At the Showgrounds: Setting Up

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8 February 1989
Oil on canvas on board
685 x 885mm (image); 775 x 975mm (frame)

After graduating from the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts in 1986, Michael Stevenson pursued a particularly individual brand of regionalist realism, which brought him to national prominence. Like his Elam teacher Dick Frizzell, Stevenson was interested in exploring local subjects. His reading of the American humourist writer Garrison Keillor gave him a rich vein of American regionalist interest to mine.

Here, the artist draws on his experiences growing up as a fundamentalist Christian in Inglewood, Taranaki. This painting shows gospel preachers pulling up their caravans at Jubilee Park, Inglewood, for a weekend of evangelism. He uses a painterly treatment that has been described as ‘cunning naïveté’. He takes little interest in chiaroscuro or in creating subtle relationships between foreground and background. He scarcely modulates colour.

Where Frizzell preferred to dramatise subject matter, Stevenson’s intention is to underplay his hand. He puts the paint on in a deliberately awkward and unsophisticated fashion, emphasising ‘the strangeness of ordinary things’. He is drawn to the plain and rough-hewn for spiritual reasons, but he also finds the approach fulfilling, amusing. He asks, ‘Why take the fun out of fundamentalism?’

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M STEVENSON [l.l.] 8 FEB 1989 [l.r.] At the Showgrounds: / setting up. / Michael Stevenson / 8 February 1989 [verso]

Exhibition History

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


Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from Gregory Flint Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau, October 1991