Wednesday, November 02, 2011


In 1971, exactly forty years ago, the Auckland Art Gallery was also opening a new gallery. To celebrate the occasion an exhibition called 10 Big Paintings was organised. Ten artists (half of them from South of the Bombay Hills, something that wouldn’t happen these days) were asked to prepare large works. The canvases they worked on were supplied by the Gallery and designed to just fit into the big new spaces. 

One of the artists was Ross Ritchie, who was also working at the Gallery at the time, and it was his previous experience as a billboard painter that no doubt helped inspire the idea. Ritchie had painted many oversized realistic renditions of tractors, cars and bottles onto 20 feet long 10 feet high (6 x 3 meters) billboards and knew how they were constructed from four fabricated panels. 

We were reminded of this local history when we saw these photographs of American artist Jim Rosenquist working high above the streets of New York on large scale advertisements. It turned out that he was learning how to construct the kind of images that were to appear in his sixties paintings, works that would constitute such a significant contribution to Pop Art.

A few of the super-sized canvases from the 10 Big Paintings exhibition have survived. Don Driver's is in the collection of the Govett-Brewster, Milan Mrkusich's is safely tucked away at Te Papa and Colin McCahon's was famously purchased by Victoria University in Wellington.
Images: Left Rosenquist at work on a billboard c.1958 and right a finished billboard worked on by Rosenquist.