Tuesday, May 02, 2006

NZ's best painting?

Cass, Rita Angus (1936)

Frontseat viewers vote "Cass" our greatest painting. Not a bad choice, imo - at least it's not a Colin McCahon!

Despite its wild plunging hillside, the first overall effect is serenity. Idyllic rustic scenery bathed in golden light. No movement disturbs the stillness. No birds overhead or grazing flocks or flittering insects. A solitary figure waits unhurriedly in lazy late afternoon sun.

Rita's signature style abounds: sharp defined outlines with distinctive shaded arcs, sometimes give impression of 'wrinkles in fabric', or lend a layered texture, like overlapping or pleated material. 'Triangular' trees make an "X" shape with the V-line of the hills, forming a dramatic backdrop for Cass. The station and platform's straight edges stark against nature's random, amorphic curves. Its pleasing colour symmetry, liberal use of 'childhood basics' (red, blue, green & yellow), imbue a summery cheer, somewhat tempered by a setting sun that soon promises darker, more ominous shadows of purple and blue.

While first impressions may depict pastoral indolence, the imprint of heavy industry is ubiquitous. Telegraph poles, buildings, woodpiles, a wagon, dominate a robustly physical work site. Even the hillsides, denuded for grazing, bear the stamp of human labour. Cass, painted in all purpose country-red (favoured hue of farmers nationwide), symbolises an earlier era's dependence on a railway network, lifeblood of NZ's burgeoning agricultural economy. Contemporarily, it pays homage to our great agrarian past (and present!).

The modest train station, ordinarily unassuming, periodically becomes the busy focus point of bustling trade and transportation, connecting a vast rural heartland with the frenetic hussle of faraway urban destinations. A railway track cuts an unapologetic line through the painting, just as noisy thundering trains daily interrupt the countryside's quiet peace. Cass - a languid, picturesque landscape under a hazy forgetful sky. Yet beneath its surface tranquility, Cass teems with rural vigours, the arduous physical toils of farming, forestry & horticulture. Long hours of taxing endeavours, sweating under that same harsh sun which casts the painting's gorgeous roseate glow.

4 comments:

fm said...

Interested in attending the rugby league test match phil? Here's your chance:

http://www.smh.com.au/news/Sport/Kiwis-offered-chance-to-be-Aussies/2006/05/03/1146335773529.html

There is a small catch...

Lewis said...

I like it - although I suspect that's because I also rather like trains :)

phil said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
phil said...

fm - I'm still waiting for an apology from you for nearly starting a trans-Tasman conflagration. Shame on you - I've needed therapy to stop the nightmares after what you suggested.