UNO speaks with Tauranga Art Gallery director Alice Hutchison about three upcoming exhibitions, one of which is the first public gallery exhibition for our cover star, Mr G.
UNO: It’s the 250th anniversary of Māori and Europeans meeting for the first time in New Zealand. Tell us about Tauranga Art Gallery’s response to that event.
ALICE: Captain Cook sailed past these shores 250 years ago and decided to call this region the “Bay of Plenty”, a generic name which is now in common use and taken for granted. There were Pacific navigators for thousands of years before Cook, as with Māori civilisation, in Aotearoa. The bustling local harbour at that time was filled with waka, as an already active trading port.
Just 155 years ago, Henare Taratoa, leader of Ngai Te Rangi – who wrote the Code of Conduct for the Gate Pa battle – lost his life in the Battle of Te Ranga. Land confiscations followed, apportioning Tauranga to British soldiers.
Fascinated by this history, I began to explore the Tauranga Heritage Collection and The Elms Te Papa Tauranga [a signifiant heritage site], and brought in artist Kelcy Taratoa’s daughter, Arpege, to curate the exhibition Te Rangi Haupapa – a woven history, which opens October 19 at the gallery. This exhibition includes the work of contemporary artists who are reflecting on these issues and themes from a Te Ao Māori perspective.
That exhibition will run alongside Kelcy Taratoa’s first major survey exhibition, bringing paintings together from public and private collections throughout New Zealand and abroad.
Then we have set the stage for Mr G who has been using his art as a change agent to address mispronunciation of Māori place names; look on Mr G’s Instagram account and you’ll see plenty of examples.
We go back to the issue of place, naming and tangata whenua, and Mr G’s personal journey to get to this stage in his life where he is holding his very first public art gallery exhibition, after doing major murals the world over. The theme of home and of belonging and connection is very personal and visitors will see a new side of this talented local artist.
UNO: Mr G is well known for his murals. Which are your favourite of his works, and what do you think street art brings to a city’s art scene?
ALICE: The huge cliff face he painted in Te Awamutu and the water tank [at the Mount] are some of my favourite of his works. It’s interesting that he can take a curved surface and effortlessly paint such highly rendered images and likenesses. The water tank mural on Mauao is so iconic with strong mana.
Good street art can really enhance a city centre and this is what Tauranga’s CBD needs at the moment, especially with Mr G’s popularity. We encourage his 80,000 social media followers to come and visit.
UNO: What are your thoughts on Graham’s portrait of his father? Can you tell us a little about Māori portraiture – Lindauer and Goldie, in particular.
ALICE: The portrait of his father is very moving: learning whakairo in earnest with master carver Todd Couper to make it; hearing that his sister created the woven elements, connecting to Motiti island – it’s thoughtful and intimate.
I thought about the portrait traditions in Aotearoa, specifically those of rangatira [high rank] by Gottfried Lindauer which have dignity, and were often commissioned by the Māori leaders themselves. Goldie, on the other hand, painted many of his subjects in dejected poses because he thought he was recording the last survivors of a declining Māori population.
Self-taught, Mr G reclaims this photo-realist tradition and adds his own contemporary edge, with personal elements that represent his connection to this area.
UNO: How do you think Graham’s work fits with other global contemporary portraits?
ALICE: Portraiture has such a long history in art, and remains even more relevant and omnipresent with our global selfie obsession – everyone is an artist on their camera phones. Mr G brings these two elements of portraiture together in his use of social media with his huge following. Plus he is such a positive role model for youth and inspiring for many people.
UNO: What are you most excited about seeing in the gallery for the Home exhibition?
ALICE: There will be a few surprises and I’ve seen a concept sketch for a self-portrait which is going to be very original. What Mr G is doing in his life and work is unique, and we are incredibly fortunate to have him in our community.
Kelcy Taratoa: who am i? episode 001October 5, 2019 – March 1, 2020
Te Rangi Haupapa – a woven historyOctober 19, 2019 – March 8, 2020
HOME: Mr GNovember 9, 2019 – February 9, 2020