Looking Forwards

In 1960 the McCahons moved from Titirangi into the city, where they lived first in Partridge Street, Arch Hill, and later in Crummer Street, Grey Lynn.

After a fallow period, McCahon began painting again in 1961 in a significantly different style—though one which was anticipated by some of the later Titirangi works. The black and white geometrical abstractions of the Gate series, as in Gates 1 and 10, Here I Give Thanks to Mondrian, Gate, Waioneke, The third Bellini Madonna and How is the Hammer Broken (all 1961) are illustrative of various aspects of the new direction.  The ‘gate’ symbolism was connected with McCahon’s sense of the need to get past certain barriers, some aesthetic, some personal and some social and political. The aesthetic barriers largely involved the problem of abstraction as posed for contemporary painters to an extreme degree by the work of Mondrian which McCahon had been so impressed by in America.


Gate 1 

Gate 1

Date: 1961
Medium: oil
Dimensions: 855mm x 933mm
Collection: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

Of the work Here I give thanks to Mondrian McCahon wrote in 1969, giving an explicit account of how his move from Titirangi had affected his painting:

Not long before this picture was painted the family left our house in Titirangi to come and live in the city; that is at our present home in Partridge Street. The painting reflects the change I felt in shifting from Titirangi with its thick native bush and the view of French Bay to that of the urban environment.  This picture belongs to a whole lot of paintings that were, believe it or not, based on the landscape I saw through the bedroom window. This also applies to the Gate paintings and it shows the remarkable change that happened in my paintings from what I had been doing in Titirangi. The one work, or should I say series, that links these two sets of paintings is The Wake which was painted at night at the Art Gallery in what later became Les Lloyd’s conservation studio. (Auckland City Art Gallery Quarterly, No. 44, 1969, p. 13)

In his notes for the 1972 survey exhibition McCahon added some further details:

Here [Partridge Street] I  painted firstly in a little shed in the back yard—and a hell of a lot of work was produced there (the worse the conditions the better the work). I experimented firstly with compositions based on paintings by Giovanni Bellini; these were followed by the ones shown here [Here I Give thanks to Mondrian and paintings from the Gate series]. Mondrian, it seemed to me, came up in this century as a great barrier—the painting to END all painting. As a painter, how do you get around either a Michelangelo or a Mondrian. It seems that the only way is not more ‘masking-tape’ but more involvement in the human situation.(a survey, p. 28)

McCahon’s restless experimentalism and his on-going concern with finding new painterly ways of articulating the human situation would lead to many new directions and to growing mastery of means over the next two decades of his great career.

« Farewell to Titirangi 1959