Lively look at Kiwi art world

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Jo­ce­lyn Rein

Even with a bad case of the flu, Hamish Keith sparkles as he talks about his book The Big Pic­ture.

Six months af­ter its re­lease it is ob­vi­ously still a topic which ex­cites him, which is no sur­prise for one of the coun­try’s most well­known and con­tro­ver­sial art com­men­ta­tors.

The book cap­ti­vated art en­thu­si­asts around the coun­try too, jump­ing straight to the best­seller list on its re­lease in Novem­ber last year.

Mr Keith says he is “enor­mously pleased” there’s still such an in­ter­est in the book.

“I think the book came out at the right time,” he says.

“It was the first at­tempt to put the story of New Zealand art to­gether.”

The Big Pic­ture is a com­men­tary on the coun­try’s art dat­ing back to 1642, and was pub­lished to ac­com­pany a six-hour TV se­ries of the same name.

Mr Keith will be giv­ing a talk at the Auck­land Art Gallery this Sun­day where he will read and dis­cuss the book.

He says he has been lucky to wit­ness first-hand a revo­lu­tion­ary time for New Zealand art.

Not one to hold back on his views, he brings up is­sues such as the “shame­ful” treat­ment of Maori art such as the over-paint­ing of carv­ings with red paint.

He says the book also chal­lenges the New Zealand “search for iden­tity”, ar­gu­ing rather that our in­di­vid­ual iden­tity comes in the fact that we are so di­verse.

“New Zealand is one of the few coun­tries that has the op­por­tu­nity to be all the dif­fer­ent things it is,” he says.

“We’re a na­tion of trav­ellers.

“We’ve al­ways gone else­where and come from some­where else.”

Rather than be­ing a cat­a­logue of artists, he says the book is the con­tin­u­ous story of New Zealand’s art and cul­ture.

Mr Keith has been talk­ing and writ­ing about art and cul­ture for the past 50 years, work­ing with leg­endary artists such as Colin McCa­hon dur­ing his time cu­rat­ing at the Auck­land Art Gallery.

Now he en­joys spend­ing time in his Pon­sonby home on Franklin Rd with wife Ngila Dick­son, who won an Os­car for her cos­tume de­sign in Lord of the Rings.

He loves the area, de­scrib­ing it as “one of the last parts of the in­ner city which still has a sense of neigh­bour­hood”.

Not one to sit back and watch, Mr Keith has just de­liv­ered the man­u­script for his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Na­tive Wit, due out in Septem­ber.

Hamish Keith will be speak­ing at the New Gallery this Sun­day at 3pm as part of the Read­ing at the Gallery se­ries this win­ter.

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

Chal­leng­ing per­cep­tions: Hamish Keith says we need to em­brace our di­verse iden­tity.

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