Landscape to Kiwiana - 50 years of print publishing in NZ

New Zealand Fine Prints have been at the forefront of shaping NZ's visual culture since the 1960s.  Fifty years ago buying prints in NZ meant choosing between imported images of famous paintings like Rembrandt's "Night Watch" or framing one of the occasional colour supplements from the NZ Weekly News.

Prints by early NZ landscape painter Charles Heaphy were popular
decoration in the mid twentieth century
In the 1960s the growing appreciation of New Zealand art led to both the opening of dealer galleries and a desire to look back at how painting had developed in New Zealand. Writers such as Tony Murray-Olliver were beginning to compile biographies of significant early NZ artists and the reproduction of prints of the most important paintings he unearthed were issued by the Alexander Turnbull Library - beginning with the so-called "Queen's Pictures" (a set was given to the Queen), the Heaphy views of Wellington and Nelson Haven.  Avon Fine Prints began re-issuing limited edition prints of the early views of settlement by artists like Barraud, O'Brien and Earle that had been used by the colonising companies to advertise to new settlers the delights of new towns such as Dunedin and Christchurch

New Zealanders began to decorate with landscape art that deepened their affinity with the land in which we lived and enjoyed looking back to our comparatively recent pictorial history with historical prints that showed the early days of settlement.  The 1980s saw art publishing companies such as the Capper Press produce the first series of avowedly contemporary prints in consultation with the new breed of gallery curators, prints by artists such as Gordon Walters, Peter Siddell and Gretchen Albrecht sitting alongside the early NZ landscapes in their catalogues. For the first time commercial galleries such as the Peter Small Gallery (who were printing all those wizard infested Lord of the Rings posters under license) began producing contemporary decorative prints by NZ artists - the Jane Evans series proving particularly popular.

C.F. Goldie published prints
of "A Good Joke" in the 1920s
but it wasn't until the 1970s that
self-publishing by NZ artists
took off.

It was in the late 70s and early 80s that artists for the first time began self-publishing reproduction prints of their work (C.F. Goldie's 1920s hand-signed prints of A Good Joke shown here being a notable exception). Grahame SydneyBrent Wong and Peter Beadle sold thousands of prints and NZ Fine Prints began distributing prints on behalf of these artists as well as our own published prints (under the Avon Fine Prints and Capper Press monikers).  Dunedin Public Art Gallery, the Hocken Library and Christchurch Art Gallery joined the Alexander Turnbull Library in publishing several series of prints of artworks from their collections alongside the exhibition posters that were for many years often the only examples of an artist's work available as a print.  (It was around this time that the Christchurch Art Gallery sold over 3000 copies of a Colin McCahon retrospective exhibition poster showing "Tomorrow will be the Same" despite its shocking pink border).

NZ Fine Prints' stockroom in the mid 1990s
By the late 1990s NZ Fine Prints were receiving artist submissions of new work on a weekly basis, by the early 2000s changes in printing technology and the distribution of framed pictures with NZ scenes by contract artists began changing the market again as picture framers and galleries began losing market share to the new breed of design stores and furniture outlets - and to the internet as meant print buyers could easily buy their art prints directly from New Zealand Fine Prints and have them delivered wherever they were in NZ or around the world.

Kiwiana art from Matt Guild
The last few years has seen an increase in the supply of prints at both the top end (handmade editions by artists such as Tony Ogle and Dick Frizzell and large high quality prints on canvas) and in the swift rise of a new category of "kiwiana" - prints as pictures rather than "art", even comprising simple typography and kiwi images that closely imitated current artistic trends and with a fashion forward seasonal popularity that is a long way from enduring fine art but which fits with a trend to more frequent updates to contemporary interior design.  Artists such as Matt Guild whose work "Hamilton Beach Milkshake" is shown at left proudly call themselves  "kiwiana artists" without the negative associations that this term might once have had (see our previous article here on the changing meaning of kiwiana).

The story of the next decade of art publishing in NZ will be about changes in printing technology increasing the supply of available images, the re-sale of quality works by contemporary printmakers at increasingly higher prices and a more urban feel to contemporary artworks - prints that will still sit alongside the NZ landscapes empty of people that have been in vogue for the last half century.

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