Monday, June 29, 2009

Public figures, private lives

When we were writing Contemporary New Zealand Painters one of the artists we wanted to (well, had to really) include was Colin McCahon. At that time, in the late seventies, McCahon had a reputation as a savage guardian of his privacy. There had been no photographs published of him for years and he never gave interviews. In spite of that he graciously invited us around, warning that although he’d have nothing to say, he’d be pleased to talk to us. As it turned out he had plenty to say, just not for publication.

As for the privacy, it was a protection. McCahon was as social as anyone, he just liked to choose his society. The situation is beautifully summed up by Pritzker Award winning architect Peter Zumthor.

“Well you know every day I get enquiries from students colleges, magazines and possible clients, and because I turn a lot of things down so as to be able to work in peace, a kind of legend springs up. Many people seem to believe I’m a kind of Alpine hermit who does his world living in celibacy on bread and with no TV. What can I do about such myth making? I can only watch in amazement.”