The National Gallery of Australia has long considered New Zealand artist Colin McCahon to be a major figure of regional and international significance. Kauri is an outstanding example of his work of the mid to late 1950s when his interest in aspects of a Cubist approach intermingled with his feeling for place and with an abstract, spiritual dimension.
Kauri is a key work in McCahon’s artistic development in relation to European Modernism, especially the work of Paul Cézanne and Georges Braque (who often used oval formats in his Cubist paintings). McCahon’s interest in this modern approach, or what he described as ‘bright new vision of reality’, came to the fore in the early 1950s, partly inspired by a brief time that he spent in Melbourne as a pupil of Australian artist Mary Cockburn-Mercer, who had experienced Cubism firsthand in Paris.
In the painting the interplay of geometric forms including multiple circles and animated small squares also suggest a spiritual significance— a sacred geometry—in parallel with the work and ideas of Piet Mondrian, whom he admired. At the same time Kauri references the local environment surrounding McCahon’s home after his move to French Bay, Titirangi, a suburb of Auckland. The painting’s vertical and diagonal forms relate to the tall distinctive trunks of Kauri trees towering above the bush surrounding his home. This is a sophisticated painting, a work that references art-historical sources while remaining true to the artist’s personal development and deeply felt experience.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014