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Object: Mangaweka

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Title Mangaweka
Production White, Robin (artist), 1973, Mangaweka
Medium summary oil on canvas
Materials oil paint, canvas
Classification paintings
Dimensions Image: 1005mm (Height) x 1005mm (Width)
Frame: 1112mm (Height) x 1112mm (Width) x 56mm (Depth)
Credit line Purchased 1994 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds
Registration number 1994-0013-1

Robin White’s Mangaweka effortlessly captures the scenery and feeling of a rural New Zealand town. White knew the Rangitikei town from childhood, and in 1971 her friend, poet Sam Hunt, wrote ‘A Mangaweka road song’, capturing the town as she remembered it — ‘this one-pub town/approached in low gear down/the gorges through the hills’.(1) The artist’s characteristic composition of layered planes of crisply edged colour is heightened by the strong horizontal lines, particularly the line of the veranda that divides the painting and the shadow that just appears under the Bedford truck.

While White paints what she knows and feels affection for, her aim is not simply to produce faithful copies of real landscapes. She is more concerned with representing places that are overlaid with memory and experience. ‘I’m not concerned with just recording something,’ she wrote in 1977. ‘I take great liberties with the environment, using it to my own ends. I’ve always been conscious that painting is fundamentally an abstract thing.’(2)

White’s depiction of her local inhabited landscape has affinities with the New Zealand regionalist painting tradition. She acknowledges a particular connection with Rita Angus, citing her appreciation of both Angus’s work and her dedication as a woman artist. Along with her contemporaries Richard Killeen and Ian Scott, White was taught by Colin McCahon at Elam School of Fine Arts, and she credits McCahon as another important influence on her development and commitment to her art.

Motivated by the wish to make her imagery more affordable and accessible, White taught herself to screenprint after moving to Bottle Creek, north of Wellington, in 1969. She frequently made screenprints after paintings, including Mangaweka, and has noted, ‘If I get a good image, then I like to reproduce it. To confine it to one painting, one oil, is to block it off from other people’.(3) In 1982 White and her family moved to the Republic of Kiribati where she continued to make art, working almost exclusively with woodcut prints as the materials were more readily available. White returned to New Zealand in 1999, and she continues to make artworks in a variety of media.

Charlotte Huddleston

This essay originally appeared in Art at Te Papa (Te Papa Press, 2009).

1. Sam Hunt, ‘A Mangaweka road song’, in Sam Hunt, Collected poems 1963–1980, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1980, p. 63.
2. Robin White, ‘Art and conservation are synonymous’, Art New Zealand, no. 7, Spring 1977, p. 40.
3. Robin White, quoted in Patrick Æ Hutchings ‘Young Contemporary New Zealand Realists’, Art International, vol. 17, 1973, p. 20.

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