Posted on Wednesday January 26, 2022
Every now and again, an exhibit or exhibition at Te Papa gets personal. So it is for me with the Rita Angus exhibition because I lived in Canterbury most of my life. There are lovely water colours of the Canterbury high country, and they are recognizably not just of the Canterbury high country but of a way of painting it. They are small. They have something of early Bill Suttons, Doris Lusks, Olivia Spencer-Bowers or Colin Wheelers (who all paint a bit differently). They share the delicate use of watercolours to represent the far-from-delicate Canterbury landscapes. How does that work? It beautifully misrepresents the landscape by not taking it literally, by shrinking it. They are not like the later Bill Suttons, huge and abstract. These small works you can hang on a domestic wall.
Then there are the portraits: Bob Gormack of Nag’s Head Press, Leo Benseman of Caxton Press in oils almost as Bensemann might have painted himself, Douglas Lilburn in pale watercolours as if he had composed it himself. Then there are the many self-portraits, portraits of the same person, to be sure, but each different. Angus seems to be asking herself, who am I when I paint me? So it’s a new year. Happy New Year to you all and do go and see the Angus exhibition even if you are not from Canterbury. (Rita Angus also lived just down the road from where we now live. Do such connections matter? I think they do.)