From the age of seven I started winning school holiday art awards, then cameras, books – even a family holiday to Hawaii, culminating with my winning the 1974 Benson and Hedges National Art Award.
I have always loved oil painting, but when I was only 19 my studio apartment was burnt down because of a combination of my oils, solvents, a heater and an attempted murder between two visitors to my studio. The experience dramatically altered my view of painting and I decided to concentrate on quality, not quantity. When non-flammable media were created for oil paints I returned to oils for their flexibility, softness, richnesss and depth.
I have always been a realist/surrealist. My still-life paintings with plant roots showing the passage of time consumed me through the 1970”s and 80’s, and the last paintings in that series were exhibited at London’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2001.
While painting Shifting Sands, a mantelpiece in the sand dunes reminded me of a waka and inspired my first ‘Maori’ painting, About Time, 2006. These and my subsequent Maori paintings have the meditative inner spirit I sought, and are a joy to paint.
We run the Pankhurst Studio Gallery next to The Coffee club in Parnell, Auckland, where we enjoy the contact with old and new collectors.
MORE INFORMATION ON STORIES BEHIND THE PAINTINGS
Central to Alvin Pankhurst’s new series of paintings are the carved figures of the famous Maori warriors Tiki and Pukaki.
Carved during tribal wars in the early 19th century, these two of the Ngati Whakaue most well known fighting ancestors each guarded one of the gateway entrances that stood at Rotorua’s Pukeroa Pa on the hill that included Ohinemutu.
Tiki and Pukaki: In life, as in these paintings, their personal power was undeniable. In Pankhurst’s skilled hands, they become metaphors for the extraordinary renaissance of an entire people.
The first in the series, About Time (2006), features Pukaki’s younger relative Tiki. Each viewing of About Time produces an immediate, almost visceral response in the viewer. The great carver Te Umanui has captured vividly the strength and compelling personal beauty of this famed Ngati Whakaue warrior (note the eyelashes: a highly unusual feature for a Maori carving). Pankhurst’s setting on the wild southern West Coast beach provides an appropriately striking setting.
But what grips you and holds you there is the intensity in Tiki’s face, the underlying tension in his torso and limbs as you sense his deep effort of will to keep from being submerged by the encroaching sand. This is no passive creature simply enduring his fate, but a fierce determined survivor.
In Resurgence (2008), the indomitable Pukaki is upright, partially buried by the sand, his small sons locked in his arms as he emerges phoenix-like from his long immersion.
Pukaki is the more widely known of the two. Now instantly recognizable to all New Zealanders he has become one of the few, if not the only, art work who has real depth of meaning for pakeha as well as for Maori. Carved from a totara log by the equally talented Te Taupua, brother of Te Umanui, in height 196cm (6ft 5in) tall, Pukaki originally topped a five metre gateway.
In life, as a revered chief and war leader, he was ultimately successful in defending Ohinemutu for his Ngati Whakaue.
In death – through his mana and the stature of this carving; through his gift as a taonga from his people to seal a pact with the Crown; betrayal by the pakeha who acquired him; a 100-year long burial in the Auckland Museum; resurrection as the lead carving and symbol for the internationally ground-breaking Te Maori Exhibition of 1984-7; and eventual restoration to his Ngati Whakaue people in 1995 – his journey could parallel that of Maori towards reclaiming their place in this country.
In our time: living history
More than thirty years lie between Alvin Pankhurst’s memorable work Maybe Tomorrow, that magnificent award-winning painting that reflects New Zealand’s broken relationship with our dusty colonial past, and his latest series commencing with About Time (2006).
Between them lies the emergence of New Zealand as an increasingly more complex society, and within that – or despite it – the irrevocable resurgence of Maori into mainstream Kiwi consciousness. The paintings, featuring carvings of the famous warriors Tiki and Pukaki, reflect that journey, and reflect the emotional and spiritual power of a different and unique heritage.
Any artist’s work is a reflection of the social and cultural context in which he or she lives.
But if Maybe Tomorrow encapsulates the ending of New Zealand’s relationship with the mother country, the haunting imagery of the paintings About Time, Our Time, Transition and Resurgence also reflects just how vulnerable that renaissance may have already become. The world depicted in Maybe Tomorrow is a very different one from that reflected in About Time, and New Zealand is once again caught in a surge of social and cultural sea change.
So what were the profound changes in his country during that thirty year period that created such an equally profound conceptual and emotional shift in the work of a Kiwi artist?
When Pankhurst first came to the attention of the art world in 1970 it was as a finalist in the Benson & Hedges Art Award (then the largest art award in Australasia) with his painting Urban Sprawl. The young Honours graduate found himself in august company: fellow finalists included Ralph Hotere, Gretchen Albrecht, Brent Wong, Gordon Walters, Pat Hanly and Ian Scott.
At the next Benson & Hedges competition in 1974, with Maybe Tomorrow, he won. International judge James W. Foster said: “Maybe Tomorrow is a tour de force in its immaculate technique, exquisitely detailed composition, eerie colour and compelling sense of time and place.” It was promptly bought by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.
Maybe Tomorrow was three dedicated years in the making. I was a frequent visitor during that time; he was courting my sister Ephra, and lived in a shambling 100 year old house buried in the bush on Wellington’s Brooklyn hillside. The creaking timbers and magnificent moulded ceilings were a natural setting for the painting, which took up most of one wall and seemed like an extension into another room. As it does when you stand in front of it now.
I may have been too naïve to appreciate the quality of the draughtsmanship then, but I was transfixed by the precision and frequency with which a particular glass-paned cabinet was opened and closed and opened again to different angles and shadows over the precious objects displayed within.
And I was entranced by the perfection in the details – the miniature gothic scene painted on one fireplace tile; the tiny framed portrait of my sister in Edwardian costume that sits on the mantelpiece. Not to mention the delicate erotic background based on a 13th century Roman alphabet.
Over all the creeper emerges, entwining the clutter of bric à brac and broken furniture, entangling the past and the future. Then there is the eerie optical illusion of the scene in the mirror: something about that trademark ambiguity engages you at a gut level while your intellect is fascinated with the conundrum of the old man’s shadow in the mirror.
At the time Maybe Tomorrow was being painted New Zealand was on the cusp of enormous social change. Kiwis, including Pankhurst’s father, had fought in two World Wars alongside their British allies; literature, art and history were still being taught from the ethnocentric British perspective. Many families had, literally, living memories of England. Pankhurst’s own mainland country schoolteacher parents – he spent his childhood between Rapaura and the family farm at Oamaru – had an extensive collection of Royal Doulton china; his mother was of Danish descent, but England was ‘home’.
This affiliation with British and European heritage was entirely typical of many NZ residents. It was also redolent of a cobwebbed colonial past from which many were striving to break free.
1974 was a watershed year for New Zealanders. It was the year that Britain finally joined the European Common Market and shed her protectionist role with this most far-flung of her colonies. The move by Britain spurred New Zealand on to redefine itself. Small wonder that Maybe Tomorrow made such an impact.
And racism was on the world agenda, specifically South African apartheid. It became a charged issue for New Zealand, and changed us too. 1974 was the year when, against a background of sometimes violent civil protest, Robert Muldoon became Prime Minister and as part of his divisive political tactics he chose to provoke racial conflict.
The result of all his actions was ironic. He emphatically and irrevocably succeeded in raising national awareness of widespread racism against Maori and gave impetus to the resurgence of Maori political and cultural recognition. Maori concepts and words such as whanau, iwi, mana, tapu, taonga, tangata whenua, became part of our everyday language.
By 1980 Pankhurst had moved to Auckland. Sons Matthew and André were born. The trademark creeper evolved into the still life Regeneration series, the title painting of which was accepted into the London Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition 2001.
Out of the mists of legend
In 1877 Pukaki disappeared for over a hundred years – until the Te Maori exhibition, curated by the Auckland War Memorial Museum, was being prepared for touring the US during 1985-86. And selected for the exhibition’s towering centerpiece was the carving of Rotorua’s warrior chief Pukaki.
And therein lies a tale.
From the moment of his birth on Mokoia Island, Pukaki emerges out of the mists of legend, albeit a living one.
He was born during the 18th century, a direct descendant (great grandson, in fact) of a famous union, that of the warrior chief Tutanekai and his love Hinemoa. In the best of romantic traditions their marriage was opposed by Hinemoa’s father, who expected to arrange a marriage for her that would strengthen their tribal alliances.
But that determined young woman had other ideas. With her midnight swim from her father’s home on the shores of Lake Rotorua across to Tutanekai’s stronghold on Mokoia Island, to the haunting sound of Tutanekai playing the sacred flute Murirangaranga, she turned their story into the best known of traditional love stories. (Murirangaranga is currently in the Rotorua Museum).
The union of Pukaki’s own parents had brought together the Ngati Whakaue and Ngati Pikiao and with them Lakes Rotorua and Rotoiti. Pukaki himself became a dominant figure during numerous intertribal battles over territory around Lake Rotorua, and while he was too old to participate in the final 1836 battle that secured Ohinemutu for his people, they carried his mana into the fighting with them.
In the carving his indomitable figure is depicted holding two of his sons who led that battle: Wharengaro and Rangitakuku. In the original carving his wife Ngapuia sat between his legs, symbol of a tribal union that had earlier brought peace to the region for many years.
From treachery to glory
But there was treachery ahead. In 1877 Ngati Whakaue reluctantly bowed to the insistent demands of Judge Francis Fenton, and gifted to him their greatest taonga (treasure) – the carving of Pukaki – in exchange for the right to hold ownership of their land at Ohinemutu and beneath the township of Rotorua.
They believed Fenton was acting on behalf of the Crown. Fenton, however, had been secretly pursuing the carving for Justice Thomas Gillies of the Auckland Institute, and Pukaki subsequently disappeared into the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Within the space of a few days, as Dr Paul Tapsell, curator and himself a descendent of Pukaki says, “Pukaki – revered taonga presented between Treaty partners as a symbol of Trust regarding Rotorua’s development – had become a private curio donated to the Auckland Museum by an absolute stranger.”
Fenton’s promise to Ngati Whakaue was never recorded and the land was lost to compulsory government purchase in 1893. Only when Pukaki was chosen as the lead carving and symbol for the Te Maori exhibition to the U.S. did Ngati Whakaue discover his whereabouts.
And groundbreaking Te Maori certainly was, as was Pukaki’s role within it. Initially conceived as a response to an invitation from the Metropolitan Museum of Arts and the American Federation of Arts, who were in turn responding to an increasing demand for recognition of their own indigenous peoples, Te Maori came to have both local and international impact.
Local, because for the first time ever a consultation process was developed that fully included both the legal (Auckland Museum) and moral (Maori tribal) owners and permanently changed the way Maori art was viewed and exhibited in New Zealand.
Pukaki may have been selected originally to lead Te Maori because of his powerful aesthetic qualities, but the significance of a taonga for Maori lies in the spiritual power that is its essence. Te Maori acknowledged and valued that essence and that of the other artworks.
International impact, because the consultation process became a model that was used for indigenous exhibitions in many countries. The dawn ritual opening ceremonies, led by modern descendants of the exhibition objects and their ongoing presence accompanying the exhibition, were vivid reminders that these artworks are part of a living culture.
And traveling with Pukaki in Te Maori was the superbly restored Tiki, who had been presented to the NZ Government and handed to Auckland Museum in 1889, where he remains today.
Several years earlier, Pankhurst had visited the windswept west coast at Gillespies Beach with its thrashing surf and piles of giant driftwood logs strewn along the sand.
Traditionally, Maori artifacts were often buried to protect them from destruction by hostile invaders; totara carvings like these have been unearthed in swamps where they had lain for centuries.
So he painted these warriors in all their great strength: Tiki and Pukaki, emerging from – or being covered by – the sand; and with Transition he presents Tiki lying in the cool, deceptive stillness of a rainforest stream near Gillespies Beach.
On display in his studio gallery in Parnell besides Starbucks, these large paintings gather you into their world.
Pankhurst’s painting The Last Stand (2007) features neither of these figures. Instead, the prow of a waka (war canoe) is lying partly submerged in a swamp within a rainforest clearing. At first glance it’s a tranquil scene.
But there’s a dynamic quality to the waka, as there is with all these paintings. The warrior-like face carved on the prow has an intent, concentrated energy: there’s nothing lost or static about this waka. Is it sinking or emerging from the boggy ground?
The trademark double-edged illusion of Pankhurst’s work – the multi-layered source of tension that is so compelling for the viewer – has become a reflection of not just cultural transition but of moral ambiguity. In a defining presentation, he has placed these great Maori figures at the heart of a distinctive, uniquely New Zealand cultural heritage.
Dara McNaught © 2008
Freelance writer – email@example.com
New paintings: Moving Sands, New Zealand Icons, Tribal Guardians, The Journey (reinvented)
New Drawings: Heroes, Southern Alps, Duck Creek. ( Italian framed gesso primed hardboard. After many coats of gesso and a lot of sanding to make a beautiful surface to draw on. Then sealing it all with 4 or 5 coats of spray varnish. No glass – earthquake proof.
Video Composition by Dave Mckay “Broken Heart” with Alvin’s paintings. (click here to view)
First sale to Mainland Chinese “Rising Spirits”.
We bought a Gallery in Pauanui. We are calling it the PAUANUI GALLERY. Opening on February 8th 2016.
Alvin will be painting at the gallery and along the road in the cottage but will also spend time in Auckland. It Is only an hour and a half away from Auckland.
Dara McNaught ( Ephra’s sister) and Geneva Gibson Lawyer/Art Dealer are helping Ephra Alvin Matthew and Andre.
We gave permission for Alvin’s painting the WHALE RIDER to be used in the Secondary Schools history books in France, Illustrating a part of the Maori culture. We also to gave them the history of PAIKEA who was saved by a whale after his half brother threw him overboard in a power struggle. Carved by Pine Taipa for Whitirea meeting house in Whangaroa.
New paintings: Low Tide, Sea Journeys, Spiritual Revival, Duck Creek, Sun on My Wings.
Southland Museum and Art Gallery. Moving Forward Looking Back.
Whisper Gallery Matamata. Opening of Gallery featuring Alvin’s Drawings.
New paintings: Spiritual Sounds, Spiritual Home, Heroes, Spiritual Odyssey. Plus two large commission paintings.
NATIONAL BUSINESS REVIEW Record price for New Zealand Artist: “Alvin Pankhurst has achieved a record price at a sale of important early and rare art in Auckland.
His 2006 oil and acrylic on canvas called About Time sold for $55,000 at auction at The International Art Centre last night” (31st July 2013).
“The painting of a carving on a West Coast beach was Mr Pankhurst’s first Maori painting. It featured Tiki, an important leader the the Ngati Whakaue people.”
New paintings: “Quiet Morning”, “Ninety Mile Beach”, “The Story Teller”, “Rising Spirits”, “The Journey,” “It’s About Time.” Finished 2002 painting of “Queenstown” featuring TSS Earnslaw, Lake Wakatipu,
New Drawings: drawings on gesso coated hardboard panel with beautiful Italian frames. Many coats of gesso and varnish – no glass needed – Wipe with with a damp cloth. You treat it like a painting: “Their Time,” “They Came By Sea”, “The Story Teller”, “Resurgence”, “Are We There Yet?”, “Returning Heroes.”
Joint show of Drawings at Zeus Gallery Tauranga curated by Robert Eagle.
Guest Artist for opening of new Icon Art Gallery ( part of Icon Sculpture Park) Nelson.
2012 Bought studio cottage at Pauanui in the Coromandel
Guest artist Nutpoint Centre, Christchurch.
“Free Spirits”, “Dream Time,” “Spiritual Home, “The Guardian,” “Spiritual Guardian.” Drawings.
Waitomo/Roselands Cultural Centre. Prints and paintings.
2011/12 Exhibition of old paintings at Pankhurst Gallery.
2011 “Their Time,” “A Slice of Heaven,” “Are We There Yet?”
2010 Limited Edition Giclee Prints of ”Returning Heroes”, “Tuturu Aotearoa”, “Frosty Morning”, and the iconic “Spiritual Journey”.
2010 Paintings of Moeraki Boulders, Kotuku Birds and first of European Immigrant artifacts and Maori carvings on the beach.
2009-11 “Beloved Exhibition” Dunedin Public Art gallery “Maybe Tomorrow.”
Hastings City Art Gallery Group Exhibition “Mind Games, Surrealism in Aotearoa”.
Presentation at the Rotorua Museum of Art and History.
2009 Group Exhibition of opening of Aesthete Gallery, Hamilton.
2008-12 Chosen for NZ Artfind Calendar 5 consecutive years.
2008 First of the giclee art prints and cards.
Exhibitions twice a year.
Opened Pankhurst Studio Gallery in Parnell, Auckland.
2007 Peter Rae Gallery, Dunedin “Spiritual Journeys.” Solo Exhibition of Maori Paintings.
taking as inspiration the beautiful carvings of the NZ Maori and depicting them in typical NZ settings.
2006 First of Maori paintings “About Time”, “Our Time”, “Transition”, “The Last Stand”,
Joint Exhibition with Brent Wong, Mark Cross, Craig Primrose, Graham Downs, David Woodings and Jillian Palmer.
2005 Opened The Real Gallery Newmarket, Auckland with Brent Wong.
2004 Commission for 16 Paintings for The Fox Glacier Hotel, Westland
2002-05 Handmade Silkscreen Prints. Bought by NZ Parliament Wellington and Southland Museum.
2002-3 Joint Exhibitions in Spiral Gallery with Brent Wong, Mark Cross and Tom Mutch.
2002 Anderton Park Gallery, Southland bought “Silent Echoes” for permanent collection.
2002-04 Pankhurst Gallery in Masterton, Directors; Douglas and Allisson Whitcombe.
2001 Christchurch City Art gallery Robert McDougall, “Images of Home and Garden” “Maybe Tomorrow”.
“Regeneration” which was hung and “Silent Echoes”.
2001 Two paintings accepted for THE ROYAL ACADEMY SUMMER EXHIBITION, LONDON.
Gave Art Classes and painted NZ Landscapes.
Studio Gallery in Queen Street, Auckland.
2000 Opened The Spiral Gallery with retrospective show 1969-2000
Painted ceiling Fresco (Baroque Style) at Monterey Gallery, Auckland.
1999 Group Exhibition Monterey Gallery Auckland.
1999 One man show International Art Centre, Auckland
Group Exhibition Monterey Gallery, Auckland.
1998 One man show Portfolio Gallery, Auckland.
One man show Dobson Bashford Gallery, Christchurch.
1997 Group Exhibition “Modern NZ Art” Milford Gallery, Dunedin.
Works with International Art Centre, Auckland.
One man show, Milford Gallery, Dunedin “Painted Tapestries.”
1996 Group Exhibition “NZ Real”, Milford Gallery, Dunedin.
1993-94 Christchurch City Art Gallery, Robert McDougall “Real Vision Exhibition” “The Immigrant.”
1993 Warwick Brown Gallery “Painted Tapestries” Auckland.
1992 Begins work on the “Hounds” and new tapestry work.
1992 Group Exhibition “Apunto Gallery” Amsterdam. “ New Real Exhibition” with Wainer Vaccari and Jan Worst.
Amsterdam Work in Art Fairs included in Amsterdam and Brussels.
1991-92 Worked and exhibited in Amsterdam “Apunto Gallery”
1991 Group show Yanna Lund Gallery, Wellington.
1990 Group show Charlotte H. Gallery, Auckland.
1990 Works on large paintings of Ebony Elephants Washed Up on Beach.
1989-90 Works on Orchids Washed on Beach Series.
1989 (May) Series exhibited at RKS Art Auckland.
1987-89 Worked on the “Immigrants” series.
1984 “From The Real World”. A Trusteebank Southland Art Foundation Exhibition. Southland Museum and Art Gallery bought “Morning Tide”.
1982-4 Experiments with many new forms. “Bug Art”paintings being the only works kept but never shown.
1981 Group show John Leach Gallery Auckland. Limited Edition Prints of “I Remember” made by John Leach Gallery.
1980 Works on Tapestry and Flower Paintings
1977 Works on Seascapes.
1976 Group Exhibition Rotorua “Sea Swirl” bought by National Art Gallery, now Te Papa Wellington.
1976 Works on large Seascapes
1975 Group show Bett Duncan Gallery, Wellington
“Something To Hide” bought by Todd Motors Collection, Wellington
1975 Group Exhibition for opening of Barrington Art Gallery, Auckland
Work is bought by Dunedin Public Art Gallery, for NZ record price.
1974 Completed “Maybe Tomorrow” entered and won 1974 Benson and Hedges Art Award
Began 2 years work on illustrations for “New Zealand’s Heritage; The Making of A Nation” magazine.
1971 Began work on “Maybe Tomorrow”.
1970 NZ Young Contemporaries Exhibition.
1970 Completed “Urban Sprawl”, finalist in that year’s Benson and Hedges Art Award.
1969 “Self Portrait Bust With Tendrils”. First painting done after fire.
1969 (June) All work done up to that time lost in house fire in Wellington. Spent 5 months recovering from burns.
1969 Completed Diploma course at Wellington Polytechnic School of Design with Honours.
1966 Attended Wellington Polytechnic School of Design (4 year course).
1965 Won National Competition for Air New Zealand poster design.