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Object: Puketötara, twice shy

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Title Puketötara, twice shy
Production Binney, Don (artist), 1976, Auckland
Medium summary oil on canvas
Materials oil paint, canvas
Classification oil paintings, works of art
Dimensions Image: 1807mm (Height) x 1353mm (Length)
Frame: 1846mm (Height) x 1390mm (Length) x 58mm (Width/Depth)
Credit line Purchased 1977
Registration number 1977-0024-1

Don Binney returns to his favourite painting ground of Te Henga in this oil painting on canvas created in 1976. An Australian bittern (matuku) soars above the distinctive form of Puketötara, a landscape often represented in Binney's work, including Puketötara, Te Henga, a wax crayon drawing also owned by Te Papa. Puketötara, twice shy shows Binney's confident handling of paint, especially the contrasts between the textured areas of bush, the drier brushwork of the bird's feathers, and the flat blue of the sky.

Space and flight
In the 1970s, Binney's birds began to migrate elsewhere and the landscape moved into the foreground, replacing flight as Binney's main subject. In this sense, Puketötara, twice shy is a return to the best of Binney's paintings of the 1960s. The painting is about the possibilities of flight, and the endless space of the sky. The landscape is a concrete entity clearly aligned with the viewer, and the bird hovers in between - a being of gravity yearning for the freedom of the skies.

End of the golden weather
By 1976 the critical climate in New Zealand had changed, and artists like Binney fell out of favour. Painting was viewed as old-fashioned by a new generation of artists and critics who supported conceptual and installation art. Ideas of national identity, so important in the 1960s, seemed increasingly suspect to an art world orienting towards international developments in the arts. The idea that art should somehow be 'of' New Zealand was reactionary.

Puketötara, twice shy was shown in an exhibition at the Peter McLeavey Gallery in Wellington in 1976. Its title gently mocked the sorts of puns and word plays beloved by the conceptual artists of the day. (The exhibition featured another painting called Once Bittern.) The artist and Peter McLeavey parted ways soon after the 1976 show, making Puketötara, twice shy seem prophetic in hindsight. In the early 1980s, Binney moved into new media like printmaking and photography. Birds and landscapes didn't reappear in his work until the early 1990s.

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