Exhibition Write-Up: Colin McCahon: The Titirangi Years, 1953-1959 at Gow Langsford Gallery

Colin McCahon: The Titirangi Years, 1953-1959
Gow Langsford Gallery Kitchener St
12 June – 6 July 2013
Preview: 11 June




Kauri Trees (1955), oil on board, McCahon


By the end of 1956, McCahon sought to evolve and build on the artistic style that had, almost obsessively, dominated his work over the last couple of years. The Cubist affiliation in his work had become almost inhibiting. (Bloem and Browne, Colin McCahon: A question of Faith, p. 185.) The artist strived to simplify the way in which he looked at the native bush around him, which resulted in a new visual aesthetic. It is documented that in order to achieve a new perspective on a familiar subject, McCahon adopted a unique habit of rising from his bed immediately upon waking and would run, almost in a spiritual frenzy, outside to his balcony all the while trying very hard not to focus his sight on anything in particular. It wasn’t until outside, with Kauri bush before him, that McCahon would fix his gaze with such an intensity that the forms of trees would seem to dematerialise, and spatial depth diminish into an ambiguous colour-filled allusion.



Titirangi (1956), oil on hardboard, McCahon


Domestic Landscape (1956-1957), oil on cardboard, McCahon

Domestic Landscape (1956-1957), oil on cardboard, McCahon


Titirangi (1956), and Domestic Landscape (1956-1957), not only share this inspiration and process of creation, but also their colour palette. Throughout his entire oeuvre, McCahon has been partial to a symbolic use of colour to further the spiritual depth of a piece. This is relative here where the landscape imagery of both works are based on an opposition of light and dark tones. These works turn the Kauri into a symbol of splendour and hope, yet the underlying sense of darkness cannot be overlooked. This juxtaposition conjures an unsettling ambiguity in both pieces that is perhaps reflective of McCahon’s personal trials between good and bad, and hope and despair.


Towards Auckland 2 (1958), watercolour on paper, McCahon

Towards Auckland 2 (1958), watercolour on paper, McCahon


The Towards Auckland series, painted in December – January 1953-1954, consist of a series of watercolours that depict a somewhat ephemeral take on the local Auckland landscape McCahon found himself amongst. Each work within this series holds a sense of spontaneity and variation that is unique to the particular views and perspectives McCahon experienced during his travels from Titirangi Road to town nearly every morning.

Towards Auckland 2 shows a move away from the busy faceting that dominates his Kauri series, and instead explores more minimal qualities of imagery organisation associated with the design structure of Analytical Cubism. The result is inevitably abstracted, and remains more impressionistic than realistic with circular forms that provide a sense of juxtaposition as they twist and twine with straighter lines. The work has a delicate sense of light; the applied watercolour paints provide an elegant feeling of movement and wonder. This piece alludes to such environmental features as open circular clouds, trees, and perhaps the angularity of the roofs of houses, essentially referencing McCahon’s fascination, and dedication to, the local New Zealand landscape of which he was so passionately a part of.

2 responses to “Exhibition Write-Up: Colin McCahon: The Titirangi Years, 1953-1959 at Gow Langsford Gallery

  1. Yes the Kauri tree series is magnificent – there are always new patterns to find within McCahon’s brushwork. Despite the fact that this exhibition only showcases works from his Titirangi years in Auckland, his religious works of the late 1940s are of equal skill and an even deeper sense of reflection and self-realisation. The contrast and spiritual developments that take place across his oeuvre is amazing!

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