For this screen showcase of NZ visual arts talent, critic Mark Amery selects his top documentaries profiling artists. From the icons (Hotere, McCahon, Lye) to the unheralded (Edith Collier) to Takis the Greek, each portrait shines light on the person behind the canvas. "Naturally inquisitive, with an open wonder about the world, they make for inspiring onscreen company."
Directed by Sam Pillsbury, this 1974 film observes Ralph Hotere — one of New Zealand’s greatest artists — at a moment when excitement is gathering about his work. Lauded as a “classic” by Ian Wedde, the documentary is framed around the execution of a watershed piece: a large mural Hotere was commissioned to paint for Hamilton’s Founders Theatre. Interviews with friends and associates — poets Hone Tuwhare and Bill Manhire, art critics, officials and dealers — are intercut with fascinating shots of Hotere working (including making art by photocopying or 'xerography').
This documentary looks at the life and work of New Zealand's most celebrated painter, Colin McCahon. The first excerpt looks at McCahon's beginnings in Timaru and Dunedin, and his explorations of modernist techniques in paintings that reconceived 'the promised land' in an endemic landscape. The second excerpt covers McCahon's time in Muriwai in the 60s and 70s, and the influence of the environment and Māori spirituality on his work. Sam Neill reads from McCahon's letters and writings. Directed by Paul Swadel, it won best documentary at the 2005 Qantas Awards.
From the late 1980s, Gretchen Albrecht's richly-coloured large abstract paintings made her reputation in New Zealand. This documentary (made for TV One's Artsville series) traces the development of Albrecht's work from her art school years, through to a developing interest in sculpture. Interspersed with commentary from family, collectors, writers, and art historians, Albretcht discusses her life, and the ideas and influences that inform her work. In the studio, her working methods are revealed as she is capturing creating new work.
This documentary looks at the life of neglected painter Edith Collier. Whanganui-bred Collier left for London in her late 20s to study art; her painting flourished, experimenting with modernism alongside fellow expat Frances Hodgkins. She returned home after World War I to family duty, and ridicule for her art (her disgusted father set fire to her nudes). Interviews with her biographer and family, and shots of her work, make for a poignant biography of a (curtailed) artistic life. Listener reviewer Helene Wong called it “affecting viewing, with a sense of discovery”.
Flip & Two Twisters is Shirley Horrocks' documentary about New Zealand-born artist Len Lye. Motion maestro Lye's international reputation rests on his work as a filmmaker and kinetic sculptor, and his lively contributions to the London and New York avant-garde. The documentary explores Lye's career and ideas, with the help of historical footage and excerpts from his films. It includes footage of Lye in typically exuberant form outlining his process, introduces many of his kinetic works, and documents how some of his most ambitious plans are being realised in New Zealand.
Ever wondered why artist Peter Peryer photographed himself holding a chicken? This film provides the answer. It profiles Peryer, one of New Zealand's most significant, and intriguing, art photographers. Directed by Greg Stitt, the documentary traces the development of Peryer's work - from "crucified Christ to laughing Buddha" - through Catholic themes to a more minimalist approach. It explores the importance of the idea in his work; and shows some of his captivating images - the "bodies of work, families of photos, and images that rhyme".
Director Stewart Main talked to artist Pat Hanly about life as painter and activist for 1998 documentary Pacific Ikon, from which this excerpt is taken. Interviewed at his Mt Eden home, Hanly discusses his painting career and inspirations — both political and personal. Also interviewed are his wife Gil, who supported him personally and financially, and children Ben, Tamsin and Amber. Like his work, Hanly is ebullient, energetic and articulate, At one point he says: "We are awaiting death with interested anticipation. Some of my best friends are dead." Hanley died in September 2004.
John Reynolds is one of New Zealand's most talked-about contemporary artists. His diverse practice takes in painting, photography, clothing, tattooing and landscaping. Director Shirley Horrocks frames the film as a series of questions. The answers reflect Reynold's exuberant personality, his strong family life, his sense of humour, and his adventurous art-making. Following a year in his life, the film observes him as he makes and debuts a work (Cloud) at the 2006 Biennale of Sydney, and takes time out to appear in an episode of bro'Town.
This documentary is a portrait of Wellington art-dealer Peter McLeavey, who spent over 40 years running his influential Cuba Street gallery. In the Leon Narbey-shot film, McLeavey talks about his life: a roving North Island railway childhood, an early love of art, discovering his New Zealand identity while living in London, and returning home to run over 500 plus exhibitions, initially from his flat — including key showcases of artists such as Toss Woollaston, Gordon Walters, and Colin McCahon.
Made on a wind-up Bolex camera, The Sound of Seeing announced the arrival of 21-year-old filmmaker Tony Williams. Based around a painter and a composer wandering the city (and beyond), the film meshes music and imagery to show the duo taking inspiration from their surroundings. The Sound of Seeing served early notice on Williams' editing talents, his love of music, and his dislike of narration. It was also one of the first independently-made titles screened on Kiwi television. Composer/author Robin Maconie later wrote pioneering electronic music.
This BBC2-screened film is a look at the European art world of the late 1960s, and a meditation on the nature of art and the pricing of art, shot by Tony Williams. The origins of this film are suitably cosmopolitan. It was initiated by an Iranian student – and underwritten by Jeremy Fry from Cadbury Fry Hudson. Its focus is Takis, a Greek artist who creates kinetic sculptures out of discarded electronic objects (at times reminiscent of Len Lye’s work), and plans to mass produce cheaper versions of his work to make his art accessible. But will it still be art?