Individual Artists

Between the Lives: Partners in Art by Deborah Shepard

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By Deborah Shepard

This attention-grabbing examine artists and their intimate companions takes 9 famous New Zealand and explores the numerous facets in their lives—particularly how the presence of an inventive significant other or soul mate affects the paintings they produce. Combining the pleasures of gossip with information regarding how those artists have performed their lives, this illuminates some of the topics present in the artists' work, poems, and movies that revolve round their companions and the traces of manufacturing severe artwork in a small and remoted nation. The comprise Gil and Pat Hanly, Colin and Anne McCahon, Sylvia and Peter Siddell, Frances Hodgkins and D. okay. Richmond, James okay. Baxter and Jacquie Sturm, Kendrick Smithyman and Mary Stanley, Rudall and Ramai Hayward, Toss and Edith Woollaston, and Meg and Alister te Ariki Campbell. All advised, 9 painters, six poets, filmmakers, and a photographer are included.

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A letter from Toss to Ursula Bethell of 1938 refers to a painting of Edith’s that had been cut down and used for packaging: ‘The blue water with trees with the book was an old discarded painting that we didn’t like – cut down to fit the book. It was painted by Edith some years ago at St. Clair. ’27 Much could be made of the image of the male artist cutting up his wife’s work, and Toss did tend to regard Edith as a hobbyist rather than a serious painter. But within these limits he was not unsympathetic to her work.

Four children born in fewer than six years is a daunting challenge to any parent, but for Anne the situation spelt doom for her painting. Early in 1948, McCahon had moved to Christchurch to board with Anne’s art school friend Doris Lusk and her husband Dermot Holland, a picture and antique dealer. Later, his family joined him, renting a house in Barbour Street in Linwood. With her domestic responsibilities, Anne could not find the uninterrupted stretches of time and space necessary to paint. A permanent home and financial security were still another five years away, and Anne McCahon was a victim of the times and of her personal circumstances.

For Toss, meanwhile, life was about to change dramatically for the better. In 1966 he quit working for the Rawleigh company and resolved to paint full time. Two years later he had his first exhibition at the Peter McLeavey Gallery in Wellington, the beginning of a thirty-year artist–dealer relationship that would finally allow him to earn a living from painting. Success had been a long time coming, but Toss, then in his late fifties, had the energy and vigour of a much younger man. He would continue to flourish as an artist until well into his eighties.

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