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McCahon French Bay House Ready for Launching


McCahon French Bay House Ready for Launching

Colin McCahon – The Titirangi Years – 1953 – 1959

Exhibition – 25 August – 8 October 2006

After five years of planning and effort the McCahon House Trust is close to completing two major projects designed to honour the achievements of New Zealand’s most significant artist Colin McCahon (1919-87), and especially the years in which he lived in Tititangi, 1953-60.

The first project is the purchase and restoration of the house in Otitori Bay Road, French Bay, where the McCahon family lived from their arrival in Auckland in 1953 until they moved to Grey Lynn in 1960.

The second project is the purchase of land adjacent to the French Bay house, and the construction of a new Pete Bossley-designed residence and studio for housing the recipients of the McCahon Arts Residency, a residency programme for artists. The building will be completed in August 2006.

To mark the completion of these projects the McCahon House Trust and Lopdell House Gallery, Waitakere City’s Regional Art Gallery, will mount a special McCahon exhibition in August: Colin McCahon - The Titirangi Years – 1953 - 1959 at Lopdell House. The Titirangi years are rightly regarded as the watershed of his career. McCahon, who was in his mid-thirties when he moved to Auckland, had previously painted in various parts of the South Island, with an emphasis on landscape and biblical narrative paintings; the very different social and physical environment he encountered in Auckland led to big changes in his practice. At first he focussed on rendering the new landscape of hill, bush and bay he discovered in Titirangi, but later, especially after a career-changing trip to the United States in 1958, his work changed radically again, towards abstract imagery, religious themes, innovative use of text and number, and dramatic changes in scale and medium. All these developments will be reflected in the exhibition.

Curated by Peter Simpson, Head of English at The University of Auckland (curator of two previous McCahon exhibitions and author of Answering Hark: McCahon/ Caselberg: Painter/Poet, 2001) the exhibition will feature important works from each of McCahon’s major series in the period 1953-59, including Towards Auckland, Kauri, Manukau, French Bay, Titirangi, and the Elias series. The centrepiece of the exhibition will be The Wake (1958), McCahon’s largest painting, a huge 16-panel work developed from poems by John Caselberg, which will be presented, as the artist intended, as an installation occupying all four walls of a specially designated room. Other important works included will be Kauri (1953), Kauri Trees (1954), I Am (1954), Titirangi (195-57), Elias Triptych (1959), and Northland Triptych (1959). Works for the exhibition will be lent by important public and private collections including Auckland Art Gallery, The Hocken Library, the Fletcher Trust Collection and the Bank of New Zealand Collection.

The McCahon House Trust, whose patron is the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, has received significant support from the Waitakere City Council who gifted the house and land (including the adjacent section) to the Trust. Other major support has come from the Sky City Auckland Community Trust, the ASB Trusts and the Portage Licensing Trust.

The McCahon House is a modest structure located in the kauri forest over-looking French Bay. Colin McCahon himself made several alterations to the tiny bach to accommodate the needs of his growing family. For instance, he added additional sleeping spaces, and built a deck, on which the famous Northland Panels (1958) were painted and many parties held for the McCahons and their friends. Fortunately the house was little altered by its subsequent owner and has been preserved in much the state that it was in when Colin and Anne McCahon and their four children lived there. Graham Burgess of Burgess & Treep Architects is responsible for the restoration, while Rick Pearson of Pearson & Associates created the interpretive displays inside the house. While far from being an architectural masterpiece, the McCahon House is a highly typical piece of vernacular building of the period, and also an indication of the simplicity and inconvenience of life-style experienced by the artist and his family in that era. The house will be open to the public during specified hours and through a programme of education visits run by Lopdell House Gallery.

Colin McCahon was a great teacher even before he took a position at Elam School of Art and the Trust felt that an appropriate way of honouring him was to provide a residency from which other artists could benefit. The acquisition of land next door to the French Bay House meant that a studio and residence could be built so that the residents could experience the unique natural environment in which McCahon had worked, without impinging on the authenticity of the original dwelling. Pete Bossley won a competition held for design of the building and came up with a stunning proposal, beautifully integrated with the bush landscape. (Images can be found on the website mentioned below.) Residencies will be based on a three-month term but from time to time may be awarded for a longer period. Outstanding emerging and mid career professional artists will be eligible.

The first two artists have just been announced. Judy Millar will take up the inaugural residency in December 2006, with Andrew McLeod following in April 2007. An exhibition will be held at Lopdell House Gallery at the conclusion of each residency.

The McCahon House Trust is raising funds for an Endowment Fund. Further details are available on the Trust’s website or by contacting the Executive Director, Penny Dever on 817 8087 x 203 email:


The exhibition is proudly sponsored by The Trusts, ASB Trusts, Hesketh Henry and Wattyl Paints.


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