The Role Graphic Design Played in Inspiring Some of New Zealand’s Best Art (and Vice Versa)

Side A, Side B print by Dick Frizzell – Graphic Design and Fine Art in New Zealand

Graphic design is often described as a form of art used to convey a specific message, primarily created for commercial purposes. There is now a huge graphic design culture in New Zealand, spanning back to the first graphic designers of the 1930s who began their training in technical colleges from as young as twelve years old.

From the first print advertisements, tourism posters, and art deco prints, right up to the brands we see as we walk through the shops of Ponsonby or Lambton Quay today, graphic design is a huge part of our culture and history. But how has the graphical genre played a part in this country’s fine art history? When did the two professions intertwine and how did this affect the art scene? Here, we aim to bridge the connections between graphic design and fine art in New Zealand.

Early Graphic Art


NZ Graphic Art Poster "Mountain Daisy"
If we look back at early graphic design in New Zealand in the 1930s, much of it was influenced by the small yet powerful connection we had with the rest of the world. 

By the1960s, advertising was booming. This was the ‘Mad Men’ era of the Volkswagen Beetle and Lucky Strike Tobacco. The iconography and mixtures of type, illustration, and even some photography in these campaigns trickled down to the New Zealand industry where some of our first graphic designers were finding their feet. 

But what did we have to advertise? We may not have had any major global brands to make ads for back then, but we had a growing tourism industry, and plenty of places to sell to the rest of the world. 

Our tourism posters from the 1930s onward reflect graphical practices while being pieces of art on their own. Their art deco and pop art style blur the lines between graphic design and art, cemented by their bold use of signwriting. 

Type as Expression


As modernist art grew in popularity around the world, New Zealand artists began to develop their own expressionist style that is uniquely Kiwi. 

Colin McCahon played a huge part in defining this style, as he moved away from nationalist landscape art towards unique letterforms and figurative, graphic art. Through the medium of paint, McCahon revolutionised the way designers were using typography, and opened letters up as expressionist forms.

Print of Colin McCahon's painting "As there is a constant flow of light"

Many Kiwi painters took inspiration from this, most famously Dick Frizzell, and those iconic paint-stroke letterforms became a uniquely kiwi ‘typeface’ in their own right.  This writer was tempted to buy McCahon's letterbox when it came up for auction a few years back, for it was numbered in McCahon's distinctive writing!

Now, as our graphic design industry propels itself onto the world stage, type foundries such as Klim use the medium of type to extend graphic design into an art form of its own. The concept of type as expression has come full circle. Klim has held art exhibitions displaying typefaces, such as ‘There is No Such Thing as a New Zealand Typeface’ and has even featured in Erik Brandt’s global interventionist experiment ‘Ficciones Typographika’. 

Although the digital age has allowed us to use type in more than just hand-painted letterforms, we continue to return to the expressionist phase of typography that originally held so much power. 

Revolutionary Practices


As late capitalism grew in sophistication, and branding becoming a more graphic style, so too rose the opportunity for artists to create expressionist work that reacted to the world around them. As an example, Andy Warhol explored the lines between artistic expression and advertising with his heavily branded, pop art pieces. 

Braeburn - hand lettered graphic style print by Dick Frizzell
Dick Frizzell sign written letter style print
Many artists in New Zealand adapted a similar style at the time with our Kiwiana iconography. Dick Frizzell was a leader in this genre, with his Four Square Man interpretations that so heavily blurred the lines between branding and artistic flair.

Today, there are a growing number of contemporary artists (Glenn Jones and Hamish Allan, to name a couple) who take inspiration from Dick Frizzell, creating modern, fine art giclee prints juxtaposed with a similar nostalgic style. And really, why wouldn’t they? Art is often a reflection of the world around us. 

New Zealand art is both nostalgic for brands of yesteryear and is growing our current ones at such a fast pace. It seems that where art often took inspiration from graphic design; now, it is a medium of contrast—to rebel against it. Have we had too much of a good thing? Or are we just nostalgic for a simpler time?

Graphic art Available at New Zealand Fine Prints

No matter where you stand on the spectrum of design versus art, there is no doubt that some of the country’s best works were influenced by a creative community that worked together. You can get yourself a piece of this history with one of the many modern art posters available at New Zealand Fine Prints. Shop online today!

Art Prints for the Quintessential Kiwi Bach | New Zealand Fine Prints

5 Art Prints for the quintessential Kiwi Bach

Baches Print by Barry Ross Smith

By now we can all be in agreement that Kiwiana is not just a passing fad but an enduring and evolving genre that is here for the long term. And beyond the hallways of trend-setting Auckland bungalows is a huge space for Kiwiana as soon as we step out of the cities—at the quintessential kiwi bach.

From the Bay of Islands to Queenstown, New Zealand is coast-to-coast full of seaside, lakeside, and just out of the wayside towns, and everybody knows somebody who’s got a bach at one of these many picturesque spots around Aotearoa. The bach itself is as much a part of Kiwi culture as the framed wall art we associate so significantly with them, so today, we’ll explore the perfect posters to hang in everyone’s perfect bach.

A Kiwi Character

Dick Frizzell "A Lad Insane"
You know the face, with those forever-raised eyebrows and round, button nose. Never without his apron or his thumb plastered high in the air. It’s the Four Square Man! 

He’s an iconic figure on a huge range of Kiwi prints. But what makes him just so synonymous with beach towns and bach life if not for the fact that there’s at least one of the grocery franchises positioned strategically among every single small town across the country?

The Four Square Man was originally designed by the Foodstuffs advertising department in the 1950s. He’s been through quite a few development stages to get to where he is now, and in fact was only initially supposed to be a part of the few newspaper ads the brand was running at the time. The character really ingrained itself into Kiwi culture when famous Kiwiana artist Dick Frizzell began to incorporate him in many of his prints. In fact, much of the Four Square Man art that we see today are variations of Frizzell’s work.

A Stunning Landscape

Rangitoto from Takapuna by Alison Gilmour
Of course, there’s an art print for every bach. So even those who aren’t so much into our iconic characters can appreciate the side of Kiwiana that celebrates our natural landscapes, whether it’s the rolling hills of our lush farmland, or a turquoise coastline complete with pohutukawa silhouette in the foreground.

We have such a beautiful country, and quite few talented artists who are immortalising its settings, so why not hang one of their landscape prints proudly at your holiday home?

Some Flora and Fauna

Tui & Kakabeak by Holly Roach
Floral designs are a great way to bring a piece of the outdoors in and really tie a space together. Plus, they bring a pop of colour that’s cheerful and inspiring.

New Zealand botanical prints look great in any bach because often they will mirror the natives that line the surrounding beaches, streets and forests of your special holiday places.

From a classic fern to a cheerful kowhai, you’ll have so much to choose from that you’re sure to find the perfect botanical poster for your humble (or not so humble) bach.






Cultural Kiwiana Icons

Kiwiana artist Matt Guild's "A tip?"
Kiwiana is symbolised by our many icons. Every kiwi recognises these! Some find it brings nostalgia for their childhood, and the rest of us just know them from their many appearances in the media, in stories and in physical, giant-sized forms. 

What’s exciting about our contemporary artists, is that many of them take these classic Kiwiana icons and put their own flair on them, creating a print that is both nostalgic and modern. There are lots of different styles of Kiwiana art prints these days, no longer restricted to recycling or remixing mid-century commercial iconography. Consider a hyperrealist print by painter Matt Guild, or the cheerful posters in bold colours that Glenn Jones offers.






Something A Bit Touristy

Marlborough Sounds Vintage Poster
Us kiwis are always finding hidden hideaways and exploring new territory, so it’s definitely not out of the ordinary for us to be tourists in our own country. So, why not embrace the tourist?

Tourism art is a staple across western culture, and there’s been an excellent collection of the genre coming right from our back doorstep.

Have a look and see if you can’t find a vintage tourist poster from your very own bach heaven. It can be truly special to frame a piece of history in your holiday spot.








Art Prints for Every Kiwi Bach

Next time you’re looking for more art for your bach to hang alongside the nigh on obligatory New Zealand map poster, there are lots more to choose from than you’d expect! Here at New Zealand Fine Prints, you can browse all the posters and prints you can imagine. Shop online today!