Monday, July 25, 2011

In the cut

You don’t see a room full of Woollaston paintings very often these days. Back a while nearly every exhibition was likely to have at least one of Sir Tosswill’s works included. Things change. And yet up at Wellington's Adam Art Gallery in an exhibition based on private collections, there are over half a dozen Woollaston works including one of his large landscapes. As the label explains, this mega format was suggested by art dealer Peter McLeavey and was determined by the maximum size of a sheet of hardboard. 

Hardboard was the a very common support for many years (particularly the sixties and seventies) when canvas could only be purchased in limited widths. The big sheets of hardboard (imperial size until around late 1969 when the most favoured sheet became 1200 x 2700mm) were usually cut into two pieces, one a golden square (see paintings by Michael Smither, Toss Woollaston, Colin McCahon and Jeffrey Harris) with a left-over narrower slice. 

This in turn couldbe cut into yet smaller pieces, McCahon’s Truth from the King country: load bearing structures (see note below) and many of Jeffrey Harris's iconic paintings from 1975 probably came from this cut. Finally any off cuts could used to make small panoramic landscapes like Michael Smither’s St Bathans paintings. 

It is the inter-related scale of these different slices out of a standard sheet of hardboard is unmistakeable. It is part of what gives so many New Zealand paintings of the sixties and seventies their distinctive look.

Note: One of OTN's eagle-eyed friends has told us that these paintings were actually painted on pre-prepared canvas boards. Still, you get the picture)