifted through leaves, and finely powdered charcoal - both were mixed with fish oil. The pattern in the first and earliest work was shown by a light-colored wood, sometimes with a ground of red and black, so showing the pattern. Then as to the arrangement of these two colours, red and black. They, I think it is evident, were generally arranged so as to break the monotony of the design and a change was often introduced in each panel, or where the pattern repeated itself.

There were terminal patterns at the end of each rafter, at the bow of canoes, and in other places. The design was not, as a rule, made to fit into the space or rafter, but was cut anywhere, and a terminal pattern introduced to end the work. I think that the carving of even small boxes and weapons was painted always, in the old days, and were not finished till so painted. The very old boxes in the British Museum are so painted, as well as carved.

Design #12 from "Maori Patterns" - New Art Print
Maori carving was done in the old days, especially the beautifully and finely carved weapons and boxes, by old men. They sat on a sand-hill, or in some sheltered place, with a small boy to watch for enemies, and carved; they carried the work with them on a journey as well. Also there were guilds of carvers, who went from place to place, and charged a high price for their work, and when the work was finished, each man put his especial mark in one place in the house carved by them, with all the others so employed, in fact, their signatures.

Maori carving long ago was an exceedingly slow and carefully executed work, done without the aid of iron or steel tools; it was done with shells and greenstone, and sometimes burned out, I think, as well. Maori carving was very much admired by the Maoris themselves, and is still; it was of considerable value, as well, amongst them. I think that at the present day many of the young Maoris dread doing Maori carving, not knowing the Karakias; they considered it rather a doubtful art, surrounded by a risk of possible ill-luck [Menzies did not get this prediction right thank goodness!].

I have attempted to collect and perpetuate these beautiful designs, painted and carved, though many of the patterns could be both painted and carved amongst the Maoris. In fact, I think originally the painting was not blocked in, but painted in red and black lines, like the ground pattern in the carving. I have tried my best to very carefully reproduce these beautiful designs. I have carved most of them in wood and stone myself, and have been more and more struck by the good taste and art shown in them. They belong only to New Zealand, and are not found in the other islands inhabited by a people calling themselves Maoris in the Pacific.

I do not pretend that this is a complete collection. There are probably many more patterns, and it now remains for some Maori of good birth to improve upon what I have done; also I do not think that Maori art is composed only of carving and painting. Most beautiful work was done by the Rangatira women, and such work often took years to finish, and was of even greater value than the carving done by the men, and I do hope that some Maori woman of good birth and wealth will publish a book of Maori mat patterns (there are Maori women of means and good birth who could do so) before these beautiful designs are lost."

J. H. Menzies

All of this brand new series of art prints from "Maori Patterns: Painted and Carved" including the designs pictured in this article are listed for sale in the Maori art collection at New Zealand Fine Prints.  

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

NZ Fine Prints shocked to lose our land in CBD rebuild


The release yesterday of the blueprint for the rebuild of Christchurch's central business district is great news for Christchurch, it's going to be a world class city to live and work in. However personally and professionally this writer (Antony Ellis, co-owner of NZ Fine Prints) is  bitterly disappointed that our perfectly ok to rebuild on CBD land that has been the home of New Zealand Fine Prints for nearly fifty years is going to be taken from my family by the council to be part of the green frame to the east of the new smaller CBD.  Our plans to rebuild the largest specialist art print gallery in NZ are now replaced instead by, wait for it,  a lawn.
Temporary repairs following the first quake
Although people buying prints in Christchurch are actually a relatively small part of NZ Fine Prints' overall sales (our biggest markets are Auckland, Wellington and overseas (if you group sales to expatriate New Zealanders and gifts sent out of NZ together) we were excited about being part of the rebuild of the Latimer Square precinct, a gallery like NZ Fine Prints is just the kind of unique niche retail business that makes the central city different from a mall or business park and draws people into the city to shop. We never wanted to be stuck in some utilitarian distribution centre out by the airport, it might make logistical sense for an online retail business to be right next to CourierPost but you would be mad to choose to spend 1/3 of your daily hours in the bland monoculture of industrial buildings when you can be in the heart of a city instead.

The DNA of New Zealand Fine Prints online store with its "long tail" of every NZ art print available in stock has been shaped by our unchanging location of nearly fifty years in in Christchurch's CBD.  NZ's largest art print store is obviously now predominantly an online business but even in today's world of online shopping customers knew there was a physical gallery to visit, that they were buying from a family owned and New Zealand based company.  We were not one of the huge American websites offering photo library scenic shots as "NZ posters", nor were we one of several dozen websites who have come and gone offering NZ prints, posters, framing etc run from home and relying on others to drop ship the prints to customers on their behalf or simply being an affiliate site fulfilling sales via an affiliate program.

Far end of our gallery stockroom (following Sept 4's
earthquake the table was for sheltering from aftershocks)
Owning our own warehouses (originally built for the Zealandia Wax & Candle company in the 1880s) in the centre of the city for such a long time led to a wonderful experience for print buyers. The smell of paper when they walked through the door, the sight of racks and racks of prints with the balance of editions carefully wrapped in brown paper and stacked on top of the shelving sometimes up to the ceiling.  Labels with the names of NZ's most famous artists and printmakers, files of correspondence with the likes of Colin McCahon, Rita Angus or Gordon Walters. Packages of prints of famous paintings imported from the States, Europe and Australia and decades of catalogues charting the changing tastes of New Zealand art buyers. 

We sometimes joked we were the "print sellers of last resort, a buyer would be looking for an obscure NZ print, for example a particular early view of Auckland, and this would trigger a chain of phonecalls and emails to us from galleries and picture framers as the buyer rang around repeatedly trying to find the picture but everyone knowing if they hadn't managed to find it yet if anyone still had the print it would be somewhere in our warehouse in Christchurch. And yes, sometimes we knew we had the print a buyer wanted in stock - but took some hours digging to actually find it.  Given both the size of the NZ market and the need to publish reproduction prints in such large editions before digital printing we did a brisk trade in replacing prints for people because if a print was damaged we might still have prints from the very same edition published twenty years before that were in pristine brand new condition.

Until very recently even our print codes told you where they were located on a physical shelf (letter was the bay, number was the row), there are some amusing artifacts of this system still at Prints.co.nz where for instance code "B00" meant the pile on top of the B rack!


Sign for NZ Fine Prints going back up after Sept 4
Personally for this writer 202 Hereford St has been the stage and backdrop of my life, where my family has lived our personal and professional lives since before I was born.  It's the place where my sister and I would wait all day for Dad to finish "a couple of things at the office" before we could leave for our holiday, where in the late 1970s we would watch the weird green light coming out of a photo copier the size of small car for hours and where we would be employed to lick the backs of hundreds of envelopes in return for caramel milkshakes from the cafe two doors away. It's where my wife to be and I came up with the idea to use the new technology of colour photocopying to create catalogues of prints to send to picture framers, galleries and schools. And we photographed all the prints with a new fangled digital camera on the deck by the carpark when we decided to put our mail order catalogues online back in 1999.
The ghostly outline of our buildings following demolition
We have been excitedly planning our part of the rebuild and were looking forward to having a modern (i.e. warm!) warehouse, office and showroom in the heart of the new Christchurch. What an amazing process to actually live through we thought, to watch the city being rebuilt around us. We looked forward to being one of the first businesses to "re-colonise the inner city".

After 18 months of working from shipping containers and from a temporary office in Cashmere yesterday was supposed to be the day we could begin getting down to the detail of rebuilding our buildings we lost in the quakes, we simply wanted and expected to put our gallery back on our land and this compulsory land acquisition announcement is a cruel twist in the already traumatic journey we have been on since September 2010. We don't want to shift, we'd lost our buildings but want to rebuild on our land, our place to stand, NZ Prints' turangawaewae.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Stamp design to wall art (Part 2) - further discussion with artist Lester Hall


The release of historical NZ stamp designs (from the 1898 and 1935 pictorials), surprisingly effective in large wall art size - see our previous article "Postage Stamps to Wall Art" - prompted further discussion with artist Lester Hall about his groundbreaking "postage stamp" series of prints.  Back in June we had described how this controversial contemporary NZ print-maker used the conventions of postage stamp design to explore issues of Maori and Pakeha identity and that thanks in large part to his popularisation of the idea the postage stamp style print has become a "veritable trend" in NZ art.  

NZ Printmaker Lester Hall
We asked Lester Hall when he began to create prints that used the conventions of postage stamp design? Hall said that it was back in 2008 "I set several images first so they were in a context of stamps like any other set of stamps. The statement was about being Pakeha and I made a commitment to update the "Hories and Whities" series of diary pages I had done (in the late 80s and early 90s). These were an investigation into Being Pakeha." Hall said "The stamp style was my drawing a line in the sand, it says I am clear about the thoughts surrounding the images. Stamps were immediately historical in context. I shifted from diary pages which were from a place that was private and self analysing to stamps because stamps are statements, not questions." 

Talking to Hall it became clear that for this artist the referencing of postage stamps in his art was not just about designing each individual artwork to echo a stamp's design in isolation, but also to "insinuate the possibility of collecting". Hall said that beyond the obvious connotations of collecting prints "this collecting idea is about putting several important hypotheses together to form a philosophy."  With Hall agreeing that the format is becoming ubiquitous, (he says the stamp design is "losing its edge"), we asked Lester if there is scope to develop artistically within the stamp design theme? Some recent works such as Queenie are not strictly in the stamp format so is this design becoming restrictive in any way?  Hall said "First and foremost I am a social commentator so the artistic imperative comes a distant second to my narrative. I am moving in a sideways direction now, into book covers and posters but the subjects I create will be able to revert to stamp when I think it is important for the context of people already collecting stamps. Queenie is formatted into an Argentinean designed stamp and is exactly as that Victorian era stamp was created. That artist just thought outside the square so to speak."

"Poll Tax" Print from Lester Hall's Aotearoaland series
References postage stamp design & "Chinese Girl
in Yellow Jacket" by Vladimir Tretchikoff 
And what does Lester think of other NZ artists who are now also referencing postage stamp design? "Use a format by all means", he told us "but to imitate colour way, style and subject so closely - this is not derivative it is creepy!".  Of course an actual Lester Hall print is quite distinctive from the imitators copying old NZ stamps in mass produced frames, no other artist is creating such a coherent different series of artworks to stimulate and inform debate about the place of Pakeha in New Zealand.  As Lester says "The place of Pakeha in New Zealand is a complicated and evolving understanding. My subjects vary because of the lighter and darker sides of that setting. I create differing feelings of happiness or danger etc to draw in a wide audience and to ask people to be brave and think for a change and maybe speak about their desires and hopes and expectations. So where an image of the Buzzy Tiki can relax and draw in a mind living in a lighter World the devilish print of the Boogieman will find its way into the more brooding contemplative mind which peers deeper into the souls of man. The differences are driven by a desire to have a broad perspective and creating a deepening trust of the subject in us all."

So where is the art of Lester Hall headed now? "Fashion", he says "exists in all art and as it heads towards the darker and more morbid forms of the Victorian so will mine."

Monday, 16 July 2012

Tony Ogle talks about his new print "Matapouri Window"

Tony Ogle
Tony Ogle doesn't produce a lot of prints.  Sure, viewed as a single collection created over several decades he has amassed an impressive body of artwork but it has actually been a six month wait for a new print since his last edition (Time Out Tongaporutu) arrived in stock right at the end of 2011. In Tony's latest print "Matapouri Window" shown here the artist returns to his geographical roots. Many years ago Ogle, together with fellow printmaker Tom Burnett, established a screenprinting workshop at Matapouri Bay, a charming sandy beach 40 minutes from Whangarei and 5 minutes from the fishing mecca of Tutukaka.

Compositionally the print uses the device of a window to create a view within a view. Tony says it's an idea with a venerable tradition in art history, "It works well to create depth and gives the impression of a picture within a picture. (a frame within a frame)" and he says "people love 'views'". Matapouri Window is a deliciously colourful print, an exhuberant celebration of screenprinting technique that lines up multiple colours perfectly. There are actually a total of 17 separate solid colours and 2 grey glazes used to make this print. It transports the viewer to Northland, to a time of year and day and to a state of mind. As we say in our catalogue listing, it is "the quintessential Tony Ogle print".

"Matapouri Window" new 19 colour handmade print by Tony Ogle
Tony Ogle has been working as a printmaker for a long time but when we asked him how long it took to print with the complexity of "Matapouri Window" he told us that he spent "6 days working on separations off the original. 1 day preparing the screens, 2 and a half days mixing colours. I averaged 3 colours printed on the 200 sheets so approx. 7 days of printing." As a comparison Dame Robin White when she was asked about her early printmaking experiences in our May interview, she said "I started in the beginning of March and worked on [the print] full-time and finished it about the first week of April, so it took me well over a month - working every day, eight hours a day or sometimes more". Printmaking by hand is definitely hard work being technically demanding and time-consuming.

"What about the complexity of the image?" NZ Art Print News asked Tony "Did you have a higher number of A/Ps (Artist Proofs) than normal to get the registration right on all those stripes?". Ogle told us he had "Only 3 complete rejects plus a small number that can be successfully hand retouched. Successful registration relies on a number of factors - accurate separations firstly, lining up registration marks on screens and care placing paper into registration tabs on the table."

And lastly we asked Tony about overglaze that he has used for the first time to accent the shadows and add further depth to the print. He told us that "Glaze consists mainly of clear acrylic solution - so it is very watery compared to creamy paint. A small amount of black was mixed in to give the shadow effect whilst allowing the colours to still show through." We had heard that the glaze had been a bit tricky to apply. Tony said ruefully that "Any hair or chip of paint lying on the surface of the print will be highlighted  by a glaze not overprinted like other colours so keeping things clean is important. Also you need to give the prints time to dry properly otherwise the glaze will stick to the paper when stacked up."

This new print is already selling steadily despite being listed for sale for just a few days so far. If you collect the work of Tony Ogle "Matapouri Window" is highly recommended as it is large, technically complex and extremely attractive - you can buy this print online here or call NZ Fine Prints on 0800 800 278.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Printing & selling canvas prints - advice for NZ artists from Christchurch painter Linelle Stacey

The trend for artists to reproduce their work as canvas prints either instead of or alongside traditional paper prints has (along with the migration from offset to digital printing) been one of the major changes in the reproduction prints part of our industry over the past ten years.

Artists contact us regularly to ask how they go about making and selling prints of their paintings on canvas so NZ Art Print News spoke to one of the most successful sellers of reproductions on canvas in New Zealand to find out how she does it.

Christchurch artist Linelle Stacey who publishes
a top selling range of reproduction canvas prints
of her paintings
We asked Christchurch painter Linelle Stacey what made her decide to publish and sell prints in the first place. She told us that she had "painted a little through my teens and even exhibited my work in my early twenties but then marriage and a family took precedence and I put my art aside until my family was grown.  Five years ago I gave up a full time job to be an artist and soon found it was difficult to provide an income from painting alone. Having prints as well as paintings for my customers to purchase has allowed me to continue to paint full-time and gives my customers a lower priced options for buying my artworks."

Stacey did not choose to publish prints on paper because she painted on stretched canvases and by printing on canvas the artworks would be "as much like the originals as was possible".

To achieve the level of sales that Linelle has she didn't simply reproduce prints of her favourite paintings to see how they would go. Her first step was to research the market, both to see how prints were being made and find out what subjects and scenes were popular. She told us "I went to as many galleries and print retailers as I could find to see what prints were currently available and asked questions about the printing processes that were involved. I used the internet and also rang printers and again asked a lot of questions."

A lot of artists get stuck trying to find the right printer (we wrote about the options available in NZ digital printing market from a more technical point of view last year here) so we asked Linelle how once she had decided which images to print how did she choose the printer to print her canvases for her? She told us that "I spoke with a large number of printers, telling them what I was looking for and eventually found around half a dozen that I felt could possibly provide the kind of prints I was looking for".

Her next step was to compare canvas printers.  "I invested a little money at this point in getting samples from these print companies so I could physically see what their prints looked like. I was then able to compare quality, the materials they used, prices and delivery timeframes." Linelle ranked the results of her sample printing with quality being her number one priority, but always balanced against price. "In the end", says Linelle,  "I think it came down to a desire to work with me to provide the kind of print I wanted at a price that was acceptable. There are a lot of companies who simply say – this is what we do and this is the price. They didn’t particularly care or even listen to what I was trying to achieve."

In the end the printer Linelle chose is based in New Zealand.  She said "I ordered some samples from overseas printers. This was a very expensive time consuming process and the quality was rubbish compared to the NZ companies I’d trialled."

"Routeburn Stones" Linelle Stacey's latest canvas print
1000 x 400mm $NZ 199.95
We asked Linelle how she went about selling the prints once they had arrived, and what are her most popular subjects. She told us "I sell through the internet, through retail outlets (and of course you can buy all of Linelle's canvas prints from NZ Fine Prints' canvas prints collection) and my studio. My most popular subjects are the same with my prints as with my paintings, beaches (especially towards the end of summer), winter mountainous landscapes, monochromatic images and landscapes with dramatic lighting such as the Lindis Pass."

Finally what are Linelle's hot tips for NZ artists considering printing and selling reproduction prints on canvas?

1. Great images of your artwork are key.  Linelle has a very talented photographer who produces the most amazing digital copies of her work. Have a look at our article by Auckland photographer Bret Lucas on "How to photograph a painting" if you would like to learn more on this vital first step.

2. Don’t be put off by information from any one company. There are many different printing services out there and with perseverance you will find the right one for you.

Thank you Linelle for sharing your experience with publishing canvas prints with NZ Art Print News.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Postage stamps to wall art

"3d Huia" Stamp
- prints now available
Designers of historical NZ stamps are from the era of "craftsman printmakers" who until recently were routinely dismissed or ignored by art historians who saw printmaking becoming respectable as a fine art form only when painters of fine art began to dabble in it after 1950. A series of historical NZ stamp designs have been released this month in black and white prints at wall art size, closing the circle of the trend in contemporary art for artists to reference retro postage stamp design in their paintings and prints over the past couple of years. And revisiting the designs shows clearly that early craftsman printmakers such as LC Mitchell were producing attractive and superbly composed artworks within the constraints of the commercial imperatives of the time.

New Zealand: Phantom Country
Lester Hall "Postage Stamp" series print
The conventions of (albeit much enlarged) postage stamp design have been explored recently in the work of several contemporary NZ artists (most infamously with Bay of Islands printmaker Lester Hall whose now iconic postage stamp design prints started with the Phantom series shown here). In fact the postage stamp style print has, we think, become a veritable trend (see Weston Frizzell's Four Seasons series print "Aotearoa" , the work of Jane Crisp, some of Timo's artwork etc).  But until the arrival this month of a series of prints enlarging historical NZ postage stamp designs into art prints we hadn't realised that prints of the actual stamps would work well as wall art - or that the designers of early stamps in NZ were often the very same men responsible for NZ's golden age of tourism and travel poster art.

The black and white prints of the Tui, Wahine, Tuatara from 1935 and the 8d and Huias stamp from the 1898 pictorials work remarkable well at wall art size (approximately half a metre square) and bring to light glorious examples of early NZ design that were previously only seen by stamp collectors.

The story behind the second set of "New Zealand Pictorials" issued in May 1935 began with a design competition that received over 1500 entries, the work of 11 designers was selected for the final designs.  The design competition was announced by the secretary of the Post Office department, G McNamara in the following terms (for the source of this transcript and other background information on the 1935 pictorials we gratefully acknowledge painter Mark Wooller's excellent website New Zealand Stamps.)

Designs for New Issue of Postage-Stamps

Designs are invited, in accordance with the specifications and conditions below, for a new issue of postage and revenue stamps for the Dominion of New Zealand, ranging in approximately fifteen denomonations from 1/2d. to 3s.


1. The design of each stamp must include a representation of characteristic or notable New Zealand scenery or genre, or industrial, agricultural, or pastoral scene: otherwise, the design may be of any pattern, provided the words "New Zealand Postage and Revenue" in Roman characters and the value in words, or in Arabic figures, or in figures and words, are plainly shown.


3. The design proper should be coloured, but uncoloured drawings or enlargements may accompany them. Photographs of any kind are excluded.


5. The designs are to sent under cover of a pseudonym, or a motto, accompanied by the name of the sender enclosed in a sealed envelope bearing the same assumed title outside….Each design is to be accompanied also by a concise description thereof.


6. A special board, on which there will be a representative or representatives of Art, as well as representatives of the Government Department concerned, will be set up to adjudicate on the merits of the designs submitted: and a price of 25 pounds will be paid for each design that is adopted for a stamp of the proposed series.

Print of L.C. Mitchell's 1935 stamp design
Leonard Cornwall Mitchell, who designed classic 1930s era NZ tourist and publicity posters (most readers would recognise his famous posters advertising, for example, destinations such as Mt Cook, Mt Egmont and Milford Sound) was eventually commissioned for four of the 14 stamp designs, a remarkable feat considering the number of entries and the anonymity of the submitters. One of his winning designs (for the 8d Tuatara) is pictured at left and the Maori Girl (3d Wahine), also the work of LC Mitchell, shown below right is remarkably similar to the figure depicted in his "New Zealand For Your Next Holiday" poster design from the 1920s.

Wellington's Evening Post newspaper reported on the day of the pictorials release under the headline The New Stamps: Rush to Purchase - Favourable Comments. 

3d Maori Girl
Prints released
"An unprecedented rush set in at the post offices this morning on the part of those desirous of purchasing specimens of the new pictorial stamps which were on sale for the first time today. At 8 a.m. there was a queue of buyers outside the C.P.O. [Central Post Office], and from that hour onwards sales were very brisk." Officials, readers were told, were prepared but "the lot of the vendor was hardly lightened by the ocassional incursion of the would-be wag who talked in terms of Tuataras, fantails, tuis or swordfish, rather than in terms of the more prosiac shillings and pence."  Comments from buyers such as "The stamps were far better than I thought they would be" were recorded and the article concluded that "From a New Zealander's point of view the new set is undoubtedly decidedly interesting, and it is a splendid example of the stamp-makers art".

Illustrating this article are three of the new large prints of postage stamp designs that are now in stock at NZ Fine Prints. They are really effective decoration at wall art size - historical/retro black and white NZ designs that are real, authentic visual artifacts from New Zealand's history with an impeccable design pedigree.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Fishbomb Prints - Frizzell & Son street art collaboration

Just when you thought you had finally untangled NZ artists known as Frizzell (see our helpful Frizzell disambiguation article) along came Dick and Otis' street art collaboration, the so called "Fishbomb" series they painted under the moniker "Frizzell & Son".  This intergeneration collaboration between Dick "the godfather of NZ pop art" (as he was bemused to be introduced as on TVNZ's Good Morning progamme recently) and Otis, one of NZ's best known street artists, came about on the occasion of the recent Blockbusters exhibition held at Saatchi & Saatchi Gallery in Auckland.


Courtesy of The Area you can watch the creation of this series of graffiti style paintings in the above video of Dick & Otis Frizzell painting at The Area April 29th 2012.

There are four 'fish bomb"prints available, editions of 50 with the Frizzell & Son logo beneath the image. Signed by both artists and numbered by hand. They feature in our growing collection of street art at NZ Fine Prints.
Kahawai Graffiti style painting by Frizzell & Son (Otis & Dick Frizzell) - limited edition prints now available here


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

How Robin White learned to make prints

Robin White Self-Portait Print
This is me at Kaitangata | Screenprint
Credit: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki 1979/66
In 1981 Dame Robin White was living near Dunedin at Portabello on the Otago Peninsula.  The series of silkscreen (screenprint) prints that White was in the process of completing are now some of NZ's most famous and valuable editions (see  previous article on the record price for a NZ print at auction) - a roll call of instantly recognisable works such as "A Buzzy Bee for Siulolovao" (1977), "Florence and Harbour Cone" (1975)  and "Mangaweka" (1974). In addition to her reputation as a painter White's silkscreens, taken together with the prints of E. Mervyn Taylor and Gordon Walters, are the most significant bodies of work by New Zealand artist printmakers.

In part of an interview she gave with Alistair Taylor for the long out of print monograph Robin White: New Zealand Painter published in 1981 I was delighted to find White telling the whole story of how her printmaking progressed from where she had just "mucked around around with a few things" at teachers' college to producing what are now among the most sought after editions for collectors of New Zealand prints.  

The story of how her printmaking practice evolved was recounted in such illuminating depth (and with plenty of fascinating detail for printmakers about the technical challenges of mastering the screenprinting method) that I asked Dame Robin her permission to re-print verbatim the questions and answers from the interview in NZ Art Print News. She very kindly gave me her permission and I am extremely grateful to her to be able to share this unique insight into NZ printmaking history with our readers.  I hope publicising this wonderfully candid discussion of how she began and developed her printmaking pratice will be an inspiration to other NZ printmakers because through reading this discussion you quickly realise that even for such a revered printmaker in the NZ canon the journey to artistic and technical mastery of the printmaking medium had to start at the very beginning - and cross many practical and inspirational hurdles along the way.

Perspective: Robin White talks to Alister Taylor* 

Alister Taylor: And then, in 1970, you began producing editions of screen prints. How did all that come about, because in some circles you're best known for your prints?

Robin White: I'd done a little bit at school, but not very much, so it was at teachers' college that I explored screen printing in a little more detail. Not to a very great extent, but I mucked around with a few things, then thought nothing more of it. I was at Bottle Creek doing a series of drawings and watercolors and oil paintings of state houses surrounding the school. At 3.30pm school would finish, and I'd stay on, after all the kids had left. School was empty, and I used to sit in the grounds and draw the hills surrounding the school, for a couple of hours until the sun went. Then I'd go home. Initially the hills were bush clad and parts of them were being bulldozed and in square geometric kinds of shapes. The hills in Wellington are very sensuous, much more so than the hills down near Dunedin. These hills where I live now are ancient looking, whereas the hills in Wellington really go up and down, they're very lively-looking. And the stark geometric houses in front of the hills had quite an attraction for me. I began drawing them and painting. It struck me that these images might work well as a mass produced kind of item. Just as the houses themselves were mass produced. And that got me thinking about how you would reproduce an image:  what's the best way? From there, I thought I'd look into screen printing again. So I did that. But in fact the first print I did wasn't one of those Porirua things, it was the Boatsheds at Paremata, which presented quite a simple format. Just a plain hill, a very lovely kind of simple solid shape. And then the elongated shape of the boat sheds in front. So that was my first print. And then I did the Mana Railway Station after that, and then went back to Porirua, and did some prints of the houses and shops there.

Alister Taylor: Did you do the prints as a completely separate thing from your painting, or complementary to it?

Robin White: As a completely separate thing. I've always thought of prints being completely separate. Initially, there's an idea; it may be the Mana Railway Station. If I do a drawing of it, or a painting, or a print, they're all separate, even though they're of the same image. They're all different inasmuch as each medium requires a different approach, a different way of translating the image. I conceive them separately; like the Mana Railway Station. The first image I produced of that was a screen print, then about eight months later I started a painting.

Alister Taylor: So the drawing isn't necessarily a preparation for the painting?

Robin White: In some ways it's a coming to terms with it, but always the painting presents its own battle, its own requirements. And a print is never a reproduction of a painting. It makes its own demands, it has its own life, its own thing going for it. This whole idea is becoming more and more pronounced in my work. Like this latest print I've done - Mere and Siulolovao - there was no preparation for that, the print developed almost as a painting. I did a linear drawing, a sort of basic format for the print, but I didn't do a complete drawing, not did I do any colour rough for it; the print was worked out as I went. When I started off the initial planning for that print, it involved something like 32 colours. It ended up with an awful lot more, because I changed the colours as I went. I overprinted and I reprinted some of the areas as I saw the print develop. So the prints are becoming more and more like paintings in a way.

Alister Taylor: Have your prints changed all that much technically since you started?

Robin White: Very much so. Well, obviously to start with, with the very first prints. I was not only trying to put an idea down on paper, but I was also trying to find out how to print. I was restricted by my own limited knowledge of screenprinting.

Alister Taylor: You hadn't learned that at Teachers' College as part of the course?

Robin White: Only the very basics. What I hadn't come to terms with at teachers' college was the problem of precision in registration. Nor had I bothered about the kind of paper to choose really - that sort of thing. So my first prints were pretty hairy, technically. I was using cotton organdie stretched over the screen, and cotton organdie is pretty coarse; and I was using Heatset dye, which is a water-based screen printing dye for printing onto fabric. The effect was really nice, but it had certain disadvantages. The coarseness of the cotton organdie on the screen, and the kind of semi-transparency of the ink I was using gave a really nice feeling of the screen on the paper; you can see the grain of the organdie. That was rather nice. But I was working with a very limited range of colours because of this problem of registration. I hadn't really figured out a good system to use, it was really just a trial and error thing. I was just making mistakes and figuring out how to put the mistakes right, and that's how I learned. The first print, that one of the Boatsheds at Paremata, had only about six colours, I think, and the Mana Railway Station had about seven: they got a little bit more complicated as they went along. As I solved some of the problems with registration, I started to use more colours, but this provided a problem, because the ink I was using was water-based - it tended to soak into the paper and I got problems with shrinkage, which again presented more problems with registration. So I had to devise ways of placing objects side by side, and using lines to cover the inevitable discrepancies in registration I was getting. Generally I was very limited, so I did two things to solve these problems. I really looked into the business of the kind of paper I was using and started to use a much heavier paper, and I also changed to using Morrison's oil base screen printing ink, which is more stable on the paper - it doesn't make the paper buckle or do funny things; it has a much more bland kind of finish, sort of opaque. Its finish is not as lively, perhaps. It's different, much thicker and more 'painted'. But the result was that I could increase the number of colours, which in turn means the complexity of the print increased. I was given a lot more freedom.

Alister Taylor: And how did you solve the problems of registration finally?

Robin White: Well, the problem of shrinkage almost vanished. However, unless you've got a temperature-controlled working area (which I don't have), your paper will vary in size according to the temperature and humidity of the day. You anticipate these kinds of things happening. So when you cut the stencils you allow for the colours to overlap in some places, and you put a few lines here and there where you might have trouble, and you hope for the best. The results are never perfect. There are always some mistakes.

Alister Taylor: And they add to the individuality of the print anyway.

Robin White: Right. I mean, you just have to be philosophical about certain things. You've got to say this is a hand-produced item which is bound to have certain defects which are consistent and therefore an acceptable part of the print. When I became more confident I upped the number in each edition. The first edition had about 15 prints, and now I produce 50 - well, I aim at getting about 50 good prints from an edition, usually. I don't always make it. Depending on how complex the print is and how many mistakes I anticipate in the course of the print, I choose somewhere between 80-100 sheets of paper to start with, so I'm printing about 80-100 prints and from these I try to get 50 good ones.

Alister Taylor: That must take a hell of a long time to produce, in terms of hours, apart from the pre-production work and conception.

Robin White: Some more than others. This last one I started in the beginning of March and worked on it full-time and finished it about the first week of April, so it took me well over a month - working every day, eight hours a day or sometimes more.

Alister Taylor: Why do you spend that amount of time on a print?

Robin White: Once I start on a print I've got to keep going. It's not like a painting. I can't stop and go and do something else and then come back to it. What I do is have the whole thing basically worked out in my head, but I make a note on a piece of paper of more or less what each run will be. In order to keep that sense of consistency going in my head, I've got to work on a print from beginning to end without a break, otherwise I'm afraid of losing the thread of what I'm doing. A decision you make about one colour at the beginning of a print may not have repercussions until towards the end of the print, so just to keep that thread of consciousness - and to keep control of it - I've got to keep going with it. Especially considering the complexity of some  of the ones I'm doing now. That last one I did was a hair raiser! If you make a mistake with colour you can go over it and reprint it but if you get one colour off register it throws the whole thing. You build up a sense of tension, and that tension in itself creates a kind of close relationship between yourself and the work, which is good.

Alister Taylor: And the sort of decisions you make along the way means that you wouldn't want it to go to anyone else to be printed?

Robin White: No. One print has been printed by someone else (the Print Club edition of Allan's Beach) and I still don't think of it as my print.

Alister Taylor: It's a basically simple print too, in terms of numbers of colours and complexity.

Robin White: Yes. The kind of print I've just done could never be printed by anyone else but me, because decisions are being made as I go. OK, I have the basic scheme in my head, but there are a million minor decisions which are continually being made and changed and redone and rethought as I go. 

Alister Taylor: Any other reason why you prefer to make your own prints?

Robin White: Yes, for example in prints involving large areas of landscape sometimes I paint directly on to the screen with shellac; when I'm building up textured areas, like the large Hoopers Inlet print, there are areas on the print where I paint directly on to the screen; that's something no-one else could do for me really.

Alister Taylor: What's the purpose of painting directly onto the screen, to change the image as you go along?

Robin White: One of the technical advantages of painting directly on to the screen is that you don't have to change the stencil. If you've got an area with three different colours, you can print the first colour over the whole area, block out parts of it, print the second, block out a greater part, and print the third colour. The alternative is to produce three separate stencils, but by painting directly on to the screen, somehow the effect is much more together. And it's also that you feel very much closer to the whole process - to what's happening. The final image has a sense of immediacy and closeness. Screenprinting can be repetitive, boring work. What makes it interesting is this kind of close contact with the final image. The fact that you're seeing it evolve, not as a preconceived idea, but as something growing organically of its own accord as it goes.

Alister Taylor: So in effect you'll carry on making your own prints rather than getting someone else to do them?

Robin White: I think so.

*Excerpt from an interview with Robin White by Alister Taylor, published in Robin White, New Zealand Painter, 1981, reproduced with the kind permission of Robin White 2012.


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

1938 review - Rita Angus portraits "harsh and unpleasant", Cass "too plain altogether"

In a delightful twist to a well worn narrative from NZ's art history NZ Art Print News discovers that the first critic to review Rita Angus's "Cass" heartily disliked the artwork that would become "New Zealand's favourite painting".

 "most unpleasant spot", the painting is "too plain altogether"
The usual version of the Rita Angus story is that Angus's famous New Zealand painting Cass appears "exhibited in the National Centennial Exhibition of New Zealand Art [in 1940], signalling critical recognition for her work."*

However listed under her married name "Rita Cook" the exhibition two years earlier of "Cass" and "Mountains Cass" at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts annual exhibition was in fact recognised with a scornful critical review published on page 6 of Wellington's Evening Post newspaper 1 October 1938.**   

"Rita Cook gives two portraits. One is very harsh and unpleasant in colour, and the other is a plain statement with little to support it. The landscapes which have been taken from the most unpleasant spots are too plain altogether. They are so busy too, every mark on the hillside and railway station being given full prominence, and all backed by raging skies. Why should Nature be made to appear so unrelenting?"

What would become half a century later New Zealand's most popular painting was not even referred to by title. When the National Library kindly emailed this writer a copy of the exhibition catalogue so we could identify the actual titles of the paintings Rita "Cook" had submitted, we couldn't believe that of all Angus's landscape paintings to be condemned in such harsh terms it just happened to be the painting recently voted NZ's favourite.  The four paintings exhibited by Angus were "Cass", "Mountains Cass", a portrait of "Harvey Gresham esq" and one listed simply as "Portrait" that was not for sale, presumably a self-portrait.

The full review is fascinating reading, discussing significant mid twientieth century NZ artists who had submitted work that shows how their art was seen at the time by a reviewer who clearly saw themselves as part of the established order.  The reviewer struggles unsuccessfully to fit the work of the modern artists into the development of New Zealand art and decides that not only have the painters failed to acheive their alleged objective copying overseas trends but the experimentation has led to "in some cases the ability to use paint… to have unaccountably vanished."


THE ACADEMY EXHIBITION

DEPARTURE FROM ORTHODOXY

When the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts was founded some fifty years ago, it was by men and women who, after battling with Nature, wished to devote some time and attention to the higher things of life. Theirs was a vigorous culture of a high standard, built on a sound British tradition, and the foundation of the Academy was with the object of enlarging and fostering this culture.

Art in New Zealand has largely remained traditional, as a visit to the academy's fiftieth annual exhibition which is now open will show. So far nothing new has evolved, and even that which is termed "modern" is not new. It is simply imitative of work being done abroad. But the fact that New Zealand art has hitherto been built up on tradition is no detriment. It is good to have been built up on a sound tradition brought first hand to this country by artists such as Petrus Van der Velden and James Nairn, but it would be pleasing to be able to point at the same time to signs of the beginning of a distinctive school of New Zealand art. That, however, cannot as yet be done, although by the time the academy has centennial celebrations perhaps a different story will be told.

In the meantime there are hundreds of young people attending classes in New Zealand's schools of art, but very few seem to emerge with distinction. Between the artists who have gained a standing in New Zealand and the younger painters there is a big gap. If there were more true amateurs in the realm of art in the Dominion, and not so many who endeavor to make a precarious living out of art, the best might develop more fully and continue the good work commenced so well in days gone by.

The annual exhibition of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts is representative of the work of artists right throughout the Dominion. Most of the artists who usually exhibit are doing so again this year, the two most noticeable exceptions being Sydney L. Thompson and H. Linley Richardson, both of whom are abroad at the present time. It is a pity that they were unable to send something for the jubilee exhibition so as to make it absolutely representative of the Dominion's art. The present exhibition reaches a high standard, and gives an impression of brightness and vitality. The grouping of the pictures in panels is a distinct aid to serious scrutiny, since the continuous line line usually adopted can become very monotonous.

The most important oils are hung in the main gallery and occupy the north wall. Groups of brilliant watercolors are arranged on the two south walls. The pictures in the smaller galleries have been grouped according to outlook, and some of the very fine drawings in No.5 gallery should not be overlooked.

The centre panel confronting the visitor on entering the main door is very rich in colour, with a dignified portrait of Professor J. Hight by Mrs Elizabeth Kelly, M.B.E., occupying the place of honour. This difficult subject has been treated with restraint; character is given to the sitter, and the scarlet academic gown is not allowed to detract from the portrait.

Mrs Elizabeth Kelly is a very consistent artist who has not been led astray by the many phases of experimentalism which has taken so many off the right track. She has gone on successfully doing her work and advancing year by year. Honour does not come easily to artists in this country and all New Zealand was gratified when the distinction of M.B.E. was granted this year to this well-known painter. No.65, "Miss Edith Maes", is another example of Mrs Kelly's work. It is simple in composition, fine in colour, and contains all that feminine charm which is essential to a portrait of a woman. This work has been hung in the Royal Academy Exhibition, and received a silver medal when hung in the Paris Salon. That versatility belongs to this painter is shown in No.68, "Autumn, Christchurch". The facade of the Museum provides a very picturesque subject, well handled. The colour is a delight, quiet greys with the bright tints of the autumn leaves as accents.

Cecil Kelly, of Christchurch, exhibits an oil painting of houses in sunlight which will be one of the really bright spots of the show. It is lovely in colour and carried through with consistency and charm. No.68, "Sunlit Headlands", by the same artist, is not quite so happy. The sea somehow refuses to fit in, but there is some good painting in the cliffs and foreground.

Nugent Walsh has on this occasion given more oils than watercolors, and very robust oils they are. No.63, "Land Breeze", is vigorous and fresh, with such moving, drifting clouds as one sees on a breezy day. The dark masses of trees are beautifully placed. "A Fordell Landscape" is very well designed and has grace and dignity. No.62, "A Bend in the Road", is well conceived and carried out. It has a definite quality and vitality. These oils bring out the truth of the countryside, and show distinctly that they have been produced by a true lover of nature.

Archibald F. Nicoll always has something to say, and although his works are not large, they are admirable. No.61, "Brown's Farmyard", is well composed, the dark masses of the hayricks forming a fine pattern. A luminous sky is a satisfactory background. No.53, "West Welton Road", an avenue of trees giving shade, makes a very pleasing picture. The whole picture has decorative quality and serenity. "September" has a very vigorous quality. The moving clouds throw shadows on the pasture and this happy arrangement of light and shade sets off the landscape to perfection.

VITAL FIGURE PAINTING

A.H. O'Keefe does not often show in Wellington. His two figure subjects are among the most vital in the whole exhibition. No.35, "Charlie", is delightful in its truth. Here is a boy, quite natural, no attempt being made to dress up, clothes rather in a bundle, hair not carefully brushed. But is it full of life, it is flesh and blood. The colour is lovely, the background harmonizing with the pure greys used in the jumper. "Study in a Mirror" has the same fine sense of colour, but is not quite as successful as "Charlie". The artist knows how to handle paint and sees things in a less conventional manner than many portrait painters.

Basil Honour shows a versatility of subject and his work is always looked forward to in these exhibitions. He has a remarkable ability and tackles subjects which are not of an easy nature. The large canvas, "The Cockayne Icefall", is well carried out and rings true. It is a very fine effort, the feeling of depth in the abyss very telling. No.87, "Canterbury Hills", reveals careful observation on the part of the artist, and the picture is truly typical of New Zealand. No.88, "Evening, Routeburn Valley", charmingly depicts in colour that peaceful hour of the day, and "Puponga", with its colour scheme of blue and gold, will be a favourite.

Of the two portraits shown by Mrs M.E.R. Tripe, No.77, "The Corner Table", is the more complete. The colour scheme of warm browns is carried well through, the darker colour in the gown being brought out by by the marigolds, repeated again in the brass jug, and the gold stripe in the table  cloth. The background is quiet and helpful. No.45 seems to lack solidity, and the drawing of the eyes and mouth are not satisfactory. Three decorations of flowers by this artist have charm and distinction.

J. Cam Duncan shows three small canvases of delightful subjects. They are all carried out thoroughly, and possess a distinction of their own. The colour is restrained, but nothing is lost because of this.

THE WOULD-BE "MODERNS"

Work which will be termed "modern" by many visitors to the exhibition has as far as possible been grouped together. The New Zealand Academy always encourages any work which it feels to be sincere, no matter what the artist's outlook or method of approach may be. Much of what is exhibited in this "modern" group is by artists who, until quite recently, painted in a more academic manner but who have now been influenced by certain artists who are experimenting in new phases of art. "Copyists" rather than "modernists" might be the term to apply to some of them. In some cases it would appear that the subject which has been chased has eluded them: and in some cases the ability to use paint seem to have unaccountably vanished.

John Weeks shows a group of work sufficient enough to show his advance into another school of thought. His work hangs together and is as a whole a very fine colour scheme. No.202, "Afternoon on the Seine", is a pleasing arrangement but lacks the necessary life. It is good in colour and tells its story quite plainly. No.200, "Pots and Paintrags", is very rich in colour, but too scattered. No.202, "Circus Camp, Avignon", and No.198, "Jewish Women Washing", are the two most successful efforts, with good colour and design in both. It does not matter much whether the subject is immediately apparent, the canvas as a whole pleases. In the landscape which has been treated in the same manner the whole truth is lost, it becomes simply a dark mass.

Evelyn Page, whose work in the past was eagerly looked forward to, has also embarked on an adventurous and exciting path. As most of the subjects are of scenes abroad, it would appear that during a recent sojourn outside New Zealand she has been directly under the influence of a painter who has imposed his outlook upon her. While under that influence all is fairly well, but when away from it the results are not so successful. "Charles Brasch", No.173, is quite a vigorous portrait. It is good in colour and well arranged and is painted freshly and courageously. No.174, "Outskirts of Exeter", has consistency, a sense of rhythm, and again good colour. No.172 is the most successful of all. It is full of sunlight, contains life and incident. But this is more of the type of work received from Evelyn Page in the past before she commenced to make Nature conform to her idea of what it should be.

Rita Cook [nee Rita Angus] gives two portraits. One is very harsh and unpleasant in colour, and the other is a plain statement with little to support it. The landscapes which have been taken from the most unpleasant spots are too plain altogether. They are so busy too, every mark on the hillside and railway station being given full prominence, and all backed by raging skies. Why should Nature be made to appear so unrelenting?

Russel Clark's work is disappointing. It would be better if this artist devoted more time to serious study than trying to adopt the outlook of other people. Every work is imitative, and unhappily crude in colour.

Louise Henderson is working out a way which is individual. She simplifies very well and uses the essentials to the best of their advantage. Her colour is good, delicate, but harmonious. Her work has some relation to the subject chosen, but is not too traditional.

Owen Lee depicts the clarity of the New Zealand atmosphere with truth. His work is sound and carefully considered. At the present time one can see the influence of certain mature painters in it, but with such sincerity he must develop along his own lines.

GOOD WATERCOLOURS

The watercolour section of the exhibition is particularly interesting. It is numerically stronger than the oils, and perhaps pictorially, too. This medium suits the New Zealand light, and gives a brilliance which other mediums often lack. There are works which surpass anything shown before and which will give great enjoyment and pleasure to the visitor.

It is good to see the works of one artist grouped together. This allows the onlooker to see whether it is consistent or not. Often one brilliant work appears and that shown later is disappointing. This is not the case with T.A.McCormack. All his watercolours have a fresh quality and sparkle, and each one can stand up to the other. The still life which is centered is a happy starting off for surrounding work. It is beautiful in colour, the lovely colour and shapes of the spiky flowers being well set off by the dark notes introduced by the fruit and leaves, and the delightfully freely-painted plate. On either side are a landscape, and a seascape, both quiet but rich in colour. No.11, "Across the Straits", is very complete and satisfying. The harmony of browns and greys is delightful, the green of the sea being a perfect complement. Distant hills bathed in atmosphere add a feeling of glamour. No.15, "The Poplars", is dignified and serene. It gains considerably through its restraint of colour. No.12, "Geraniums", is crisp and well conceived. The manner in which the foliage is treated is a good lesson to any student. The crystal vase shows quality of texture. Both the cloud subject and the seascape on either side of "Geraniums" have beautiful colour and are very carefully observed. There is great luminosity in the seascape.

James Cook has only two watercolours on exhibition, but No.103, "Les Angles", makes up for lack in numbers. It is a very fine drawing thoughtfully approached and well carried out. One would like to see more of this sort of work by the younger painters in New Zealand.

Nugent Welch shows three watercolors only, fresh and charming. His work is always looked forward to at these exhibitions,

Esther Hope is most successful in her works where the native nikau palms make the motif. They are both very low in tone, but give a feeling of the density and sombreness of our native bush. No.127, "My Garden", is lovely in colour, but rather scattered.

Jean McKay has several flower pieces on view. These are bright in colour and show skill in execution. A little more thought regarding composition would help them along.

Olivia Spenser Bower has used the ballet for subject, and is most successful in "Beau Danube". This has very rich colour and a good sense of rhythm.

Beatrice Seddon shows a bunch of vivid rhododendrons which enliven the end panel.

F.H. Coventry exhibits some scholarly drawings, and Eric Lee Johnston some excellent lithographs.
**This review is one of the many millions of treasures recently brought to light through the superb Paperspast digitisation project at the National Library. NZ Art Print News gratefully acknowledges Paperspast as the source for a scan of the Evening Post that we have transcribed for this article.