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September 18, 2017 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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art conversation with my father

My father’s favourite colour is always blue. Blue of the clearest day, and of cold lips from being in the ocean too long. He cannot swim well, but he says my mother is solar powered, so we go to the beach anyway.

I ask him about art on the telephone.

what is your earliest memory of art

is it a fond memory is it hard to recall

My father grew up in rural New Zealand in the 1970s. Where he went to school is now a house, still with the same tennis court that he used to play on. I know this because I grew up in the same place, and I see the overgrown tennis court when I go home. His earliest memory of art is painting Māori designs onto his primary school walls. He was a child of the introduction of the Taha Māori initiative into the New Zealand education system, a government-sponsored programme to give children the opportunity to learn aspects of tikanga and te reo. From this, they used vivid reds and black and white to paint their classroom with koru patterns. His memory is always fading, and his intense recollection of this moment tells me more about its importance for him than the words themselves.

He recounts to me his bewilderment the day when my grandma and grandad brought home a John Constable print. My grandad is harsh and his words are thick and grate. I cannot imagine him purchasing an artwork, even of a landscape.

art ! a waste of bloody time what’s the good of art anyway

My father used to draw cars that were streamlined and fast, Back to the Future cars; DeLoreans with doors that opened upwards. I picture him in my grandparents’ house, in the room with the sunflower wallpaper and a yellow duvet. I picture him stuck in a ’70s and ’80s warp.

i still can’t remember when i started to see the importance of art

somewhere somehow there was a shift

For a while, we talk about the relevance of art now, and the absence of it in mainstream discourse, and the lack of incentive, particularly in the primary and secondary education systems, to undertake arts-based learning.

there’s more change now there’s faster change the change is faster

Critically, this is where he sees the need for the arts. In the current political, social, and economic climate, he expresses a need for visual arts to convey the ideas and challenges that are facing us within Aotearoa and globally. Sometimes visual art can address ideas that the written or the spoken still trip clumsily over, and question the accepted systems that our lives are structured around. This may be an articulation of the urgency of climate action, or another form of direct information. Often though, he prefers ambiguous works that ask for more generosity in intimate consideration from the viewer.

He refers to Mark Rothko more than once. He has an obsession with Rothko, yet he forgets his name every time. Rothko’s works are atmospheric and non-figurative, drowned instead in the richness of brick colour and navy. They are sea swell immense, but hold you just before the wave breaks. Somehow, he sees Rothko’s works as a way to bridge the gap between who you are and what you are, and the other who you are — the person you are internally. The ambiguity of this sort of abstract art makes him drag those things out of some mental crevasse, forces him to look at that part of his mind.

There is nothing new under the sun, he says, but perhaps art can help us to remember some of the things that are under it.

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