The River ­new paintings by Bob Kerr

Published: Tue 11 Oct 2005 10:08 AM
The River ­new paintings by Bob Kerr 22 October ­ 19 November 2005, Idiom Studio, Wellington
Wellington artist Bob Kerr is known for unsettling landscapes in which the past is felt as strongly as the present. One of these appears on the cover of Michael King's Penguin History of New Zealand, and is possibly this country's most widely reproduced artwork.
His latest exhibition, which opens at Wellington's Idiom Studio on 22 October, takes the viewer on a journey up a dark and winding river, deep into the 19th century. "They started out as a series of paintings about the Whanganui River," says Bob, "which turned into everybody's river."
The steep gorges and endless twistings of the Whanganui's middle reaches have been explored by Bob since the age of 16, when he ran his home-made wood and canvas canoe onto a rock just downstream from Taumarunui. Since then he's been down the storied river several times, often with informed companions who could evoke the glory days when the steamer from Whanganui town made a vital link in the Wellington-Auckland transport route.
"I love looking at old photos from those days of river travel," he says, "and also sketching on the river. Making sketches while going down a rapid backwards gives them a lively, abstract quality."
The results are a strong series of deeply shadowed riverscapes, sometimes showing lonely Pakeha figures poling or paddling their way into unknown waters. They seem out of place but determined, as ill-equipped for the conditions as the 16-year-old Bob on his first river expedition.
For Bob Kerr, the dark chasm of the Whanganui and our other arterial rivers are places where the Maori and Pakeha worlds are forced to meet. His scenes of this visually rich yet constricted setting are like postcards from a journey to our shared past.

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