Monday, 26 November 2007

Two Big Pictures

Had a brilliant couple of art moments yesterday, Sunday, and got to watch the Santa Parade as well! The first piece of art didn't so much sneak up on me as knock me down! It is The Ponsonby Madonna by Tony Fomison, recently acquired by the Auckland Art Gallery, courtesy of an anonymous benefactor. Whoever it was, can I offer my huge and grateful thanks. It is wonderful, and all I can do is urge you to go and see it yourself. I'd give you a picture but the database of Auckland Art Gallery seems to be down

It was as Hamish Keith the art consultant would say a great conversational moment. By this he means that wonderful moment of alchemy when you the viewer stand in front of a work of art and start a conversation - not so much with the artist, as the work itself.

Hamish Keith has his own version - beginning with his first encounter as a child with a Colin McCahon painting, The Marys At the Tomb. Of how , in contrast to his previous belief that all art was made by foreign people, not only could it made right here, but that the New Zealand landscape was a rich part of the story.

Curiously, this work is also show at the Auckland Art Gallery's stripped down version of itself while it camps in the New Gallery for the next couple of years.

Potato Eaters
Mine, although I doubt if I knew this was happening at the time, was with some of the pieces of the Potato Eaters, by Van Gogh - one of his early dark brooding numbers from his time in Nuenen, South Holland, before, as he famously put it, he went to Paris and found colour.

I saw it in the National Gallery of Scotland which sits on the foot of the Mound nestled under the castle, hard up against Princess Street, and the Gardens. I'd go there on a Sunday listen to Wendy Wood and her pals from the then deeply eccentric Scottish Nationalists, most of whom could double as James Robertson Justice on a bad day.

Caroline - Giacometti
I had another mega moment 20 years later with Caroline by Giacometti in the Tate Gallery on the Thames Embankment. It was the 80's, I was knee deep in a deeply introspective phase of my life living alone but in constant demand as one of the possibly interesting but uncomfortably haunted figures who colonised the kitchens of the almost famous of 1980's London.

I also ran a music pub which gave me lots of time off in the day. Occasionally I took myself off for a long walk along the Embankment and so to the Tate.

On one of those days, I got there, parked the hangover, and strolled along the corridor and met my match. Her name was Caroline. She didn't so much bowl me over as effortlessly swipe me to my knees.

That look! This was real haunted. This was genuine introspection. This was the business! And if I was serious, then sure she would have a conversation, but only if I would learn something from it. And I did. And, best of all, even although she has moved house, she is still there for me , waiting for me to pick up that conversation any time I like, here.

The Big Picture
Hamish Keith is still having that conversation. and we can share it, courtesay of his totally brilliant insights in his six part TV series, The Big Picture.

The second episode played last night. It was great - especially the totally riveting piece on the painted [as opposed to carved] whares of the East Cape.

The first episode was even better - it opened with the magnificent confidence of someone who didn't so much know his subject as breathe it as part of his reason for being in the world.
It's for others to call it seminal, or definitive - for me -its a masterwork by virtue of the authenticity of the voice, the strengh of its opinions, and the beautiful way the camera gives room for the works to come alive on the screen.

I've also managed a sneak preview of Episode 3. And, yes, again, he hits the mark straight in the middle - a judicious mix of his strong signature lines - art and culture is made by people not institutions and their masters - art is best served free and without interference or direction - and, best of all, that the artist speaks not just for us, but to us, if only we take the time to listen.

Well, I'm up for it. As for Mr Keith, though there is a book, its to hoped the DVD is out soon. As for the web rights - who knows - that dark pit remains as yet, undrained.

As for you gentle reader, if you haven't caught up with it, then 'tis time you did, because believe me, this series will travel.


Angela Soutar said...

I thoroughly agree with you about the intellectual and visual quality of Hamish Keith's work [had a deja vu to James Belich]. But why oh why didn't someone stop him and tell him to slow down and redo some sections? I find my viewing marred by his slurring, losing and swallowing of words and for this reason I don't think it will travel. How would someone new to NZ cope? I want to turn off at times and think I would probably enjoy the book more.

Anonymous said...

I am totally enjoying this series even though its at an odd time and we have to wait for #6 until after Christmas. The book is excellent as well. A true feat getting the rights to ALL those images. I got a bit lost on episode 4 and I am not sure that I agree with some of Keith's concepts there. I like the conversations and its made me think - which is ALWAYS a good thing

Anonymous said...

For my review of the published version of Keith's 'The Big Picture' visit:

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