Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Colin McCahon

Tucked away in the bush at 67 Otitori Bay Road, French Bay is a hidden treasure. It's the house where Colin McCahon lived with his family in the 1950's. It's a tiny house with a basic bachlike quality. It's hard to believe that a family lived here permanently.
It has many handy man "do it yourself" touches made by Colin. Money was tight so he used materials that he had at hand. Marbles for ballbearings in a rolling cupboard.... knitting needles fixed into shelves for a dish draining/storage rack in the tiny kitchen.... cupboards decorated with his paintings.... concrete paths with bronze heads embedded in them. 
When the family moved up from Christchurch, the McCahon children were not happy with their first impression of the cramped, seemingly primitive surroundings. They were sent off to explore the beach at French Bay (a short walk away). They thoroughly enjoyed this and were in better spirits when they got back. There was food prepared and mattresses set up in the lounge and somehow it seemed more homely and welcoming! The children loved the lifestyle, spending endless hours in summer at the beach and in the bush. Colin built them bunks downstairs under the deck, so they basically slept outside. Fine and fun, almost like camping in summer, but miserable in the cold, damp, rainy Titirangi winters. People have said that they were often sick.
Anne McCahon spent a great deal of time cooking, making ends meet, planting beautiful gardens and making their little house a home. Anne was also an accomplished artist in her own right and still kept her hand in. Her art illustrations were produced and published in school journals while they were living in this house.
Even though the house is small and basic, it sits in a beautiful setting. It's quiet and peaceful. You can hear the tuis calling. The trees rise up all around reaching majestically for the skies. You can understand why Colin was so inspired to leap out of bed to paint. In talking about a painting - Titirangi 1956 - Colin said, “This amazing view was what I saw when looking out of large window we had in our house. At the time I was very much taken by diagonals made by the trees in relation to the window frame.... the painting is painted in what I call my impressionistic style. This later developed into the little squares technique used in the Titirangi and French Bay series."
Their time in this house was settled and happy. Colin had a regular income working at the Auckland Art Gallery and teaching. Lots of inspiration came from his bus travels into town and his surrounding environment. Colin and Anne were very social - entertaining artists, writers and creative friends on the deck. Lots of parties. And while everyone partied, Colin would be painting. He was prolific - producing the Titirangi, Kauri and French Bay series, his word and number paintings and several panel series. He began painting on large scale unframed canvasses, playing around with the idea that frames were not a necessary part of his paintings. He started painting his signature very close to the edge so that if it was framed you wouldn't be able to see it!

It's a real privilege to be able enter a small part of Colin McCahon's world and gain some understanding into the everyday life of New Zealand's greatest painter. Check it out for yourself... http://www.mccahonhouse.org.nz/

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