STEVENSON, Michael;

At the Showgrounds, Setting Up

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1989
Oil on canvas on board
700 x 900mm

Since he graduated from Elam in 1986 Michael Stevenson has pursued a particularly individual brand of regionalist naive realism which has brought him to national prominence. Like his Elam teacher Dick Frizzell, Stevenson is interested in exploring New Zealand subjects. His reading of the American humourist writer Garrison Keillor has given him a rich vein of American regionalist interest to mine. Stevenson, who was born at Inglewood, Taranaki, uses a cool, uninflected deliberately naive style to underline mundane aspects of provincial life which accords with his fundamentalist Christian background. While Frizzell usually prefers to dramatise subject matter, Stevenson’s intention is to underplay his hand, putting the paint on in a deliberately unschooled fashion.

His subject is the small town street, playground or church hall and he paint each subject in a manner designed to emphasise its ordinariness. He is suspicious of painterly display; he deliberately courts awkwardness and unsophistication often to underline the amusement he gets from it. He is drawn to the plain and rough hewn for spiritual reasons (“why take the fun out of fundamentalism?” he asks). This painting shows the moment when the gospel preachers pull up their caravans at Jubilee park, Inglewood for a weekend of evangelism. Every detail is given a painterly treatment which has been described as “cunning naivete”. The artist takes little interest in creating subtle relationships between foreground and background or in chiaroscuro. Neither does he modulate colour. ‘Their pleasure is that they remind us of the strangeness of ordinary things.’

Exhibition History

The 80s Show: Paintings from the Fletcher Trust Collection, Tauranga Art Gallery Toi Tauranga, 1 July to 27 August 2017 (toured)

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