Friday, December 11, 2009

Vote National

When Hamish Keith opens Francis Pound’s new book The invention of New Zealand, let’s hope someone has the foresight to scatter pillows at his feet because he may well faint dead away. Anyone who lived through the brouhaha surrounding the publication of Pound’s first book Frames on the land – famously described by Keith as a ‘slim pink volume’ which has to be a word play up there with Rob Muldoon’s suggestion that Bill Rowling was ‘a shiver looking for a spine to run up’ – will remember the harsh words flung between the Internationalist and the nationalists.

Gordon Brown and Hamish Keith’s book New Zealand painting had held the floor since 1969 and it was a big target starting its coverage in 1839 and running all the way through to the end of the sixties. There was harsh New Zealand light, there were unique forms of landscape and there were arrivals and departures asking the question whether a true New Zealand artist had to live in the country. The national/ international dispute flared up again when the exhibition Headlands opened at the MCA in Sydney. Here the curators dared hang internationalist Gordon Walters with nationalists Para Matchitt and Sandy Adsett in an ‘inside out’ argument and among the deeply offended was Francis Pound.

Now Pound has come up with a book that centralises proto-nationalist Colin McCahon (47 illustrations and 124 page references). Milan Mrkusich barely gets a mention (only two illustrations and 22 page references) and Walters is strangely positioned as the not-a-koru-painter (20 illustrations of abstract Walters to three koru works).

It’s a substantial book and Pound is very gracious about the contribution of his old adversaries Brown and Keith, using their book as the clearest articulation of Nationalism ideology and the triumphant ending to his story. Well nearly the end, after some Walters and Killeen talk, it’s over to Shane Cotton, Michael Parekowhai and Peter Robinson. The more things change etc. etc.

Image: the Pound book packaged with safety device