East And West Meet In Aotearoa: Chris Heaphy To Show New Paintings At Gow Langsford Gallery

Published: Sun 3 Mar 2024 05:29 AM
- Artist Chris Heaphy will present a new series of paintings at Gow Langsford Gallery.
- Titled The First Days in a Strange New Land, the exhibition presents over a dozen works.
- Heaphy is of Māori and European descent, and themes of cultural identity are often present in his work.
- In creating The First Days in a Strange New Land, he has engaged with Eastern and Western art traditions.
“Chris has been working with us for many years. Over that time, his work has gone through several different phases, all of them compelling. Though with these latest paintings, he has really hit his stride.” - Gary Langsford, Director Gow Langsford Gallery
Chris Heaphy has been active as an artist for more than three decades. During that time, he has created a significant body of highly engaging artwork. Visually and conceptually nuanced, his work has examined themes of time, place, and memory. These themes have remained consistent while the artist has moved through several different approaches to image-making.
Alongside Heaphy's profound engagement with his Māori and European heritage – particularly where these cultures overlap, intersect, and sometimes get blurred – he has also had a deep interest in Japanese culture, having spent considerable periods of time in Japan. He acknowledges that Japanese painting has been ‘a lifelong fascination’.
In the works presented in The First Days in a Strange New Land, Heaphy employs birds, feathers, vessels, and silhouetted heads in profile as the primary subject matter. The works tap into local and universal themes, including life, death, the environment, and post-colonial experience.
The vessels in his paintings reference historic Japanese and Chinese ceramics. To Heaphy’s mind, traditional Japanese and Chinese painting is quite pure on one level, though contains a great deal of metaphor. A good example of this is Katsushika Hokusai’s 1831 woodblock The Great Wave off Kanagawa. This image, along with many others, was highly influential on a number of western artists, including Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh. Simply depicting a giant wave, this ukiyo-e print conveys a deep sense of the power and presence of the ocean.
For all of his interest in Japanese art, Heaphy also has many artists he admires from the west, including the abstract paintings of New Zealand artist Gordon Walters and the graphic representational work of British artists Patrick Caulfield and Julian Opie – whose paintings feature drastically pared back linear depictions of objects and people. Further to this, Heaphy’s central motifs are integrated with colourful abstracted backgrounds, which call to mind the abstract squeegee paintings of German post-war painter Gerhard Richter; the colour profiles and treatment of paint have a simpatico with Richter’s.
Irrespective of this range of international association, Heaphy’s paintings have a content focus and aesthetic distinct to contemporary Aotearoa. Viewers will find these works resonate richly with the local cultural context. His use of birds and vessels might also conjure an artistic source from these shores. The late Bill Hammond was famous for his distinctive bird paintings, which often featured urns and other vessels. With Heaphy’s work, as with Hammond’s, the exact meaning of these motifs is open to viewer interpretation. Birds could be protecting, warning, or guiding. They could be read as guardians of the dead or as harbingers of new life.
The exhibition title offers another cue. The First Days in a Strange New Land conjures experiencing a new environment – and the head-spinning sensory stimulus that can accompany it. This is tangible when visiting a new city or landscape for the first time. One can only imagine the richness of the experience of the first Māori explorers to arrive in Aotearoa, encountering a land hitherto unseen and untouched by human beings.
This simultaneous forwards and backwards temporality of Heaphy’s work continues into the present. The image content seems both nostalgic and timeless, the palettes historically informed and attuned to contemporary visual culture. The First Days in a Strange New Land presents a striking selection of iconographic images, sumptuous colour selections, and deft paint handling. This exhibition is testament to Heaphy’s continuing evolution as an artist, showcasing new technical and further development of his artistic vision.
Chris Heaphy is an artist of Māori and European descent, and themes of cultural identity are often present in his work. His paintings open up myriad possible interpretations, reflecting how they connect with various cultural perspectives. He has exhibited extensively throughout Australasia and Europe and his work is held in major public and private collections in New Zealand and other parts of the world. Gow Langsford Gallery has represented his work since 2008.
The First Days in a Strange New Land will be on view at Gow Langsford Gallery from Wednesday 13 March through to Saturday 6 April.

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