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Born in Akaroa, near Ōtautahi, Richard McWhannell studied at the University of Canterbury’s Ilam School of Fine Arts, graduating with a Diploma of Fine Arts in 1972. His teachers included Don Peebles, Doris Lusk, and Rudolf Gopas. While at art school, he was introduced to Toss Woollaston, who became a major influence. His earliest works are expressionistic landscapes. Moving to Tāmaki Makaurau, McWhannell painted urban scenes and developed a more precise style, marked by thin glazes of oil paint. Following a visit to Europe, his subject matter increasingly tended towards the hauntingly surreal. He also produced sculptural works in cast bronze and limestone.

In Tāmaki, McWhannell showed with the Denis Cohn Gallery and met and closely associated with artists like Allen Maddox, Emily Karaka, and Tony Fomison, with whom he shared points of stylistic commonality. In the late 1990s, he tended towards real-world subjects, including interiors, landscapes, and portraits, varying his paint-handling greatly. He was on occasion commissioned to produce portraits, hence his three paintings of Fletcher Challenge Chief Executive Officer Hugh Fletcher. Curator Ron Brownson has commented that the late William McAloon ‘spoke of Richard McWhannell as being one of New Zealand’s finest portrait painters, and he was spot on there’.[1]

The 2010s saw the artist return to imagined subjects and to tend for the first time towards abstraction. Throughout his career, McWhannell has fused Aotearoa subject matter with artistic styles from abroad. Balthus, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Paul Cézanne, Max Ernst, Edward Hopper, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Stanley Spencer, and Titian have all influenced his work at various times. He has travelled to Europe and the United States of America, and harbours a particularly deep interest the Southwest, which has formed the subject of documentary and invented paintings of extraordinary power.

Aotearoa New Zealand;
Date of birth
27 February 1952
Place of birth
Akaroa, Aotearoa,