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Peter McLeavey: The life and times of a NZ art dealer

Peter McLeavey: The life and times of a New Zealand art dealer

Jill Trevelyan

Te Papa Press releases new book by awardwinning author Jill Trevelyan, based on ‘the great, untapped source of New Zealand art history’ – the archives of pioneering, charismatic art dealer Peter McLeavey.

Over the past halfcentury, art dealer Peter McLeavey has befriended and championed a who’s who of New Zealand artists and for the first time, he has made his private papers available to awardwinning biographer Jill Trevelyan, author of Rita Angus: An Artist’s Life.

From the rich sources of information in letters, diaries, exhibition files and indepth interviews, Jill Trevelyan has written Peter McLeavey: The life and times of a New Zealand art dealer.

The book offers insights into the artists McLeavey has represented for more than half a century including Colin McCahon, Toss Woollaston, Len Lye, Milan Mrkusich, Michael Smither, Gordon Walters, Michael Illingworth, Don Driver, Robin White, John Reynolds and Yvonne Todd.

Jill Trevelyan says the Peter McLeavey Gallery archive is a previously untapped source of New Zealand art history.

“It's been a privilege to be the first to work through it all. I often felt that I was listening in on conversations between Peter and his artists: Colin McCahon, painting a lament for James K Baxter; Richard Killeen, describing his first groundbreaking cutout works; Robin White, starting afresh in Kiribati after a fire destroyed her home and studio. The archive was full of insights into our artists and their work, and that's what I wanted to capture in this book,” said Jill Trevelyan.

Peter McLeavey’s personal story is remarkable, but in reading it, his contemporaries will recognise common and timeless themes: the religious upbringing, the struggle to be bohemian in smalltown New Zealand, the challenges of marriage and fatherhood, the dilemma of whether to stay or leave New Zealand, and the need to make a mark.

Peter McLeavey says reading the book today, after all these years, he’s surprised at the passion and intensity of many of the letters to and from artists.

“When Jill and I set off four years ago, I felt like one of those 16thcentury explorers discovering a new land. What an adventure it’s been. From the start of the gallery, I didn’t throw anything away – everything from bus tickets, gallery invitations, articles on art, copious correspondence, and 540 foolscap envelopes containing all the material relevant to each exhibition.” The book tells the story of contemporary New Zealand art, through a period of massive change and growth, with Trevelyan offering a fresh and compelling historical account of the birth of the modern art market and New Zealand art.

Te Papa Press Publisher Claire Murdoch says Jill Trevelyan is a subtle and powerful writer able to turn rare archival material into riveting, moving personal histories – as recognised by the thousands of readers who have enjoyed her biographies of our most important artists.

“We are extremely proud to publish Jill’s work. With this book, Jill presents a man and a history that anyone interested in New Zealand’s art, culture or recent past will want to know.”


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