Farewell to Titirangi 1959

In October 1959, McCahon painted a work he called The Last Titirangi Landscape. He later commented: ‘This theme was finished, and let me go’ (a survey, p. 27). In fact he did paint a very few more works with Titirangi settings before he moved into the city early in 1960. Among these were Fish Rock and Rocks at French Bay.


The last Titirangi landscape 

The Last Titirangi Landscape

Date: 1959
Medium: oil
Dimensions: 655mm x 573mm

Collection: unavailable


The title of the latter work (dated 15 November 1959) seems to link it with earlier series, but in style they were a new departure, though anticipated in some respects by works like Red Titirangi (1957) and the seemingly abstract and (at the time) radical Painting (1958)—a work which caused much controversy when it was awarded the Hays Prize in 1960; the format—long strips of unstretched canvas— is similar to the Northland panels and The Wake.

Looking back, one might suggest that the Titirangi period saw McCahon transform himself from a regional or national painter to one whose imagery is international or universal. Initially he immersed himself in the new landscape of Titirangi and explored it with great intensity and virtuosity. But after his visit to America McCahon’s art was decisively transformed.

The poet James K Baxter, a close friend of McCahon’s since the 1940s, also had a life-changing visit overseas at much the same time, though Baxter went to Japan and India for six months rather than America. Speaking of his book Howrah Bridge, which contained the poems written in India as well as some earlier work, Baxter said: ‘the first part was written by a man who thought he was a New Zealander; the second part by a man who had become, almost unawares, a member of a bigger, rougher family’ (James K. Baxter, Howrah Bridge, Oxford University Press, 1962, comment on dust wrapper).

In the Titirangi years we can witness Colin McCahon undergoing a similar metamorphosis and transformation, from a man ‘who thought he was a New Zealander’ to ‘ a member of a bigger, rougher family’.


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