ARTS: Portraits of the famous and not so famous
Head 2 Head, Martin Ball and Mary McIntyre
New Zealand Portrait Gallery
Shed 11 Wellington Waterfront
Until July 18
Until June 1
Mary McIntyre Painter by Robin Woodward
Published by Whitespace
Portraiture does not have much of place in New Zealand history over the last hundred years or so. Our egalitarian society was not one to set up too many people for adulation. Most of the significant portraits are the obligatorily ones of former Prime Ministers, significant community leaders and captains of industry. Ordinary folk generally missed out.
The annual Adam Portrait Awards are evidence however that things are changing although the calibre of artists producing important portrait works is not that great when compared to those in Australia’s Archibald Prize.
Over the years there has been a major strand of portraits by artists both of themselves and other artists their families and their associates.
This is obvious in the “Head 2 Head” exhibition at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in Wellington with an exhibition of portraits by Martin Ball and Mary McIntyre.
Martin Ball’s section of the exhibition consists mainly of his recent series of large works which have been brought together for the first time.
This suite of works which the artist has been working on for the past decade consists of paintings of artists and colleagues including Robert Ellis, Stanley Palmer, Dick Frizzell and one of many that he has produced of Ralph Hotere.
Using drawings of the subjects as well as photographs the artist creates portraits which are around two metres tall, images on a grand scale.
His use of the photograph is not so much a visual aid to his painting but rather the subject of the paintings itself. This helps create a distance between the subject and the portrait image. It can be seen as a comment on the way that people are often more comfortable with viewing a person through a mediated medium so the reproduction becomes more relevant than the original.
Photo realist painting touch on the whole notion of realism and representation, the realistic surface drawing the viewers attention to the tension which exists between the realism and the abstraction of the painting.
In this process the artist verges on being a contemporary magician, deceiving the audience into believing that he has created a lifelike figure.
These much larger sized works allows the artist to confront ideas about scale and the parameters of what is considered the right size for a portrait work. The large close ups mean there is a billboard quality to them in which another kind of reality is described.
The Hotere painting not only shows the artist’s ability to recreate the detail of the subjects face but also his ability to produce an image which expresses something about the artist and his work.
The blackness of the eyes alludes to Hotere’s Black Paintings and the landscape-like folds of skin refer to the landscapes he references in his work both directly and indirectly.
These large coloured works which look like enlarged colour photographs seem to be more photographic then the original photo. Up close to the image there are no dots or pixels with the artist creating a seamless graduation of skin, hair, eyes and mouth.
As a counterpoint to these recent works the exhibition also includes some of the artist’s drawings from forty years ago when he produced beautifully rendered works which had the appearance of black and white photographs.
Mary McIntyre has been producing portrait works since the 1970’s with a focus on the body, and anthropomorphic landscapes which often addressed strong personal, feminist and political issues.
A major aspect of her work has been the recording of those individuals who impacted on her life. So there are portraits of family, friends, various people from the art world, a few notables, as well as herself.
Included in those from the art world are images of artists such Paul Hartigan, Roy Dalgarno and Sylvia Siddell. From the wider art scene she has included Peter McLeavey, Denis Cohn, John Gow and Gary Langsford.
She has also painted art commentator Hamish Keith and her show currently at Whitespace has a portrait of T J McNamara, the NZ Herald critic whom she has posed in front of the Durer self portrait where he depicts himself as Christ.
In many of her portraits she includes additional objects in the classical tradition where saints and important people were depicted with their “attributes” or symbols. Terry Stringer’s portrait features a classical façade alluding to his interest in the classical notions of art while his partner Tim McWhannell's background is of an organ referring to his skills as an organist.
The new book on Mary McIntyre by Robin Woodward provides an in depth look at the artists work as well as connecting her personal history with her paintings.
The book features nearly 100 illustrations and explores the various elements of her work; the nudes, self portraits, images of family as well as her social and political paintings.
Her self portraits are particularly intriguing as she exposes and reveals herself. In much the same way that Rembrandt recorded his features over his lifetime McIntyre’s paintings are records of how she has matured. She has also used her own image for more complex paintings and at times uses herself as an almost surreal subject as with the depiction of herself as a Sphinx.
As well as the main text of the book there are several other contributors who provide interesting observations about the artist. These include patrons (James Wallace), artists (Greer Twiss) and writers (Warwick Brown). There is also an illuminating biographical piece by Tina Shaw,
Mary McIntyre has consistently pushed the boundaries of art. Her portrait of Tony Fomison, shown for the first time in the “Head 2 Head” show could well have caused outcry at the time it was painted as it is an image of the dead artist in his coffin.
Her “Crown of Flags” painting which won the inaugural Team McMillan Ford Art Award in 1981 was even considered blasphemous by some of the dealer’s customers who refused to buy cars from him