When one of our favourite New Zealand designers creates something inspired by one of our favourite New Zealand artists, we want a) to own it and b) to know more. So when Juliette Hogan released a new limited-edition silk cushion this week inspired by the artwork of Colin McCahon, we fan-girled out a little bit then went behind the scenes for chats with both Juliette and Julia Waite, the assistant curator of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki’s very special new exhibition Freedom and Structure: Cubism and New Zealand Art 1930–1960.
PS The cushion are suuuuper limited edition and only available at the Auckland Art Gallery shop or online here.
Hey Juliette, how did this collab come about?
I was approached by Julia Waite who is the curator for this show, as she was familiar with my cubism prints from previous collections, and she wanted to bring a contemporary element into the exhibition.
Your print for the cushion nods to a specific work, can you tell us a little about it and why it inspired you?
I’ve always loved Colin McCahon’s French Bay. The palette is dream-like, I could stare at it for hours. So it only felt natural to work one of my prints to incorporate this palette.
What are some of your favourite art works, contemporary or historical?
Aside from McCahon’s French Bay, one of my all-time favourite pieces is Boatman by Stuart Broughton. It’s a piece I have in my home, it seems to instil a sense of calm. I love Derek Henderson’s photographic work, I have his beautiful image of the main street of Gore hanging by my desk in the workroom.
Hey Julia, could you tell us a little about curating this show?
The exhibition explores the impact of Cubism on New Zealand art and shows how some of New Zealand’s most important modern artists adopted and adapted the style over a roughly 30-year period. This story was waiting to be told and is an important one in relation to the development of abstraction, and modernism, in New Zealand. I’ve been working on the development of this exhibition for a couple of years and it’s been a team effort. I’ve worked closely with some of the artists’ families, and I’ve also located a number of paintings in public and private collections, which has required some travel around New Zealand looking in collections.
Do you have favourite works from the exhibition and why?
One of my favourite works in the exhibition is a small painting by Louise Henderson Untitled (Jerusalem Series) c1957 from the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Its tightly constructed composition and neatly refined geometric forms emit a force and intelligence that is intoxicating.
What defines Cubism and did the same ‘manifesto’ apply to those New Zealand artists who took it on or did it evolve?
There was no real ‘manifesto’ as such, and one of the important narratives running through the exhibition looks at the disparate nature of Cubism in Paris during its early years. An early Cubist, André Lhote, who taught New Zealand artist John Weeks, said, ‘There are a thousand definitions of Cubism, because there are a thousand painters practising it.’
Cubism is significant because it provided the critical break from traditional modes of representation. Its innovations include the disruption of traditional distinctions between form and space, the rejection of perspective and modelling, and the introduction of a multiplicity of viewpoints
How did the collaboration with Juliette come about?
I knew that Juliette had an aesthetic sensibility that is sympathetic to mid-century design, and that she had created some strong prints that show a kind of Cubist-like fracturing of form. I was also aware that fashion had played an important role in communicating ideas about the avant garde and modernism to the public during the early 20th century and I was interested to explore that idea. Creative collaborations can produce a new context for ways of thinking about art.
What are some of your favourite examples of where cubism and fashion have met?
It’s hard to look past Sonia Delaunay Terk’s Simultaneous Dress from 1913.
Colin McCahon, French Bay 1957, oil on canvas, collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, gift of the Friends of the National Art Gallery, 1983
Colin McCahon, French Bay 1957, oil on canvas on board, Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, 1984