Here in New Zealand Christmas means high summer, and Christmas Dinner is often held on the beach, on a deck, or outdoors in front of a holiday home overlooking the sea.
We are fortunate in NZ because our beaches don’t get crowded, as in many countries overseas. Though beaches are not my ‘dream location’, I really do enjoy a beach that is deserted – a back to the wilderness type of thing. And I’ve got one or two fond memories of riding horses on beaches of this kind.
I created this painting after I moved away from Wellington, and I think the inspiration was the south Wellington coastline – Terawhiti with Makara behind – which also can be seen from the Inter-Island Ferry. As many will know, the Inter-Island Ferry crossing on a good day is a real treat, as the south Wellington coastline gives way to the fascinating convolutions of the Marlborough Sounds coast with its multitude of bays and inlets.
In this picture the atmosphere of the weather IS indeed benign, and if it were not for the lack of Pohutukawa trees lining the cliffs and flocks of sailing boats in the bay, it could well be the Bay of Islands, close to where I live now in what we euphemistically call ‘the winterless north’.
I think what makes this painting work so well is not only the composition, but also the colors. In a sense, this is a limited palette – but it doesn’t feel like that, and probably the muted, olive green shades have turned out to be the perfect foil for the rich blues and orange.
Acrylic on paper. For more details about the work, click on the images.
Believe it or not, there is a connection between this post and the last one about Mount Ngauruhoe and Tama Lakes. Let me explain.
Even today, Manet’s “Déjeuner sur L’Herbe” it is not what one would call a ‘comfortable’ painting, and maybe it was this element of unease that moved me a few years ago to create a modern version, setting the characters in a landscape of the future, when our pesticides, herbicides, GMOs and climate change have finally completed their deadly work.
The intervening years haven’t altered my perspective on this small painting, and I hope it conveys to others what it spoke to me as I created it.
Manet’s “Déjeuner” caused a sensation when it was exhibited. The painting was rejected by the Salon in 1863 so in the same year, Manet took the opportunity to exhibit it in the Salon des Refusés. Even in that venue, it caused an uproar, mainly from the fact of two women – one scantily-clad and the other naked – dining out in the woods with two fully-clad males. As I said above, the painting is still a little unnerving, even 150 years later, when we are much more ‘enlightened’.
The subject of this post is only a small sketch – about 7″x5.5″ – done at a time when I lived in Wellington and our Central North Island Plateau was very much a reality to me. So I placed the scene in that location, What made the fit for me was the desert quality, and the power pylons and lines.
Our State Highway No 1, which runs the full length of both islands, passes along the eastern edge of the Central Volcanic region. This is the Rangipo Desert. Between the road and the mountains runs the main power trunk line – carried on pylons which can be a pain when taking photographs. On this stretch, the road has a special name – ‘The Desert Road’. It’s very hot in summer and in winter it can often be closed altogether due to hazardous snow and ice conditions.
Bear in mind that when this painting was done, there was much less appreciation of the environmental impacts of many things that were used thoughtlessly. We are a little more aware today – though maybe too little too late.
So there we are at ‘déjeuner’: taking our leisure. Three of the little group of characters are still there – still lingering over luncheon and apparently oblivious to the gradual change that has taken place around them. Still socializing, in spite of the circumstances.
There is no grass underfoot. There are no shady trees left in the park, only the march of power pylons. There’s no longer any need for shady trees, because the sun’s rays are taken care of by the clouds of pollution overhead.
Party on …
I’ve mentioned Mt Ngauruhoe a couple of times in the past. It’s been one of my favorite mountains for some years – an elegant cinder cone on our Central North Island Plateau.
Mt Ngauruhoe is exciting not only for its beautiful shape and its snowy mantle in winter, but also for the fact that it’s still an active volcano and one used to be able to rely on there being a plume of steam coming out of its crater pretty much all of the time.
Not the case with Ruapehu (which erupted properly in 1995-6), and not the case with Tongariro, which proved itself to be still active in 2012, to everyone’s surprise – though it has hot springs and fumaroles on its flank. Ngauruhoe, technically a vent of Mt Tongariro, kept everyone reminded that it was active. It last erupted in 1973-75, and I see DOC advises people not to go down inside the outer crater to the smaller main vent, because there’s a danger of being overcome by fumes. I would think so.
Ngauruhoe’s more recent claim to worldwide fame was its featuring in Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord Of The Rings’ movie series, with some digital manipulation, as Mount Doom.
A few weeks ago I sold one of my Ngauruhoe artworks on an iPhone case. It’s one that has never sold before (the original was not for sale), so I was really pleased. It’s a watercolor-style acrylic of the mountain, and like Peter Jackson, in the process of creation I think I manipulated it a bit – making the sides steeper than the actual 45deg slope of Ngauruhoe. And maybe ‘the look’ is also because I slanted the profile of the crater rim…
Near Ngauruhoe are two small volcanic lakes – Tama Lakes – set in the tussock-covered, pockmarked saddle between Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. I was fortunate on one of my trips to the eastern (Rangipo) side of the plateau to pass by and capture a very cool mirror effect that the sides of these lakes make with the slope of the mountain above – if you are in absolutely the right position to see it – and I was.
I took photos and the image has stayed with me for years. Some of these very brief visions never leave us – they root deep down in our consciousness and quite literally become part of who we are, I think. A bit like the Harrier Hawk episode. As I mentioned before, this whole Central North Island Plateau has a huge pull on me: it’s almost uncanny.
Acrylic on paper. For more information about the work, click on the images.
My first thought, judging by the dark blue-green of the wings, was that this must be a young kingfisher. It also had copper around the wingtips and lower rump. Then when I turned it over, I saw the white breast barred with black and immediately realized it was a Shining Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus).
Some books identify this as of ‘sparrow size’ and I can state absolutely that the shining cuckoo is definitely bigger than a sparrow (16cm + I’d say). This bird had a long split down the front of its chest, so I don’t think it was killed by my cat (now 20 yrs of age) – more likely blown into my cottage.
Shining cuckoos migrate down to New Zealand from the Bismarck Archipelago (New Guinea) and Solomon Islands in the summer to breed, using nests of the Grey Warbler (Gerygone igata) to lay their eggs – one per nest – and they leave the tiny warblers to raise their kids. Fortunately, by the time the shining cuckoos are ready to lay, the warblers have already raised one litter, so all is not lost (isn’t nature wonderful?). But the young shining cuckoo definitely puts paid to the warblers’ second litter.
I had never seen a shining cuckoo ‘in real life’ before, and didn’t know I had them here, though I’ve always known we had grey warblers, because I heard them. I used a pair of shining cuckoos as part of the wildlife interest in one of the 36 paintings I did for the book ‘Taketakerau The Millennium Tree’, which I illustrated in 2011. Here’s the painting:
‘Fallen Giants’ – click on the image for more details.
I’ve now heard the shining cuckoo’s call on New Zealand Birds Online, and identified it as a call I’d been hearing lately. Was listening to the call outside this morning when I saw a fast flash of green wings across the grass to the trees where the sound was coming from, so I feel happy to know that the mate of the bird that lost its life (which was a female, I think) is not alone.
They are very fast fliers and spend much of their time hidden in the trees. So often one just doesn’t see these birds !
Following on from my All Muscle: Promoting The Great Outdoors post, the next thing one can expect if it’s mating season, or the rut (the roar as we call it in NZ), is the Challenge – in the Red Deer, a series of deep, guttural grunts, bellows, groans and huffs.
On the other hand, the first time I heard a bull elk – Cervus canadensis (or Wapiti in NZ) bugling, I was quite surprised at the high tone of the vocals, given the elk is a larger animal than the red deer.
It’s an eerie sound though, whichever species it comes from, and in the natural it carries a fair bit of emotion and suspense as the two stags size each other up and maneuver through the bush to get an advantage. Quite often the stags can’t actually see each other during the initial stages of the encounter, so they are sizing each other up – trying through the vocals to get an indication of the age, size and seriousness of intention of the potential adversary, should the episode end up in a fight.
Well, here is the Red Stag (Cervus elaphus) issuing his challenge:
For more details about this work, click on the images.
Te Paki Stream in the Far North of NZ is famous for its wilderness, its massive sand-dunes and great boogie boarding. What a combination! Its breathtaking quality comes from isolation, plus a unique engagement between water and sand dunes, that produces the added danger element of quicksand.
The stream bed is part of the Cape Reinga round trip, and provides about 3.5 km of tricky driving. Both the stream bed and 90 mile beach are treacherous with quicksand, so unless you are very experienced in the locale and this type of driving it is better to make your journey by tour bus. The buses are a great ride with wonderful commentary and they stop in the stream bed to allow time for boogie boarding. It’s worth noting that car hire companies do not permit their vehicles to be driven on this route.
Of course it’s wonderful to visit these places under your own steam. So, there are walking tracks for the real outdoors types, which apart from the buses is the best way to go – at least you can be sure of still having a vehicle when you return to base!
The other great attraction of this trip is the Cape Reinga lighthouse, situated at the clifftop on what is almost the northernmost promontory of NZ, with the Pacific and Tasman seas on each side. Quite an experience to stand there and look out to where their waters mingle offshore.
Stream bed artwork painted in acrylic, with acrylic painted additions, including a maori fishing hook – matau. I just sold a tote bag with this design.