Landscape – A Metaphor For Life

Late last year we spend a few days with family in New Zealand, and on our last morning we visited the Auckland Art Gallery – NZ’s largest public gallery.

There was this group of paintings by Colin McCahon, and several others by him in other galleries -as he is New Zealand’s most important modern artist, it’s no surprise the Auckland Art Gallery has several in it’s collection. This group was on show:

10/14 Stations Of The Cross by Colin McCahon. Pillars in the gallery prevented me photographing the whole suite end to end (L-R).

On first sight, I instinctively knew these paintings depicted landscape. I studied physical geography and geomorphology, and as a user of very diagrammatic representation of landscape features myself, this group of paintings brought me to a screeching halt. I must confess, in my appalling Australian ignorance, I hadn’t heard of the artist, Colin McCahon. Let me plead living on the other side of the world from Australia for 27 of the last 30 years – if I’d lived closer, maybe …

Though I taught for a couple of years at a Christian Brothers College (Kalgoorlie, WA, 1973-4) and really loved it, I found it never seemed to matter to everyone that I was not Roman Catholic; so until I came to write this post I’d never really studied beyond my basic understanding of the Stations of The Cross

McCahon’s life (1919-1987) was complex and troubled, but he is acknowledged to have been New Zealand’s most important modern artist, with a large, well documented body of work including abstract, figuration, landscape and overlay of text. Q: – Are painful experiences necessary for someone to become a great artist?

These paintings made me think of the work of an American textile artist, Lisa Call , formerly of Colorado, who 2013 moved to a new life in New Zealand. In 2015, during a return visit to Colorado, she staged an exhibition, “Endless Horizon: 14000 Feet to Seal Level” of new works in Denver. Visiting CO at the time, and being very familiar with her work, I was taken with her totally new colour palette and the adaptation of her signature lines across patches of colour to form a ‘diagrammatic’ style of evocative abstract landscapes inspired by her new country. To read more about influences she sees on her work, visit

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