31 March 2011


I started painting in late September 2001. I'd been preparing for it with a self-imposed programme for a while, but the sudden start of the resource wars much sooner than I'd expected gave me quite a kick up the bum.

I'd realised since my early teens that the 21st century would be overshadowed by an increasing technological totalitarianism in response to dwindling natural resources and collapsing ecosystems. However, I thought we had more time than this. Which part of 'accelerating rate of change' did I not understand? Idiot.

I recently found the first studies I did then, with the help of my friend Paul Faris:

As I recall, I sketched in the landscape, which he painted in, then I went over it and added the figures. No doubt Paul will correct me in the comments if I've got it outrageously wrong.

It's called The adventures of the young Te Kooti predella cycle. The story comes from Judith Binney's Redemption songs, which I'd helped my dad work on (one day I should blither on about the connections between editing and painting).

The young Te Kooti was a bit of a cunt, you see, causing all sorts of trouble. One day, his father had had enough and decided to get rid of him once and for all. He asked Te Kooti to go down an old well on some pretext that I forget:

As soon as Te Kooti went down, his dad piled rocks in and blocked up the entrance:

However, Te Kooti escaped out a side-tunnel:

He returned to the people, and the tohunga put a stone in his mouth to dedicate him to the war god Tu:

What appealed to me about this story in particular is how archetypally mythic it is – the hero who goes into the underworld and returns with secret knowledge and a new purpose – and yet how modern it is. It happened to a historical person almost within living memory – someone born around the time this happened could've still been alive when I was born.

Sure, it's a minor episode compared to the rest of the myth cycle (and so suited for a predella), but that just makes it more stark.

Needless to say, I abandoned this line of inquiry reasonably quickly. Even though the specifics of the individual culture hero are incidental, they are inevitably the focus of attention.

Leave the nationalism to the knuckleheads, I reckon.

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