Monday, March 30, 2015


Most people from New Zealand and Australia will see that one of the key sources of Michael Parekowhai’s giant statue of James Cook, The English Channel, is a famous portrait by Nathaniel Dance. Joseph Banks commissioned the painting and Dance was given a couple of hours at Banks’s house to make some drawings of the man. The painting was made in May 1776, a few months before Cook sailed off to the Pacific for the last time. Parekowhai being Parekowhai, there are some personal layers to the work, including the revelation at the exhibition that Cook’s face is closely based on that of Parekowhai’s studio manager Ian Radford. Radford, like Cook, is an Englishman from the North, in his case from Manchester.

Many statues have been based on the Dance painting. It was regarded at the time as a good likeness of the famous Captain and most representations show him as a man of action. Parekowhai’s Cook, though, is more pensive and less certain of the path he has taken. This is not the first major sculpture Parekowhai has based on an existing painting. The indefinite article was inspired by Colin McCahon’s I Am (1954). Then, Parekowhai’s challenge was to New Zealand’s most important painter, but The English Channel seems more a meditation on what it might mean to dematerialize the man who kickstarted New Zealand’s British occupation.

One thing the English channel and its house totally demonstrates is that the lighthouse work proposed for Auckland's Queens wharf will not only be successful as an installation but also, looking at the first days visitors to The Promised Land, incredibly popular.

Images: top, Ian Radford with with Michael Parekowhai's The English Channel and bottom Cooks around the world