Saturday, October 2, 2010

Walking to McCahon

McCahon French Bay House.

In the leafy suburbs of the "fringe of heaven" it is not uncommon to see ducks leading their young along the footpath, or over grassy lawns.

There is a leafy abundance. A feeling that anything pushed into the ground will take root and grow.

Houses are planted amongst the trees and ferns.

And flowers.

There are occasional glimpses of water.

I am walking to a house in French Bay where once the artist, Colin McCahon, lived.

All great navigators have got lost at one time or another, and I am no exception! I was nearing water, but not French Bay.

It was hot and hilly. I had walked a long way. I reluctantly turned back, and sat at a bus stop for a while to rest my feet and have some lunch. Whilst I was chewing a fresh bread roll, a car stopped, and a man got out and began delivering local election fliers into people's mail boxes. The man moved with some difficulty, if you can imagine limping with both legs.. not just one, you get the picture, but he cheerfully asked me if I needed a lift to the top of the hill.

I turned the offer down and, a minute or two later started to regret my decision. It was hot, I was tired, and I had not seen the McCahon house. Wishing that I had some water to wash down the bread, I hoisted my pack on my back and continued my ascent.

Rounding the next corner, I caught up with the man delivering local election fliers, and got into conversation again. It turned out that he was Pim van der Voort, one of the candidates for the election. When I told him that I was trying to find the McCahon house..., he laughed and said that I had been walking down the wrong street entirely and would have never got there! He offered to take me. This time I accepted.

Pim van der Voort, from an image I found on line from
information about Auckland Election Candidates.

Look, if you are confused who to vote for in the Auckland election postal vote, you could vote for Pim...! I have no idea what his politics are, but it was very kind of him to go out of his way to deliver me to the Colin McCahon house!

The house snuggled into a hillside that sprouted kauri trees and nikau palms.


Nikau Palms

A simple, doll's house petite structure. A kiwi bach of the 1950s. Made of next to nothing for holidays and weekends away.

Or about as cheap as you can go accommodation for an artist who had nothing but a desire to paint, a gramophone for music, cut price red wine to drink, and friends to drink with, and dance with, and read poetry with. Friends.

This photo of McCahon and friends was made on glass, and displayed outside, where the group gathered and drank, danced, and read poetry.

I loved the simplicity and peace of this place.

Arum Lily, at the McCahon house.

I found that I wanted to paint here. There was nothing to distract.

A little hut on the slope above the house that served as a painting studio, or a place to sleep.

McCahon painted in a country that mostly did not understand or like what he did... at the time.

I was impressed, and moved, to listen to audio recordings of people recalling McCahon as teacher or friend. He was much loved by those who knew him.

Kauri bark (Agathis australis)

As a teacher, McCahon believed that it was necessary to learn the craft of painting, the technique. He also believed that merely representing a tree, a flower, a landscape, was not enough. There had to be a reason "why" behind the painting. There had to be something to communicate. This "something" could only be discovered by the artist, and not taught or found easily.

To look at the many paintings that McCahon made in his life, is to go on a journey of discovery. Not all the paintings are great, the quality is uneven, but this is because McCahon was restless and kept on pushing and discovering. In doing that, he opened other ways for the artists that followed him. It is also necessary to take a risk in order to produce something extraordinary.

Detail from a mural that McCahon painted on a wall of the house.

At the McCahon house I met Chris McBride. Chris is Manager of the McCahon House Trust, and he, not only graciously showed me around the cottage, but also later gave me a lift in his car when he found me making my way back to Titirangi Village.

The McCahon House trust run an artist in residence scheme for emerging mid-career artists where they can develop their work, and try out new things without the need for a busy exhibition schedule. See for further details of Colin McCahon, the house and the residency scheme.


Pat - Arkansas said...

What a lovely, truly exotic area that is. I so much enjoyed seeing the trees, ferns, flowers, and the houses tucked among them. Thanks for the lovely post, and the information about the extraordinary Colin McCahon.

Peter said...

Dear Pat,
So glad that you were able to share this little journey with me! P.

Linda Starr said...

Oh you have the most wonderful posts, each one I feel as if I am there. I have just got to find a way to get to New Zealand to see all the flora and sights and especially to visit you and Laura and the cats. I love the quote,
"It is also necessary to take a risk in order to produce something extraordinary."

Armelle said...

McCahon French Bay House, inspire you a nice post Peter. What a lovely house, it's nice to see those beautiful flowers while the autumn weather, here, is so wetty.
Best wishes

Peter said...

Hi Linda,
So nice to hear from you. I am glad that you enjoyed that little glimpse of this part of NZ. There was so much about the McCahon House and its setting that was inspirational. It does seem to me that the need to take a risk is a vital part of making something that is worthwhile. It is pushing just that bit further into unexplored territory. It is "doing" rather than following. The "downside" of that is feeling "bruised and battered" sometimes when things don't work out, and that can be very hard to deal with. But.... risk free art is even more sad!

Bonjour Armelle,
Today you and Linda brought me sunshine with your comments and made me smile, and I was feeling a shade gloomy this morning when I woke up and it was nice to put the computer on and find comments from from friends. I will post more photos of sunshine and flowers to help you through your Autumn weather!
Kind Thoughts,

cookingwithgas said...

What a nice time you are having- take advantage of this unexpected journey!

Doespins said...

So sorry to read about your flight troubles Peter. Can't imagine the pain, sounds a very unpleasant experience. Enjoy your recuperation and have a safe trip back south. I imagine Spring is a bit further on up North.

Peter said...

Hi Meredith,
How does the saying go "every cloud has a silver lining"... Well it does sometimes. Still sad to have missed the show in NC and getting to meet you all, but I had a nice time doing some drawing this afternoon, and soaking up a little sunshine, and that has been much needed.

Hi Doe,
I've been feeling really bad about not completing the trip to the USA when people have so kindly supported and encouraged us. Sadly the ears are still suffering from the damage as yet and I'll just have to return home in a few days by land. The good news is that I am quite close to Lopdale House, which will be hosting the Portage Ceramics Awards later this week, so I will be able to see that and meet some of the potters too. Hope also to look at Wellington on the way home and to see if I can find a gallery there that will take my pots.
Nice and warm up here...
Best Wishes, P:)

Tracey Broome said...

Peter looks like you have made the best of a bad situation! I thought about you yesterday, I sold a tile to a man that was taking it to his father for a gift in New Zealand! It was a 3D tile of a barn with the word Farm stamped on, his dad had a farm there,but can't remember the name of the town. I love this artist's house, what a nice place to create work,

Peter said...

Very nice to hear from you Tracey, how good that something that you have made will be flying across to our side of the world soon! Sometimes the world feels very small and very big at the same time!

Linda Fahey said...

I remember my walks around Auckland and then the much of the south island. Thanks so much Peter for you pictures and posts - they make me yearn to go back to New Zealand - my second home!! And thank you for introducing me to McCahon's work.

Peter said...

Hi Linda,
Good to hear from you. McCahon is an artist that I have begun to appreciate (it has taken me a few years). He has become part of the land here like a rock or a great old tree, and that is a special thing.