Ink and Watercolour
780 x 560mm
The inclusion of two descriptions for this work reflects the Maori and Pakeha curatorial approaches taken for the exhibition Te Huringa/Turning Points.
Selwyn Muru has always been a strong advocate of using traditional Maori art to explore creative avenues. The possibility of using rock drawings as the basis for painting was explored in this way by non-Maori artists, too, such as A.R.D. Fairburn, Theo Schoon, Gordon Walters, Dennis Knight Turner and Russell Clark. These enigmatic, almost abstract though still figurative shapes were appealing to a generation of people interested in making use of specifically New Zealand indigenous art forms. The studio potter Olive Jones was among the first to use these motifs on ceramics, a trend later picked up by Crown Lynn, who used them mainly in tourist settings. They were much in vogue, too, as table mats. However, the energy of Muru’s subtly coloured and highly calligraphic work is far removed from the vagaries of fashion.
Maori rock drawing is an early portent of an ara (path) of the innovative artistic style that Muru chose to assert in the 1960s and has maintained ever since. He introduces Maori references in the form of rock painting and also establishes his own artistic originality in a process that shies away from stereotyped Maori identification. The seemingly random yet well-controlled composition of this work reflects this aspiration, so that apparent ‘scribble’ is in actuality a well-deliberated part of this exploration of a unique style and form. The work shows a youthful virtuosity in the making, one firmly based on rock painting of Maori ancestors. Later in his career, while still combining Maori cultural references with innovative artistic interpretations, Selwyn Muru’s work becomes more sophisticated. A well-known example is the waharoa (gates) in Aotea Square, Auckland, that incorporates old traditions from Maori culture enhanced by new and less expected angles and embellishments.