Modelling the New Zealand artist : Rita Angus & Colin McCahon
Lummis, Richard Graeme
This thesis examines the problem of modelling, and the problematical models of, two New Zealand artists: Rita Angus and Colin McCahon. The primary concern is not the art but rather the cultural construction of these figures and their work - how they represented themselves and how they have been modelled by the shifting forces of history, ideology, and cultural authority. The discussion begins with a survey of the artwriting discourses that represent Angus's life and work during 1930s and 1940s, and it explores some of the factors that shape these texts and the problems they present. Then, by way of some new evidence, the dissertation unsettles the conventional narratives that generally appear in writings about the artist, her work, and her cultural milieu. Attention is also trained on the actions, verdicts and prescriptions of the writers, poets and intellectuals who became increasingly involved in the composition of art criticism in the late 1940s. These commentators attempted to discipline and refocus Angus's project, but she objected to their appraisals and aspirations, and even their interest in her work. Her protests had some remarkable effects on her career, and on the way in which others modelled her in the public domain. An analysis of her dissenting voice also offers much information about her own model of the artist. Finally, the discussion also examines two influential models of Angus as a symbolic painter, and suggests they are implausible. From the initial phase of his cultural invention onwards, McCahon has often been modelled as the New Zealand artist. A major concern is to establish how and why this artist became such a dominant figure. Because the construction ofMcCahon took place in the absence of a supportive artworld infrastructure, the text seeks to establish how such a fundamental impediment affected, conditioned and enabled his invention as a prominent public artist. The dissertation also examines the implications of his role as a curator and Deputy Director at the Auckland City Art Gallery, and argues that there are causal connections between this influential position and his growing stature as a painter. It will also become apparent that his experience as an artist informed his attempts to remodel the local artworld and its support systems through the Gallery's policies and programmes. Another powerful factor in the modelling of McCahon is the artist's representation of himself and his project. The text sets out to analyse the nature, complexity and effects of his autobiographical performances, and it will identify the historical and cultural conditions to which these writings respond.
Advisor: Leech, Peter; Stupples, Peter
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Art history
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis