Colin McCahon: A Question of Faith

This is the catalogue for an exhibition of art by New Zealand painter Colin McCahon, held in a gallery in Amsterdam in 2002.

questionA group of essays by art historians, curators and McCahon’s son William, accompany illustrations of dozens of McCahon’s paintings.
McCahon’s work combined the NZ landscape, Maori lore with biblical and poetic texts, often in a limited pallet.

The closing section presents a year by year “biography” of the artists life and work, attempting to place it (and its influence) into the context of other New Zealand painting.

A more apt title to the book could be A Confusion of Faith.
McCahon’s use of biblical text in his paintings seems to puzzle most people, who tend to project their own biases into their understanding of his work, and perhaps reveal the extent to which human artistic creativity becomes a religion substitute for many. A religious leaning with its own “prophets” and teachers, presenting a sacred lore and esoteric ruminations that idealise art, literature and other cultural pursuits.

VOD2Victory Over Death 2. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
See more, including a video about the painting here: Victory Over Death 2

13 thoughts on “Colin McCahon: A Question of Faith

  1. I liked looking at the painting, via the video — the movement helped with a three-d appearance. But the sound, the talking with it, wasn’t edifying or helpful.

  2. I maybe kinda know what you mean. For instance, I’ve wondered about the frequency of people being mentally ill or selfish or immoral and proud to be an arrogant artist. However, my dad was an art teacher, and he was very thoughtful [compared to most people — not only compared to artists] of his family and generally and helped a lot of other kids and teachers and so on. He was a good artist, but not an obsessed artist. He didn’t have a large output or make money at it (other than by teaching). (I know a lot of artists or hopefuls don’t bring in money until they’re dead anyway, but some do.)

    1. After reading a lot of artist biographies a few years ago, I saw so many of them had serious issues with morality (lack of), and self obsession (full of). With those two traits probably being related.

      1. I haven’t read biographies of artists. I can understand, somewhat. I’ve heard about some reputations, and I’ve seen a couple miniseries pertaining to artists. I don’t buy in fully, though. A lot of people (not only artists) have issues with morality. I find it stunning, still am disturbed to encounter this. And my mother was always anti-artist. My dad, of course, had friends who were also artists, most of them artists who were teachers or teachers who liked art.

      2. Yes a lot of people have issues with morality, but unlike the big name artists, those people tend not to be idolised and have their issues excused because of their “creativity”.

  3. Well, I can see your point there. Yet others are excused for making a living or being rich. Men, for instance, have historically been indulged. As women have worked outside the home, they often see themselves as then entitled to the same “you can’t tell me” attitudes (and permitted). Anyway, I,agree with you that “being creative” shouldn’t be romanticized as a good explanation.

    1. I haven’t come across anything to suggest McCahon was immoral, but his family life seems to have suffered, from his art taking priority over them.

  4. I didn’t gather anything about McCahon himself from the video. I felt like it was sort of blah, blah 😁 But I can appreciate the pieces themselves.

  5. I just saw an artist in the news displaying similar work (of his own), last night. He’s more known as a musician, but he has a gallery set up with painting as well as, it appeared, textile work — with writing involved — even the name Jesus. He will include music playing there that he won’t “release” some other way.

    1. I just now looked into his background a little bit. I found out he actually first became somewhat famous as an actor. I looked up some of that work and would recommend a movie I’ve seen, called “Something the Lord Made” (which is historically based).
      Here are a couple articles about the exhibit.

      Even though I could make out, in a clip on television, that the name of Jesus is included on at least one of the walls (and I doubt it’s blasphemous), I couldn’t tell what it said.

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