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The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy

Opens Whangarei Art Museum Te Manawa Toi

17 February – 20 April 2014

The Whangarei Art Museum will be hosting the national touring exhibition The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy, curated by leading art critic, curator, and poet Gregory O’Brien ONZM, showcasing the charmingly anarchic illustrations of this well-respected but little-known artist.

In 2012 O’Brien was the recipient of the Arts Foundation Laureate Award marking a pivotal moment in his career. At the start of the New Year 2014, Gregory O’Brien was among the distinguished recipients to be made a Member of the Order of Merit in recognition of his services to the arts.

O’Brien worked as a journalist in Northland before entering Auckland University to study art history and English. His significant contribution to literature was acknowledged in 2012 when he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for Non-Fiction. His recent publications include A Micronaut in the Wide World: The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy (2011) and a monograph of NZ artist Pat Hanly (2012), both of which are available to view in the gallery.

Graham Percy

‘A micronaut in the wide world' the imaginative life and times of Graham Percy’ rediscovers the life and work of one of New Zealand’s most talented and original artists. Percy left this country in the mid-1960s and became a hugely respected artist/illustrator/typographer overseas, while at the same time producing a remarkable body of his own independent art.

This exhibition, and the major publication that accompanies it, celebrates Percy’s achievement as a published illustrator as well as bringing to light a significant body of work never seen before.

His works are held in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland, yet—since his early years in Auckland--they have never been exhibited publicly in New Zealand.

Born in Stratford in 1939, Graham Percy studied at Elam School of Fine Arts before embarking on a career as an illustrator/designer/artist. A contemporary of Greer Twiss, Don Binney, Mervyn Williams and Hamish Keith, Percy was taught by Robert Ellis and Michael Nicholson. Percy was a pivotal figure in the design and illustration of the New Zealand School Journal in the early 1960s, before transplanting to London, where he illustrated over 100 books. His art appeared in John Berger’s groundbreaking television series and book, Ways of Seeing (1972). In 1994, Chronicle Books (San Francisco) published a book of his drawings (for an adult readership), Arthouse. In 2007, a recent series of his drawings, ‘Imagined Histories’ was published in the United Kingdom.

In recent years, the art of Graham Percy has featured in a number of New Zealand publications, notably Cover Up –the art of the book cover in New Zealand, by Hamish Thompson (Random House 2007), which included his well-known covers for such iconic books as The End of the Golden Weather and The Pohutukawa Tree. Percy’s art is a major presence in A Nest of Singing Birds; 100 Years of the New Zealand School Journal, by Gregory O’Brien (Learning Media, 2007) and his art also featured in O’Brien’s Back and Beyond—New Zealand Painting for the Young and Curious (Auckland University Press, 2008).

Like the work of all the great illustrators, Percy’s drawings communicate on many levels—they engage intellectually as well as emotionally. They can be playful and profound at the same time. Although Percy lived for the past forty years in London, his works are often gloriously (and refreshingly) New Zealand-centred. They are a singular playing out of the expatriate condition—they can be funny, touching, insightful, occasionally alarming, but always utterly engaging.

The exhibition and publication will also be a paean to the art of drawing, to the exquisite beauty of the hand-drawn line, to the ink pen and the lead pencil.

The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy is curated and developed by Gregory O’Brien in partnership with Exhibition Services Tours, in association with City Gallery Wellington and Gus Fisher Gallery, The University of Auckland. All artworks courtesy of the Graham Percy Family Trust.


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