In the 21st century it became hard to separate out painting from other forms of artistic creativity. Virtually all those who painted also made films or took photographs. In his witty portraits of himself Ronnie Van Hout used sculpture, video, painting, photography, embroidery and sound recordings. In that sense, painting was no longer the pre-eminent medium it once was.
Diversity of styles
Those who continued to produce work for hanging on walls inherited and worked within a great range of different styles – abstraction, expressionism and figurative painting, including portraits, still had their following. Landscape was less favoured, except at a popular level, with Karl Maughan’s hyperreal images of gardens the closest avant-garde painters came to that subject.
Perhaps a reflection of this situation was the increasing fascination of painters with the history of their own medium. This could be seen in the works of many.
- John Reynolds continued Colin McCahon’s tradition of using words in art with his paintings of New Zealand words drawn from Harry Orsman’s Dictionary of New Zealand English.
- In several series of prints, including ‘Southern myths’ and ‘The Odyssey of Captain Cook’, Marian McGuire combined visual references to early New Zealand art with classical Greek art and mythology.
- Heather Straka reworked Gottfried Lindauer’s paintings of Māori with modern references.
- Shane Cotton updated Charles Heaphy’s coastal profiles.
- Julian Dashper played with his situation of being an international abstract artist in an isolated country, like his predecessors including Milan Mrkusich.
In this constant referencing of earlier work, New Zealand painters accepted that they could look locally as well as overseas for inspiration. They had a long and rich tradition, in which they could locate themselves.