Darkened sky and sunburned hills hide the secret geology below the land – all part of the huge web that forms the structure of the universe.
As our perceptions and understanding increase – and science delves deeper and becomes more open-minded, we are realizing the interconnectedness of all things.
I believe early man was much more aware of this than we have been until recently – it was something we lost in our relentless march to ‘civilization’.
In one of my attempts to diversify from law over the years, I took stats 101, botany 101 and geology 101, thinking of doing a switch to environmental science. I ran out of funds and came to my senses – realizing that science also is just another man-riddled discipline, but the effort sure fed the muse.
It was in the following year, when I returned to Wellington after a long summer holiday up here – without a job and with no immediate plans for my future, that out of the blue I became National Secretary to the NZ Deerstalkers Association – their former Nat Sec having left the country to run a game ranch in New Mexico. Life is full of twists and turns, leading us inexorably onwards…
‘Sacred Geometry’ added digitally later.
Acrylic on Arches Dessein 160gsm paper 25″ × 30.5″. Exhibited at Bay of Islands Arts Festival Exhibition Kerikeri NZ 1998 (invited artist). Sold to a collector from Whangarei NZ.
For more details about the artwork and products, click on the images.
Forests are a big thing for me, maybe because I now live as close to one as it gets. Born in a city, raised in cities (London, Aberdeen, Harare), I didn’t really become acquainted with forests until, while working in a city-bound office environment in NZ, I was invited by a colleague to go ‘walking’ (or ‘tramping’ as we call it).
That introduced me not only to forests, but also to the joys of open rolling hills in a landscape geologically young enough to be steep and furrowed and very revealing of the processes that formed it.
The Wellington Region is not a gentle landscape. Referred to by Dr Graeme Stevens as ‘Rugged Landscape’ in his brilliant book of the same name, the Wellington area has been battered, uplifted and twisted by the forces of plate tectonics and carved by forceful streams and rivers to create one of the most challenging and underestimated mountain environments in New Zealand. The central part of that is called the Tararua Ranges.
In this setting can be found forests of unusual beauty – some of them stunning enough to feature on the big screen as the Elven land of Rivendell and the mysterious forests of the Shire.
Lush and species-rich in the valleys and low-lying plains, these forests change character completely at altitude, becoming short, stunted beech forests struggling for existence at about 3,500′, boughs loaded with snow in the winter months and tossed by strong winds at any time of year.
This artwork came upon me out of nowhere. Sights and impressions imprint themselves on brain and memory, to be reborn at some later date, often without effort. When that happens, magic often occurs – and exactly where the inspiration came from often remains a mystery.
I now live tucked under the remnant of a volcano standing on protected, forested land in the tropical far north of NZ. A slightly different forest again, this – yet still exerting that enthralling pull of nature that living trees generate as they populate the spaces we have frugally left to them, in these days of modern technology and ‘civilization’ run riot.
Trees have much to offer spiritually as well as physically. I guess early man knew that instinctively, but it is something we are only now coming to fully realize again, thanks to foresters and scientists who are not afraid to think and speak outside the box. May this re-awakening not be too late.
For more details about the artwork and products, click on the images.
Mixed media artwork, around an acrylic painting Inspired by a glimpse from a train.
In my days working for government in Wellington, I used to come north at Christmas to visit my parents on the land where I now live. At first, travel by train was the only option I could afford, and the best option was the famous night train between Wellington and Auckland – ‘the Limited’.
On the return journey, I always awoke in time to see the majestic Rangitikei River with its sheer vertical ‘papa’ (mudstone) cliffs laid out below, as the train skirted the river’s course on high-slung viaducts. Truly spectacular!
There was another far less flamboyant vision that I always looked out for, though. As the train approached the northern end of the Tararua Ranges it was possible, if one kept one’s eyes peeled and the weather was favorable, to catch a peep into the mountainous interior of the Tararuas through a cleft in the hills.
One day, I kept my eyes peeled AND had a camera at the ready. The resulting Instamatic photograph, and several years of inspiration, formed the basis of this painting.
Spring showers in the Northern Tararua Ranges cloak the hillsides as the musterers and their dogs bring home the flock. Behind is a magical glimpse into the interior of the northern end of the Tararua mountains.
Based on an acrylic painting on canvas board, amplified with vector in Macromedia Fireworks MX.
For more details, click on the image.
Books about hunting – especially the anecdotal kind – frequently contain stories about mighty stags that were hunted by many men without success. Invariably they disappeared without trace – only to be seen again during the roar (rut) by the light of the full moon.
One can imagine these apparitions and the stir such a sighting would have caused among local hunters. No doubt the stories were told and retold around many a fire, especially in the old days when deer were more common (in New Zealand, anyway). In those days hunting was a regular pastime and passion – even for deer cullers who often complained of long weeks of loneliness in the bush, with bad weather thrown in to boot.
It is hard not to experience a shiver of excitement at the thought of a mighty stag who eluded all the hunters and who still stalks the night skies when the hinds are on heat and the moon is full.
Acrylic on Arches Dessein art paper, 160gsm 11.25″x 13.25″
For more details, click on the images. I have reduced the chroma on the tees, Graphic Tee and Backpack – more suitable color for males.
The Tui is one of New Zealand’s most iconic birds. Sharp, smart and vocal, he can be found in forest, open coppice country, parks and gardens. He is the largest of our honey eaters, his long, curving beak ideal for reaching into the throats of flowers of all kinds.
The Tui has 2 voice boxes – one attached to each lung – and he can produce an amazing variety of sounds in fast succession and overlapping one another. These sounds include carillion calls, sneezes, bursts of song and explosive ejaculations that are completely beyond description.
He is a mimic, and can be taught to talk, as the Maori soon discovered. His flight is fast and he flies in short, energetic bursts, punctuated by a drumming sound produced by a notch in the front of the 8th flight feather of each wing. You can certainly hear him coming!
The use of the term ‘friends’ here is euphemistic. The Tui is a dominant bird, highly protective of his nesting sites and food sources. Because at this stage I have no bird feeders here, I don’t know what the pecking order is between the Tui and the imported Indian Mynah (a rather forceful bird), but I suspect the Tui has the edge.
This is part of one of the 36 illustrations I painted for the book Taketakerau The Millennium Tree published in 2012. The whole picture shows a Maori and his young son exploring the forest on arrival in Aotearoa.
The birds shown here are completely fearless of the strange beings invading their world. But since birds soon became a major source of food for the Maori immigrants, that situation did not last for long!
The birds in the picture are – Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) in the centre and around him, anticlockwise from the top right, Fantail, piwakawaka (Rhipidura fulginosa); Grey warbler, riroriro (Gerygone igata); Tit, miromiro (Petroica macrocephala); North Island Robin, toutouwai (Petroica australis).
The tree is the Shining Broadleaf (Griselinia lucida), often found as an epiphyte on larger forest trees.
For more details about this picture, c;lick on the image – and check out the remainder of the book illustrations at Taketakerau.com .
I painted this work over Christmas 1979/80. It was a time of great changes to come in my life, though I didn’t know it then. I was on a long Christmas vacation, having completed 3 units of science at Uni that year, and having decided science was not going to be my future.
I knew I would return to Wellington, but in what capacity I had no idea: I had no job. Meantime there was a long holiday spell to concentrate on art.
I painted 3 major pieces that Christmas and created a number of smaller works and some drawings. I put the drawings up for sale in a small local gallery and they sold immediately.
My father, who had always been my art mentor, disliked this painting intensely, and soon let me know it. I dug in my heels and carried on with it, and in January entered this piece and 2 other works into the Bay Of Islands New Year Art Exhibition in Paihia. Two were for sale – this one and Unfolding Fern Kiokio . The third one was The Sacred Place . They all passed the jury examination and the two pieces on sale sold during the exhibition.
So much for that!
I returned to Wellington and by an amazing turn of circumstances, within a couple of months I was full time National Secretary of the NZ Deerstalkers Association, with over 40 branches nationwide. a 7 man national executive that met quarterly and a large scale annual conference. I’d been involved with them for several years. Looking back, it was the happiest time of my life in a job. However –
During my first year there, my father was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia.
It’s a long way from Kaeo to Wellington (about 600 ml), so 18 months later I went back into law and moved north to Hamilton as regional solicitor for my former employer the ACC. This move was not an entirely happy one, but at least I saw more of my folks.
My dad died in August 1985 and that Christmas my mom and I came up here to get this place ready to put on the market. He had said we would have to sell the property and with the half-finished house which they had been building, he foretold we wouldn’t get much for it… It was a sad time.
But by Christmas, we had decided NOT to sell up!
I couldn’t bear the idea and nor could my mom. A huge load lifted in our spirits, because we both loved the property dearly. We did our sums and got a builder in to finish the house (drama, drama) and while my mom stayed here, I completed the lecturing contract I now had with the Waikato Polytechnic (Business Law for the NZ Society of Accountants’ qualification), visiting at weekends as much as I could.
By Christmas 1986 I was back up here to stay. The distance from this place to the New Zealand I had been used to is a bit daunting, but several attempts I’ve made to move have come to naught, so this must be where I am meant to be.
Christmas is always a time of great memories for me here.
Kathleen and the building on a sunny autumn day in 1986.
For more details on the work and to see products, click on the image.
Geology and the passage of time…
The volcano that once existed here is sleeping now. The scorching fires have long since died away, and the battered earth has drawn a cloak of golden grass across its scars.
The subterranean pipes that carried searing hot magma from the earth’s fiery core remain: embraced now by powerful, living roots that grip and swell around them.
Where once a crater stood, a wild tree grows. Tucked away in bolt-holes far below, by day the kiwi sleep.
Yes, there are 2 of them there – for those who care to seek!
Acrylic on Arches Dessein 120 gsm art paper, 19″x 25″.
For more details, prints and products, click on the images.
A few days ago, I cut down a heap of understorey bush known as kawakawa or pepper tree (Macropiper excelsum) and threw it in where the sheep were grazing, to be burnt when the time comes.
It is aromatic and very hot to the taste. I soon discovered the sheep will eat it – not entirely surprising because when I had my neighbor’s cattle in here some years ago, they also ate it.
It was highly regarded by the Maori people as a remedy both external and internal for many ailments – abdominal pains (especially digestive), rheumatic pains, toothache, kidney, bladder and urinary complaints, and as a blood purifier. As a poultice it was used for boils, bruises, eczema, toothache and badly infected wounds. In her book ‘Medicines of the Maori‘, Christina Macdonald cites a case that she knew personally of an old man who bound up the nearly-severed top of one of his fingers with kawakawa leaves – and the finger healed quite easily.
When used in steam baths, the effect was “stimulating, exciting the salivary glands, kidneys and bowels”.
Many Maori people still use it today, and I boiled up some leaves to try it as a drink – much more mild, warm, and pleasant-tasting than I had expected: definitely added to the ‘drink more often’ list! I’m about to try making a healing ointment out of it, too.
Branches were burned by the Maori to keep away insects from rows of sweet potato seedlings, and more recently by explorers, surveyors and hunters to keep mosquitoes and sandflies out of their camps. One asks – why are we messing with deadly chemicals when the Creator has made this stuff available to us? (And we all know the answer to that.)
The leaves of this plant are invariably covered with shotholes, and when I was illustrating ‘Taketakerau The Millennium Tree‘ I finally found out (after quite a bit of hunting) that these holes are caused by the nocturnal caterpillars of the Kawakawa Looper moth (Cleora scriptaria). You will find if you research it, that many people can tell you the holes are caused by caterpillars (big deal!), but it was hard in 2011 to find a source that would actually identify the species. There are far more illustrations of Cleora scriptaria on the net now.
Needless to say, though I’m surrounded by this stuff, I’ve never seen either a moth or a caterpillar in daylight. When I did the artwork for the book, I took the liberty of painting the moth on the leaves of the plant, in the subdued light of a storm.
Many people have commented how appropriate the use of this plant is for a painting entitled ‘Endurance’ that reflects on the long life and turbulent times of a tree now more than 2016 years old. See also http://taketakerau.com/painting32.html
Acrylic on Bainbridge board 15″ x 20″.
For prints, products and more details, click on the images.
Yachts off the coast in the heat of a Far North summer’s day. But there’s a bit of a breeze and all the boaties are reveling in being out on the water.
This scene could be in many places, though the red tree blossoms give a clue. These are pohutukawa trees – our NZ Christmas tree that flowers in the summer, from the Far North to the Bay of Plenty.
As you can see, there are 2 rocks (called Arrow Rocks) sticking out of the ocean in this bay, and over recent years they have become an important scientific resource for geologists, because the span of geological time covered in these rocks is unique.
A news report in 2010 stated, “There are not many places on Earth where geologists can study a sequence of rocks spanning the Permian and Triassic periods. So it is little wonder that they keep returning to Arrow Rocks near Tauranga Bay. The island has fossils and sediments which date between 252 million and 292 million years ago and have the potential to offer clues about the planet’s biggest species extinction event.”
Japanese geologists realized the scientific importance of Arrow Rocks in 1999 and visit annually accompanied these days by scientists from the NZ Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences.
This painting is available as prints and on other products.
For more details, click on the image. Enjoy!
While on the subject of summer and the sea, here’s another Mighty Wallet design I’ve just released – Dolphin Fantasy, which shows 3 Dolphins flying through the air above a distant rural landscape / seascape.
This work started life as a wet-on wet acrylic, and after it dried I added the dolphins. I had been reading a book about dolphins, and that, plus frequent reports of the many pods that circle our coastline and visit holidaymakers and tourist boats, inspired this work.
As the painting came together, I realized these dolphins were in fact having fun far above the sea and land, and that added the extra spice of fantasy to this artwork.
For more details, click on the image.
In the sidebar I have a link to the original artwork on Society6, where it is available as prints, iPhone cases, cushions and many more products.
This artwork inspired a design for a Dynomighty Mighty Wallet that’s most appropriate for the approaching Northern Hemisphere summer.
The location is on the coast about 20 miles north of here – a very picturesque fishing village where the street runs alongside the retaining wall above the beach.
Mature pohutukawa trees line the roadside, and cars can park in their shade and enjoy the vista of yachts anchored in the harbor and fishing boats going to and fro the adjacent wharf.
For more details about prints, products and the Mighty Wallet, click on the image above.
Have a great summer!
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 !
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.
As you’ll see from my previous post, this is ‘Home’, and the painting – acrylic on canvas card – has been nagging me for several years to get completed.
With all of these things, it doesn’t do to rush if the inspiration isn’t forthcoming. When the right thing isn’t suggesting itself, it’s best to leave well alone, because you can guarantee that in due course, it will.
Come to think of it, that’s a really good piece of advice for life generally – in other words, “Don’t Force It!”
The parakeets in the picture are kakariki – NZ red-crested parakeets, and putting them here is somewhat anachronistic, because we no longer have them up in the north. We do have Australian Rosella parakeets though, very brightly colored, noisy and not endemic. So I thought I’d use a bit of artistic licence…
The larger birds are one of my favorites – the kereru or NZ Native Pigeon. These had become rather scarce in the Far North due to human predation (even though they ARE protected) and the fact that a pair produces only one offspring a year – but I’m glad to say that since I’ve been letting the bush come back on my top paddocks, birdlife is increasing, and I’m seeing and hearing more kereru on the place all the time.
See also my earlier post and artwork ‘Flight of The Kukupa‘.
The mountains of the Central North Island Plateau (Tongariro National Park) have had a place in my heart since the mid 1970’s. This majestic wilderness landscape is now part of a Dual Status World Heritage Site – a status that recognises the park’s important Maori spiritual/cultural associations as well as its outstanding volcanic features.
I spent time on the Plateau on several occasions in the 70’s, travelling up from Wellington and staying in one or another of the DOC and Club huts around the mountains. I’ve painted, walked and beginner ski’d up there and the mystery, power and spirituality of the location have never left me in all the years since I moved away from Wellington.
At about 9000′ above sea level, this location is the summit of the North Island. All around, the land falls away, and the quality of light and clarity of the air have a huge spiritual impact, even aside from the wonderful scatter of volcanic peaks and craters that makes up the topography of the plateau itself.
As it happens, in June 2013 I took my first flight in many years from Kerikeri via Auckland to Christchurch to attend the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards ceremony. By some miracle, I managed to get a glimpse of the snow-clad peak of Mt Ngauruhoe standing out from the sea of white cloud, on the other side of the plane as we passed over the Plateau. It was a sad, fleeting moment: I now live at the northernmost end of the North Island, about 450 miles away…
I should state clearly that I love the place where I live now (above) – about 10 acres on a hillside below yet another volcanic outcrop. My parents bought it in 1970, I visited regularly and worked with them on the land, and since 1987 I have lived here. However, the winter of 2014 (June-August) turned out prolonged and very wet, and all of a sudden I realised that the time has come for me to move. I need less land, less humidity and a new adventure.
But where to go? Not just anywhere will do! It wasn’t very long before that answer came.
By chance in September 2014 as I was idly glancing through a travel supplement to the NZ Herald, I saw an article about Ohakune – a small town on the main trunk line about 12 miles south-west of Mt Ruapehu as the crow flies. It services one of Mt Ruapehu’s skifields – Turoa. I visited it years ago, and was intrigued to read how the town has developed since. Some Internet research followed and I am now working through the major task of preparing myself to move. It will probably take a little time for me to pull this off, but the promise of being back near those mountains will ease the regrets I’m likely to have about leaving my present home.
Being up on the volcanoes of the Central North Island Plateau gives one a feeling of being on top of the world.
All around the land falls away – one is literally on the top of the North Island and in good weather there is a bracing quality of light and clarity in the air that is hard to describe, except to say that it is unforgettable.
This is a view of a natural vent on the side of Mount Ruapehu just below the crater’s edge that was thought to keep the waters and mud in the lake from building pressure and breaching the lake walls.
However, on Christmas Eve 1953 part of the lake wall collapsed from the volume of water and mud behind it, and the resulting lahar swept away a rail bridge in the valley below minutes before the night train from Wellington to Auckland crossed the bridge – with disastrous results.
Our Geological Survey now has the lake closely monitored. Recently, another blowout (which had in fact been forecast) hit Dome Shelter just below the lake where two young men had stopped for the night, and they were lucky to escape with their lives.
As I painted this, I thought of what it must have been like for the early explorers to discover these wilderness places, with all their eerie ‘presence’ and power. In the final year of my law studies, part of my work involved searching titles in the Land Transfer Office – in the days of physical not computer searches, and I’d had the honour of holding in my hands some original survey field notebooks from NZ’s early surveyors, many of whom were also gifted artists.
So a painting that started off as an exploration of some fascinating topography, came to contain so much more.
Acrylic on canvas board 25 × 30in.
Just a brief post about another antecedent to “The Journey“.
Back when I lived in Hamilton, I painted a very loose watercolor-style acrylic of Mt Ruapehu from those photos I took at Mangaturuturu Hut – and looking at it again, I realise this actually formed an even closer antecedent to the Journey 1 painting in my previous post.
The picture sold very quickly, and I now have only a very small photo of it left, which I’ve had to work on somewhat to make it presentable for the net.
In fact, the last time I exhibited was in 2000, before my mother began to get really sick.
To coincide with Matariki – or the rising of the Pleiades (more later), some really enterprising locals held an art exhibition in our small town in late June 2015 – the first local art show ever, I think.
Having gone through the initial panic of ‘nothing to wear’, which for an artist translates as, “Help! I’ve got nothing that’s ready to be hung” (like: not framed, no fixings, not quite finished etc etc), I managed to dredge up 7 pieces.
One of which was “The Journey 1” – intended as the start of a new series and just recently finished:
The inspiration for this picture goes back to my days in government in Wellington, to a long weekend in 1975 when a friend and I took a workmate up to Mangaturuturu Hut on Mount Ruapehu.
At about 4pm, the mountain (given the right weather conditions) turns a magnificent shade of pink. I took the photos below from the hut and I used them as a reference for this work, along with an old shot of Peter, taken in the Kaimanawas by one of his mates, as an inspiration for the pose of the figure.
Peter, who is still in Wellington, often says he needs to go in the hills from time to time to get ‘grounded’ – which is part of what this painting is about. Maybe I don’t need to ‘connect’ so much now, because I live on the edge of a bush reserve, but I DO miss those mountains.
And the big bag (which you’ll note isn’t a tramping or hiking backpack) is there for a purpose.
Billy Joel’s ‘River Of Dreams’ has relevance here, too:
See also my follow-up post ‘Ruapehu Sunset‘.
However, to pick up the threads, on Sunday 23 June 2013 I flew down to Christchurch for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards ceremony on the evening of the 24th.
And something significant happened on that journey. As our Boeing (the black Dreamliner 787-9) flew in brilliant sunshine across the Central North Island Plateau, notwithstanding that my seat was on the wrong side of the plane, I somehow managed to catch a glimpse of the summit of a snow-clad Mt Ngauruhoe peeking out from the sea of white cloud, as it disappeared on the port side.
THAT tugged on my heart, but – ah well, let it go? There’s not a lot you can do at 45,000 feet?
Is there? Unknown to me, there was to be a sequel …
We were late touching down in Christchurch, and Peter and Marnie Anstis were already there – great to see and catch up with them again. The ceremony on the following night was a wonderful experience. ‘Taketakerau The Millennium Tree‘ didn’t win, or get placed in any of the categories, but just to be there and to be selected among the 20 finalists was very exciting.
And there were other perks. An old friend from tramping days took me over to Lyttelton to see the post-earthquake recovery there, and get a glimpse of the Port Hills. Next morning Peter and Marnie invited me to go with them for a look at the awful devastation in the center of Christchurch itself, followed by a quick lunch at the airport before we took off on our flights home.
Then unexpectedly, in August I was co-opted onto our local Health Services Trust, and in November 2013 became Interim Joint CEO for the Service – a 6 months’ stint.
Trust affairs continued to impinge far too much on my life until I resigned altogether in March last, and finally disentangled myself a couple of months later.
And as for Mt Ngauruhoe – watch this space – HERE!