The Contained Waters

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Acrylic on canvas
1370 x 875mm

Like Earth Radiance, this work is part of Milan Mrkusick’s Emblem series. The title The Contained Waters beautifully expresses the artist’s intention—that of giving structure to the formless. Mrkusich has contained the light blue (watery?) sections of this painting. In the lower section, he has continued to use the fluid brushwork that characterised his earlier work from 1960, but now each colour area is bound within a tight compositional frame, rather than allowed to spread. The regularity of the brown, red, and gold circles in this work is something quite new for Mrkusich.

In looking at the painting, one can see him moving away from the influence of the often violently worked canvasses of American abstract expressionism towards a more linear style, which—one can recognise in hindsight—is where his work had always been leading. His next period refined the new rationalised approach. Circles and squares dominate his Elements series; gestural, expressionistic brushwork is replaced by smoother, less heavily worked textures.

Peter McLeavey, who sold The Contained Waters to the Fletcher Trust Collection, wrote of it, ‘This painting was released by Milan Mrkusich to Peter McLeavey several months ago. The artist had a very high regard for this painting and only consented to release it after considerable discussion. I was keen to “get” it into stock as I, also, felt it was of quality and a fine example of this artist’s work.’

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Exhibition History

Representation and Reaction: Modernism and the New Zealand Landscape Tradition 1956–1977, Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua, Whanganui, 31 August to 27 October 2002 (toured)

Contemporary Painting in New Zealand (or Contemporary New Zealand Painting 1965), organised by the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand, Commonwealth Institute, London, November 1965 (toured), cat. no. 47


Alan Wright and Edward Hanfling, Mrkusich: The Art of Transformation (Tāmaki Makaurau: Auckland University Press, 2009), 110.


Challenge Collection (later Fletcher Trust Collection), purchased from McLeavey Gallery, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 4 July 1983

Collection of the artist