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Christchurch City Council Media Release 20 January 2000

Quotations - Literary influences in the Contemporary Collection

McDougall Contemporary Art Annex

21 January - 12 March 1999

There has been an enduring history of association between text and image. Without a doubt, the bible remains the most heavily referenced text in visual art to date. Christian iconography formed the basis of the rejuvenation of the arts in the quattrocento with Italian artists such as Giotto and Duccio receiving significant commissions for adornment in sacred spaces. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a loosely formed British artists guild in the nineteenth century, mined literature of the day as subjects for their paintings. Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s famous Ophelia refers to the tragic heroine of Shakespeare’s Hamlet while his Lady of Shallot depicts the heroine from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem of the same name. More recent examples closer to home of collaboration and collusion between writers and artists include Colin McCahon and the poet John Caselberg, and painter Ralph Hotere and Bill Manhire, Hone Tuwhare and Cilla McQueen.

This exhibition highlights the rich and diverse connections and influences between the written word and visual imagery. Life of Emily Brontė (1994) is part of a body of work which reveals Kathryn Madill’s interest in the woman behind such famous literary works as "Wuthering Heights". Madill’s delicate and intricate rendering of detail suggests a literal and metaphoric ‘interior’ and by focusing on the author and the subjective context of the work, as opposed to the modernist critique of the autonomous text, contributes to a wider feminist discourse.

Bill Manhire’s concrete poem on French nuclear testing at Mururoa atoll formed the basis of Ralph Hotere’s Dawn Water Poem (1986). Hotere adapted the formal arrangement of this poem and added the word ‘Mururoa’ to politicise what was originally a ‘neutral’ reflection on the natural world. This work reiterates the repetitive structure of Hotere’s earlier Malady paintings but replaces the neat stencilled lettering with roughly brushed script. With an intensive, explosive orange colour field and burning cross, Dawn Water Poem can be seen as both a celebration of life and an apocalyptic protest statement.

In a shift from the political to the mythical, Tony Fomison depicts one of the central characters from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) in his painting, Captain Ahab Peg Legged Hunter of the White Whale (1981). By portraying Ahab gazing out to sea over the ship’s rails with his back to the viewer, Fomison highlights the psychological tension of the Captain’s bitter and lonely pursuit of the whale that took his leg. Turning his back on the world of people, Ahab’s single-minded focus is directed away from us. By excluding Moby Dick, the object of the captain’s obsession, from the composition, Fomison reminds us that the struggle between the man and whale takes place, in reality, inside Ahab’s own soul.

If you require any reproductions, background material or more information regarding this exhibition please do not hesitate to contact me:

David Chin
Marketing and Publicity
Robert McDougall Art Gallery and Contemporary Art Annex
Ph 03-379-4201
Fax 379-4918

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