Object: Pah Hill
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Illingworth, Michael (artist), circa 1971, Warkworth
|Medium summary||oil on canvas|
|Materials||oil paint, canvas|
x 915mm (Length)
Frame: 1290mm (Height) x 1140mm (Length) x 65mm (Width/Depth)
|Credit line||Purchased 2004|
Pah Hill by Michael Illingworth is an oil painting in which the landscape has been reduced to two elements - an impossibly conical hill from which the painting gets its title, and a lurid sky that dominates the picture. While the painting is a stripped back vision of the landscape, Illingworth pays close attention to his subjects. The hill is a silhouette, dark against a flaming sunset, but the viewer can still see the remains of fortifications, carefully rendered as a series of bands that shape the hill. The sky is transformed into a complex pattern of clouds and colour, which echo the steps of the pä and also evoke an unseen landscape, cut off by the tight focus on the hill and encroaching darkness.
A painter of landscape
Illingworth belongs alongside painters like Don Binney and Michael Smither who created distinctive representations of the New Zealand landscape. Like these artists, Illingworth choose landscapes filled with iconic symbols. He painted in a tightly controlled style, in which everything was clarified and sharply outlined. The results are meticulous - carefully crafted from layers of oil paint, which give the images their characteristic glow. In 1968 the critic Petar Vuletic described Illingworth's paintings as 'icons', a term appropriate to his work of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Pah Hill was painted.
Signs of prior presence
Pah Hill draws on two important themes in Illingworth's art. The suggestive visual similarity between a human breast and the hill links this painting to other works such as Fertility (also in Te Papa's collection) in which human figures and genitals are placed in the landscape. And, as the title makes clear, this hill is a pä site, a marker of Mäori relationships to and prior inhabitancy of the land.
Both of these themes merge in Pah Hill, which expresses Illingworth's belief that Mäori culture was more in tune with the primordial forces of nature. In an artist statement for the Earth/Earth exhibition (1971) at the Barry Lett Galleries in Auckland, he explained: 'Save Manapouri etc by all means - seal it entirely from the junk of our civilisation - let man only go there naked and on foot to learn to love this land as do our Maori hosts when they speak of the ancestral lands.'
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