2008, oil and charcoal on board, 1500 x 1200mm. Finalist N.Z Painting and Printmaking Award.
Gauguin 1897 “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going ?”
Millais 1852, Ophelia, detail
700 year old Italian frescoes inspire art award finalist Brendan McGorry
When artist Brendan McGorry wanted to view the Scrovegni Chapel frescoes in Padua, first he had to wait in a special air-conditioned waiting-room – to lower his body temperature because research had found that the body heat of visitors was damaging the fragile and priceless Renaissance art works. Waiting in this people-cooler was worth it, because what McGorry saw changed his artistic world.
Since that inspiring stay in Italy in 2006, enrolled in the prestigious New York School of Art course, McGorry has been a finalist in nearly every New Zealand painting award and now he is a finalist in the Waikato Society of Arts, New Zealand Painting and Printmaking Award.
What the artist saw when he entered the Scrovegni Chapel transfixed him for over an hour – normally visitors are only allowed to stay in the chapel for 15 minutes at a time. McGorry went to Italy with a clear purpose. “I wanted to try and open up another side of my art” McGorry says, and despite have no formal training in Art History McGorry was drawn to the work of Renaissance fresco artists.
Renaissance fresco paintings are made directly onto the plastered walls of churches. The paint is actually mixed into the final coat of plaster, and because plaster sets very rapidly, the artists have to work very rapidly, section by section, to a well-planned design. McGorry was impressed by this combination of careful planning and speed of execution because it created an effect that seemed spontaneous as well as meticulous.
The Scrovegni Chapel, dedicated to St. Mary of the Charity, was frescoed by the renowned Renaissance artist Giotto between 1303 and 1305. It is one of the most important masterpieces of Western art. The frescoes, which narrate events in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ, cover the entire walls.
When you stand in front of these frescoes, even though they were painted over 700 years ago, you can still see the raw energy of the artist’s technique but everything is also so well ordered. McGorry was fascinated by the contrast between the look of the painted surfaces – raw and dripping paint – and the delicate drawing of the figures and forms.
McGorry says his time in Italy gave him an amazing permission to explore his art in a way he had not done so before. Twice a week the art students would set off early in the morning in a bus to see frescos all over Northern Italy. Sometimes they would travel for as long as six hours to see a particular painting.
Following his time in Italy McGorry’s work underwent a considerable change. “It took me a year to eighteen months for everything I had learnt there to pull together into my present style of work”. McGorry’s paintings tell stories more clearly now as he became more inspired by the themes and imagery from historical art. His painting style has also changed, with a visible contrast between delicate drawing and quite abstract and fluid colour backgrounds which echo the techniques he saw in Padua.
Man to man: telling a gentle story of manhood
Brendan McGorry is a self taught New Zealand artist who a finalist in this year’s Waikato Society of Arts, New Zealand Painting and Printmaking Award, with a painting titled ‘Who were we where did we go how do we get back?’
McGorry’s story arises from his desire to portray positive male role models. “All too often there is a default negative attitude towards men as rapists and drug users.” In the painting he portrays four males: his father, himself, and two versions of his son – one as an infant and the other as he is now, a teenager. All four seem to silently, gently, contemplate each others lives and their own past and future. This painting is about the supportive, nurturing side of men and boys growing up and growing old together.
McGorry recently be came even more acutely aware of the way men in families relate to each other when his grandfather died at about the same time that McGorry became a grandfather himself. “I have recently lost a grandfather, become primary caregiver to my father, become a grandfather and have one son at high school in the final stages of independence”. McGorry says that these things have all made him consider how his own place in the family’s generations shifted upwards and changed.
McGorry says his sons have grown used to being depicted in his paintings, but that his step daughter sometimes feels she is missing out.
New Zealand painting and printmaking award 2009
The prestigious New Zealand Painting and Printmaking Award, hosted by the Waikato Society of Arts, is now in its 9th year, and has proved an effective springboard for emerging artists to advance their careers, and for established artists to showcase their work to a wide audience. Typically some 20,000 visitors view the exhibition.
The first (and only) prize is $15,000. In addition, the principal sponsors, the Philip Vela Family Trust, undertake to purchase the winning work for their collection, making this an extremely valuable award.
Each year the Waikato Society of Arts selects a leading authority on current New Zealand art as judge. The judge for 2009 is Dr Robin Woodward from The University of Auckland.
The gala Award announcement and presentation will be held at the Pavilion, Hamilton Gardens on Friday, February 20, 2009.