McCahon conversations get ‘noisy’

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McCahon House in Spring. Image / Chris McBride
The McCahon House in Spring. Image / Chris McBride

New conversations are underway for the McCahon House Trust.

The high profile McCahon House Artists’ Residency is amongst the most prestigious artists’ residencies in New Zealand, and is attracting the interest of international artists.

Naomi McCleary is both founder and Chair of the Colin McCahon House Trust and Artists’ Residency.

The early establishment years required McCleary to acquire and purpose the property, based in Titirangi, where prominent New Zealand artist Colin McCahon once lived and worked.

“From the very first New Zealand artist that came in we have people asking if there is going to be an International artist,” says McCleary.

“There has been interest in an international programme, that conversation has become a bit noisier now. International artists would be feeding out into the arts community and contributing in that way.”

The McCahon House Trust was established in 1993. The early days were focused on securing the site and working closely with the Waitakere Council.

Convincing the Council to support the development of the McCahon cottage into either a museum or heritage site was eased by the fact that McCahon was already an established New Zealand artist.

“We inherited a site that had been the home of an artist who was by that stage completely embedded in the National art psyche as the greatest painter of the 20th Century so we didn’t have to prove the point,” she says.

The Kauri trees that surrounded McCahon’s cottage were significant in that they appear in many of McCahon’s paintings.

“If the property wasn’t secured then the view of the Kauri that McCahon painted over and over again would have been destroyed,” adds McCleary.

“One particular painting in the BNZ collection of the house and the neighbour’s house was painted from the road through the Kauri trees. It’s an iconic image.”

Today, the cottage stands as a vibrant interpretation centre – a window to the past where people can find out more about Colin McCahon’s work. The trust is committed to keeping both knowledge and education going.

The Artist Residency programme aims to honour McCahon’s role as teacher. McCleary says: “[Colin] he was a pretty fine teacher by all accounts.

“The residency programme supports emerging and mid-career Artists in a generous way providing top end accommodation, top end studio and a really good stipend for three months residence.”

In the spirit of McCahon’s own ground-breaking work, the selected artists are “the shooting stars that are coming through.

“A number of them perhaps known in the contemporary arts’ world but not widely known, have gone on to be a lot more visible,” says McCleary.

Currently three residencies are offered annually, each of three months duration, and available to outstanding mid-career artists. A highly competitive residency, McCleary adds “it’s worth it’s weight in gold to artists”.

She adds: “I do not believe in nine years we have had an unsuccessful residency. I don’t think there has been a single artist who didn’t contribute and grow from the experience in a variety of ways, all very different so that’s been fantastic.”

Secondary schools and adult education groups can visit the museum and are encouraged to engage with the on-site education programme. McCleary says the museum is a tiny space, unfurnished and the displays are very interactive – “not a museum frozen in time”.

The McCahon House Museum is offering new extended opening hours over the summer period, including weekends.

For more information about the McCahon House Museum or the Artist Residency visit www.mccahonhouse.org.nz.

Listen to the full Interview below: