Musings on Art

The View from the Tracks

Hello again!

This post is dedicated to a good friend of mine, thanks for coming mural hunting 🙂

I find there is a certain romance to trains.  Perhaps it is because they feature in a number of great tales: Murder on the Orient Express, North by Northwest, Anna Karenina.  That last one was probably not the best example, but if you haven’t read it you must! It is a smidge hefty but worth it, and I found I appreciated it more as I got older.

As an occasional train commuter, I have often enjoyed the behind the scenes view, such as the back of shops, expansive gardens, etc.  What I have noticed, and have come to look out for, is the graffiti art and murals.  In particular, I am going to talk about two big and colourful murals here – the Ralph Hotere tribute by Askew, and the Chinese Girl by Owen Dippie and Hipara August.

Askew’s mural rises like a sun when you pull into Kingsland train station.  As it is situated on the side of a building, it is best seen if you are seated forward when heading out West.  Or better yet, hop off and take a longer look:  you can find it on a wall in a small carpark on New North Road.  The mural hums with vibrant orange and teal – this colour combination makes it quite striking from a distance, but at times hard to see as your eyes adjust to the contrasting hues.  It is also funny how at a glance, many people mistake him for Einstein 😛

This mural is based upon a 1978 photograph taken by Marti Friedlander (gelatin silver print toned with gold, 47.8 x 48.2 cm, Auckland Art Gallery) of one of New Zealand’s most influential and significant artists, Ralph Hotere (1931-2013).  His works are poetic and powerful pieces; some respond to political and environmental issues in New Zealand, others contemplate spiritualism and the human condition.  The intensity of his gaze, which I think betrays a quiet but strong soul, is aptly captured by Friedlander.

You will notice that there is some text across Hotere’s body in this mural.  These words are borrowed from one of his works, Godwit/Kuaka (1977, enamel on board, 240 x 1800 cm, Auckland Art Gallery).  The title references the godwit bird (kuaka is the Māori name for the bird) known for its annual migration between New Zealand and Alaska.  This shimmering, elongated work consists of varying vertical lines and panels of stippled colour.  The words are presented in the centre, drawn from an ancient Māori chant about the godwit that Hotere’s father taught him.  Walking the length of this work is like a pilgrimage in itself, and its lacquer-like surface allows the viewer to reflect on themselves and the work.  I think this choice of text is fitting for its rail side placement, as it relates to notions of migration and travel.

The first link is to the Auckland Art Gallery blog, Outpost which provides a translation of the text in Hotere’s Godwit/Kuaka image.  The second is a video of Askew painting the mural:

Owen Dippie and Hipara August’s mural has a definitive wow factor: painted on a wall that looks upon the rails, the train glides past it into Morningside station.  Thus unlike Askew’s, it does not matter which direction you are seated you are likely not to miss it 🙂  She sneaks up on you: you don’t realise she’s there until you are face to face with her.  It can also be seen from Morningside Drive, albeit at a slight angle.  The Chinese Girl bursts with blazing colour: coal black wavy hair, bright poppy red lips, a sunny yellow robe and a face, blue-green like oxidised copper.

There is a great sense of familiarity with this image.  I felt I had seen her before, or at least someone very similar to her.  Perhaps she has been hanging on the living room walls of some of my grandparents’ friends 😛  This mural is Dippie and August’s reimagining of The Chinese Girl (1952-53, oil on canvas) by the ‘King of Kitsch’ Vladimir Tretchikoff (1913-2006).  Just this year, the original painting sold at auction for £982,050 ($1.9 million NZD) to British jeweller, Laurence Graff.  The model was 17 year old Monika Pon-su-san, who was working at her uncle’s laundrette in South Africa when she was asked to pose.

This is an article on the model Monika Pon-su-san, reminiscing about Tretchikoff and the painting:

When compared with the original painting, Dippie and August have given it a Kiwi twist.  The background of Tretchikoff’s work is essentially bare, and her robe is incomplete as there is visible preliminary sketching.  The artists have cropped her just below the shoulder, and given the background a distinctive and eye catching update.  Hipara August is a wood carver, and the pattern resembles Māori carving designs.  I find it interesting how divisive the original is: it is viewed by some as low brow and kitsch, yet it is one of the world’s bestselling art prints.  I like the background embellishment that Dippie and August have included, and I think it is a splendid addition.  She still wears a slightly mysterious and pensive look, not unlike the Mona Lisa, yet she doesn’t look directly at the viewer.

Both of these murals are on Auckland’s Western train line, if you get the chance to ride the rails, look out for them!

Also whilst researching the Chinese Girl mural, I found out that Dippie has recently decorated Tauranga’s CBD!  I would love to check out Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring mural, looks like a trip is in order 😀

You can check out the article below, as well as a great blog about the Tauranga CBD murals: