Colin McCAHON, Muriwai. Necessary protection Enlarge 1 /1

Colin McCAHON

Timaru, New Zealand 1919 – Auckland, New Zealand 1987

Muriwai. Necessary protection 1972 Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on composition board

Primary Insc: signed and dated by the artist, in black synthetic polymer paint, lower left, ‘McCahon Feb. ’72 MURIWAI’ and lower right, ‘NECESSARY PROTECTION’.
Secondary Insc: inscribed to verso, 'four'
Dimensions: 60.8 h x 81.2 w cm
Acknowledgement: Jane Flecknoe Bequest 2013
Accession No: NGA 2013.68

Colin McCahon, one of New Zealand's most significant artists, painted works of great subtlety and power. A striking example of this is Muriwai. Necessary protection 1972, a work informed by layers of meaning and association. Part of the series Necessary protection, the work relates to the idea of landscape as symbol. Painted at Muriwai, where McCahon had a studio close to the beach, the idea of protection relates to the environment, wildlife and his inner search for meaning.

Muriwai. Necessary protection was included in the exhibition Colin McCahon: a question of faith. As noted in the accompanying publication, McCahon feared the impact of tourism on an area that he described in 1971 as 'wild…empty and utterly beautiful. This is, after all, the coast the Maori souls pass over on their way from life to death—to Spirits Bay…' He was also interested in a colony of native gannets—risk-taking birds whose chicks, although nurtured and protected by their parents, plunge off tall cliffs to learn how to fly.

The abstracted landscape of light and dark suggests high cliffs and the perilous leap between the two. The passage of white luminosity also recalls McCahon's use of text: the 'T' relates to the Tau cross and the bright sky and watery landscape below forms an 'I', perhaps referring to the questions of individual doubt and revelation of the 'I AM' in McCahon's major Victory over death 2 1970, also painted at Muriwai and a gift to the National Gallery of Australia from the New Zealand Government in 1978.

Muriwai. Necessary protection was bequeathed to the Gallery by the late Jane Flecknoe, who was born in New Zealand and arrived in Canberra in 1958. She was a great supporter of modern and contemporary art from our region. Her generous bequest is both a poetic statement and valuable addition to the collection.

Deborah Hart Senior Curator, Australian Painting and Sculpture post 1920


in artonview, issue 74, Winter 2013

Muriwai. Necessary protection was painted by the great New Zealand artist Colin McCahon as a response to the threat of environmental destruction which tourism presented to the 'wild … empty and utterly beautiful’ Muriwai area where he lived and worked. As he noted just before completing this picture, ‘this, after all, [is] the coast the Maori souls pass over on their way from life to death – to Spirits Bay'. The abstracted landscape of light and dark recalls the high cliffs of the area.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra