ELLIS, Robert;


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Oil on canvas
1740 x 2580mm

Megalopolis is an early masterpiece by Robert Ellis. It clearly proceeds from earlier works like City and River in Orange Landscape, suggesting an urban environment seen from above. The work also points to the artist’s growing interest in motorways. Hamish Keith notes, ‘To him the burgeoning motorway was a new and stimulating mobility. From that, and his experience of Spain, came his first mature works.’[1]

The brilliant lines that traverse the painting suggest long-exposure photographs of highways. The heavy impasto paintwork resonates with whakairo, customary Māori carving. In 1965, Ellis had ‘attended Pine[āmine] Taiapa’s Whakairo and Tukutuku Residential School in Tikitiki’.[2] In 1966, the same year that Megalopolis was painted, he married fellow artist Elizabeth Aroha Mountain (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou). Over time, te ao Māori came to influence his work deeply.

It is interesting to note that the koru-like (or pītau-like) form at right appears in Ellis’s works as early as 1963. Such forms were sometimes referred to by the artist as rivers or river bends.


[1] Hamish Keith et al., Robert Ellis (Tāmaki Makaurau: Ron Sang Publications, 2014), 18.
[2] Ibid., 287.

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Robert Ellis '66 [l.r.] TITLE: 'MEGALOPOLIS' / SIZE: 174 x 258cms. / ROBERT ELLIS 1966 ; Auckland. N.Z. [stretcher]

Exhibition History

Robert Ellis, Turangawaewae | A Place to Stand, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 9 August 2014 to 15 March 2015

New Zealand Painting 1966, Auckland City Art Gallery (later Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki), December 1966, cat. no. 49


Hamish Keith et al., Robert Ellis (Tāmaki Makaurau: Ron Sang Publications, 2014), 32–33.