New Zealand Artist: Colin McCahon

Colin McCahon (1919-1987) is one of New Zealand’s most prominent artists. He was one of a group of artists who introduced Modernism into New Zealand, and is perhaps best-known for his large-scale works, often in muted, earthy tones or shades of black, white, and grey, which layered text over a background image.

McCahon Urewera Mural 1976
Colin McCahon, Urewera Mural, 1976

McCahon The Angel of the Annunciation 1947
Colin McCahon, The Angel of the Annunciation, 1947

Although he never joined a church, McCahon was spiritual and often drew on the Christian tradition in his work. Obviously, this approach makes his work appealing to me, but McCahon’s works aren’t designed to preach or lecture but rather to reveal aspects of the artist’s own lived spirituality. In 1997, ten years after his death, his name became a household word in New Zealand when one of his paintings, the ‘Urewera Mural’ was stolen from the reception of a Department of Conservation information centre by a political activist. It was recovered more than a year later, in need of several thousands of dollars’ worth of repair work – although that isn’t really so much when you consider that the painting itself is valued at around $2M NZ.

McCahon Victory Over Death 2 1970
Colin McCahon, Victory Over Death 2, 1970

Today his paintings can be found in galleries across New Zealand.

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