Thursday, March 21, 2019

A new exhibition at Whitespace Gallery Auckland

Whitespace Gallery 
20 Monmouth St, Grey Lynn 
31 March – 26 April, 2019
Preview Sunday 31 March, 2 – 4.30 pm

These paintings form a diary of places I've visited over the last year.
The Volcanoes
From Tawirikoko
These two paintings of volcanic cones are from a trip last September to the Chatham Islands or Eastern Zealandia, as Hamish Campbel and Chris Adams the geologists who organized this visit call it. These ancient volcanic cones in the north east of the main island have spent much of their time under the sea.

Ocean Mail Beach
Further along the northern coast we visited Ocean Mail Beach where the ship Ocean Mail ran aground in 1877. Fortunately the passengers and crew made to shore in the ships long boat.
Over the Dunes

From the beach to the lagoon
Down the west coast of the main island winds have piled up huge sand dunes in Petrie Bay. Walking over these to the beach inspired From the Beach to the Lagoon and Over the Dunes, Often a painting is inspired by a particular place and it becomes something else as it is painted, by the time Over the Dunes was finished it seemed to represent a walk to the beach that could be anywhere.

Shelia Natush in the Kopi Trees
Behind the dunes we stopped in a grove of Kopi trees sheltered from the wind. In New Zealand these trees are called karaka but in the Chathams they are known by the Moriori word kopi. I had recently completed some illustrations for ‘No Ordinary Shelia’. Hugh McDonald’s wonderful film about the writer and illustrator Sheila Natusch that celebrated her long life sharing her understanding of New Zealand’s nature and history. Sheila had family connections to the Chathams and I figured she would have liked the kopi grove so I took the liberty of painting her in Sheila Natush in the Kopi Trees.
Little Mangare Island and Mangere Island
Mangere Island
The Sisters
Our trip to the Chathams was supposed to include a trip to Pitt Island. Unfortunately the sea was too rough for the boat trip to so I took the journey in my imagination helped by a little visual research for the group of paintings about the Islands.
The Waihou 
Earlier in the year I paddled down the Waihou River and explored some of the coast of the Firth of Thames as research for a young adult novel I was working on. This journey resulted in The Waihou and The Puriri Trees.
In the Raupo
On the way back to Wellington I stopped near Tokaanu, took the kayak off the roof of the car and explored the raupo swamp at the southern end of the lake. 
The dingy on the South Coast
The dingy that first appeared on The Waihou and then again in The Raupo Swamp mysteriously turned up again some months later in The Dingy on the South Coast after a Sunday walk from Wellington around the coast past Red Rocks.
The Police Commissioners Legacy
A few weekends ago walking off the Desert Road towards Waihohonu I was surrounded by acres pink flowers pushing through the tussock. In 1947 when my father arrived in New Zealand from Scotland he bought with him a collection of Robert Burns poems with a piece of Scottish heather pressed between the pages. He thought he would never see heather again. He didn’t need to worry. The flowering heather that I was walking through came from seeds scattered by Police Commissioner Cullen early last century. He wanted to change the landscape of the Tongariro National Park into an English moorland so that he could dress like an gentleman in his tweed jacket and go shooting the grouse that he had also released. The grouse didn’t survive but the heather did. It is now regarded as an inappropriate weed.
I have had a couple of earlier skirmishes with the police commissioner. The first in an exhibition about the Waihi miners strike and the second in an exhibition about about his invasion of Rua Kenena’s community at Maungapohatu.
If you are interested in going to the Chathams on one of the tours organized by Hamish Campbell and Chris Adams you can find out more from the Friends of Te Papa website.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Great South Road

The Road of Invasion
Whitespace Gallery, 12 Crummer Road Ponsonby, Auckland from the 24th of October to the 11th of November.

The Great South Road was built as a road of invasion. As Govenor Grey explained to the Secretary of State For the Colonies in January 1862 this road would mean, "The Waikato River will lie quite open to our attacks at any moment." 
On the 12th of July 1863 General Cameron declared war on the Waikato by crossing the Mangatāwhiri River. There were battles along the Koheroa Ridge, at Meremere and at Rangiriri. Cameron’s British Army troops occupied Ngāruawāhia then by-passed the great defensive line that had been built at Pātirangi and went on to attack the village of Rangiowhia where Colonel Marmaduke Nixon’s cavalry galloped into the village and burnt a whare with a number of occupants inside, killed non-combatants who may have been attempting to surrender and fired on residents of the village who had taken refuge inside the catholic church.
There were further skirmishes at Waiari and Hairini and the final battle at Ōrākau. Of the three hundred defenders at Ōrākau one hundred and sixty were killed inside the Pā or as they attempted to escape. The crown then confiscated 1.2 million acres of the Waikato north of the Pūnui River.
Earlier this year I drove down The Great South Road and through the Waikato visiting these sites. I was inspired to do this after reading Vincent O’Malley’s book The Great War for New Zealand – Waikato 1800 – 2000
These paintings are the result of that journey.
The Great South Road. Oil on canvas, Eleven panels, each panel 41 x 88 cms.
My first Objective. Three panels, each panel 32 x 22 cms.
In May 1861 General Cameron informed the Military Secretary in London, "My first objective would probably be to penetrate the angle formed by Waipa and Horatiu (Waikato)  Rivers, and to take possession of a point near their confluence called Ngaruawhia."
The Dense Forests and Impassable Swamps. Oil on Board, 122 x 30 cms.
"I soon found that from the dense forests and impassable swamps which intervened between Auckland and the country occupied by the Waikato tribes, and from the want of roads or other means of communication, it was impossible to commence operations against them with any hope of success." wrote Governor Grey to the Duke of Newcastle, General Cameron was, Grey added, "pushing on, with all means at his disposal, a military road through the forests and swamps which lay between Auckland and the Waikato River."
Maungatautiri, Kakepuku and Pirongia. Oil on board, three panels, each panel 26 x 16 cms.
As Cameron's army of occupation marched south these three significant mountains dominated the landscape: Maungautari in the east, Kakepuku to the south and Pirongia in the west.
Wheat Was Being Grown. Oil on board, 40 x 18 cms.
The area around Rangiowhia was often referred to as the garden of New Zealand. Govenor Grey himself on an early visit to the area in 1849 wrote "Flour mills had been constructed and a watermill was planned. Wheat was being grown extensively - in one place on 1000 acres of fields - and orchards of the highest quality fruit trees were everywhere."

We were obliged at last to set fire. Oil on board. 18 x 23 cms
One member of the Colonial Defence Force who participated in the attacks at Rangiowhia on the 21st. of February described how the first assaults on a whare in which locals were sheltering were unsuccessful so, "We were obliged at last to set fire." to it. When the fire drove three of the occupants out they were gunned down. Seven more charred bodies were later found inside. 
Rangiaowhia. Oil on board, three panels, each panel 20 x 13 cms
The Sacking of Kihikihi. Oil on Board, 120 x 14 cms
 On the 23rd. of February 1864 Cameron's army occupied, looted and destroyed Kihikihi, burning the historic meeting house Hui Te Rangiora. Edward Tedder, a member of the 40th regiment described the looting in his diary. 
"We appeared a queer string going home, everyman loaded with something. Kits of apples, peaches, potatoes, kumaras, marrow, cabbages, and every other succulent, while poultry, pigs dead and alive, turkeys, crockery, tubs, buckets, paddles, and a thousand other articles made up the selection."
Songs for the Clearances. Oil on board. 180 x 30 cms.
Sometimes paintings take on a life of their own. This started out to be a painting of the band rotunda that now occupies the confluence of the Waipa and the Waikato Rivers at Ngāruawāhia where the Māori King’s flagpole once stood, but too many trees grew in the painting, so I called it Songs for the Clearances. Some of the soldiers in the invading British Army would have recent memories of being turfed off their own land during the highland clearances. 

For more detailed information about the invasion of the Waikato I recommend Vincent O'Malley's magnificent book The Great War for New Zealand, Waikato 1800- 2000. It is published by Bridget Williams Books. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

INLAND at Whitespace

INLAND is a joint exhibition with the sculptor Bing Dawe that is showing at Whitespace Gallery until Sunday the 6th of November 2016. My recent shows have had been about historical figures. This one is simply a series of landscapes. You can check out the Bing Dawe's marvellous sculptural works and find out more by clicking on this link to the Gallery

When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm. 93 x 83 cms

The Sheet. 1009 x 77 cms

Driving up the Paraparas 1. 120 x 30

Driving up the Paraparas 2. 60 x 25

Driving up the Paraparas 3. 60 x 15

The Te Humenga Dunes 1. 180 x 20

The Te Humenga Dunes 11. 180 x 20

The Red Bulldozer. 140 x 20

Seven Suitcases on the South Coast. 180 x 30

Hunterville Farm Track. 180 x 30

Here is TJ McNamara's review of the show from the New Zealand Herald

The special effects of modern acrylic rather than oil paint are used by Bob Kerr in his show, Inland. Although all the paintings generally are of New Zealand landscapes, there are always traces of human activity and a sense of concern for damage done to the land.
In a range of steep bare hills of farmland, a raw road has been cut through the slopes. It is spectacular but it will produce erosion and the farmer's bulldozer that provokes this loss of pasture sits bright red on the road like Smaug the dragon taking the air.
In The Paraparas, an even longer road loops fascinatingly across the hills but on one of them erosion has already begun. Other damage done in the effort to establish pasture is exemplified by bare dead logs lying like lines of perspective pointing to the future in Te Humenga Dunes. The dryness of the logs, the bareness of the hills the thinness of vegetation is conveyed by thin paint that is often scraped through to underpaint to create forms.
The flexibility of effect of the paint is used well for human interventions, too. Seven symbolic suitcases sit as strange invasive objects on a road in one painting. In another, the outstanding work in the show, it is used to separate two figures from the natural environment.
They are Tom and Elizabeth from the famous poem by Denis Glover where death and madness overtake the couple striving against the odds to establish a farm during the Great Depression. Among burnt logs, they stand facing an immense tree trunk greater than any kauri. Its bark surface is excellently conveyed. It emphasises its role as symbolic obstacle rather than a simple illustration of the poem.
It completes a small but very unusual show.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Changing Times shortlisted for the Children's Book Awards

It has been very gratifying to have Changing Times shortlisted in the non-fiction and in the  illustration catergories of the Children's Book Awards. There are some very strong contenders this year. I was particularly pleased to see Phoebe Morris there with her excellent illustrations for First To The Top written by David Hill. A talented young illustrator with a great future ahead of her I reckon. I'm also looking forward to reading David's Enemy Camp and If you haven't yet read Being Magdalene by Fleur Beale rush of to the Children's Bookshop and buy it straight away and while you're there buy the other two books in the series as well.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Let Matt McPherson tell you about

Changing Times

The Animation for this book trailer was made by Ahmad Habash. You can see more of Ahmad's work Here.  The sound design and the music was made by Andrew Laking. Andrew and I have recently collaborated on his book The empire City - Songs about Wellington.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Empire City

Songs of Wellington - Book and CD

The Empire City traces the history of Wellington from the middle of the 19th Century to the present day. Stories are told through song, text, paintings, and photographs, The book includes a CD with songs by Andrew Laking, paintings by Bob Kerr, historical photos and additional new photos by Ines MacMullen. This hard cover, full colour, 64 page book is published by Pirate and Queen in association with Victoria University PressHere are some of the paintings from the book. For the next few weeks they will be on the walls of my studio at 147 Cuba Street Wellington – drop in and have a look.
 Wakefield on the foreshore
Pito-one Pa
The Bucket Fountain

It was the fun of the world 

Tim Armstrong writes to his children from Lyttelton Jail

At Whitespace Contemporary Art 12 Crummer Rd. Ponsonby. Auckland Until the 27th. September 2015

On a Sunday afternoon in December 1916 Tim Armstrong, a wharf labourer, spoke at a public meeting in Victoria Square in Christchurch.
“Let the kings and Kaisers go and murder one another if they like but the working class have no quarrel one country with another.” Tim told the crowd, and he urged them to oppose conscription into the army. He was arrested for sedition and sentenced to twelve months in Lyttelton Jail.
The quotations under each of these paintings are from a letter he wrote to his children from his prison cell.
A position to understand 
“My dear children,
As I sit alone here in my prison cell, thinking of you all and wondering how you are getting on, I thought I would write to you and explain just why I am here, in order that you may judge for yourselves weather I deserve the treatment I am getting. Perhaps I could not put you in a better position to understand than by writing you a brief story of my life.”
I was born in a small village called Bulls
“I was born in a small village called Bulls in the North Island in 1875. There were nine of us in the family and we had no father to help keep the home as far back as I can remember. My mother had to go out to work to keep us.”
Before I was twelve years of age
“Before I was twelve years of age I had left school altogether and had only passed the second standard. I then went to work in a flax mill about twenty miles from home.”
I worked in the flax milling industry
“I worked in the flax milling industry till I was about sixteen years old and used to leave one mill and go to another whenever I got a chance of higher wages.”
I started out on a Saturday morning
“I started out on a Saturday morning and about midday caught up with a man who was also carrying a swag and going in the same direction. We started talking and both found we were bound for Palmerston North. We talked of course of our financial positions. He told me he had two shillings and insisted on me taking half.”
Some other line of business
“When I was sixteen years of age most of the flax mills were closed on account of a fall in the price and I had to look for work in some other line of business. The next place I struck was a place called Hunterville where I got work from a railway construction contractor.”
All there for an adventure
“I was working at a place called Raetihi in the king country when a boom broke out in gold mining in the Auckland province, and of course being all there for an adventure, thought that would be just the place for me. So along with a few other mates made up our minds to roll up our swags and walk to the gold fields.”
We walked the whole way
“We walked the whole way a distance of about three hundred and fifty miles.
The fun of the world
It was a wonderful trip through the hot lakes districts of Tokaanu, Taupo and Rotorua. On most places on our trip we had to get food from the Maoris and sleep out in the open air but it was lovely weather and we did not mind sleeping out. We went through some places where the Maoris could not speak a word of English and we could not speak Maori very fluently. It was the fun of the world at times.”
Not what we expected
“We arrived at Waihi and found the gold fields not what we expected and as usual had to look for someone to give us a job.”
The Golden Cross mine 
“I only stayed a short time at Waihi… and then shifted on to the Golden Cross mine where I lived for about five years and which turned out to be the most important time in my life. I took an interest here in the affairs of the union and was soon an executive officer and before I was twenty-one years of age I was chairman of the union.”
We could not live on air
“In February 1909 we found it necessary to leave Waihi as the employers had blocked me in every way from getting employment. We did not like the idea of leaving as I was proud of the positions I held there, however as we could not live on air were obliged to move on. We had managed to get a nice little home in Waihi and it was just about paid off so you will understand it was mighty hard to have to sell it and our furniture at half price and leave.”
The Coal Creek railway line
“I went to Greymouth on the West Coast and I got work on the Coal Creek railway line. Your mother with you children joined me there and we went to live in Runanga. Very soon after arriving on the West Coast I was elected President of the West Coast Workers Union. So you see they got me into harness again right away.
You will have the opportunity
“Dear children you will have the opportunity to read the speech alleged to have been seditious, and I will leave it to you to judge whether I did wrong in making the statements.”

In 1922 Tim Armstrong was elected to Parliament. As minister of Labour in 1935 Armstrong promoted the swift improvement in pay and conditions for the country's numerous relief workers and legislated for the 40-hour week and the statutory minimum wage. In his maiden speech he said, “Mr. speaker, this is not the first of his majesty’s institutions of which I have been a member.”

Here is TJ McNamara's review from the New Zealand Herald.

Bob Kerr, at Whitespace, grounds his painting in a text, from letters written by Tim Armstrong, then a wharf labourer, to his children from Lyttelton jail. He had been given a year in prison for sedition because he opposed conscription during World War I.