The ex­tra­or­di­nary land­scapes of the late Tim Wil­son.


As a 16-year-old on a school bus trip, Tim Wil­son was pro­foundly moved see­ing the isth­mus be­tween Lakes Hāwea and Wā­naka. He longed to con­vey to his class­mates the feel­ing the land­scape stirred in him; he wanted them to ex­pe­ri­ence what he was see­ing, in the way he was see­ing it. And he did. Not right there and then, but over a long and bril­liant ca­reer as an artist.

When Palmer­ston North-born Tim passed away in July, aged 65, New Zealand lost one of our most out­stand­ing and orig­i­nal painters. Over a ca­reer span­ning sev­eral decades, the self-taught artist be­came in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned as a mas­ter of light, ren­der­ing his land­scapes with an ethe­real, al­most spir­i­tual beauty. While in­flu­enced by both East­ern and Western art – Monet, the Hud­son River School of painters, Hiroshige and Hoku­sai – Tim per­fected his own, ex­tra­or­di­nary tech­nique.

“What was and will al­ways be com­pletely unique about Tim’s paint­ings is that they are made up of 30-40 lay­ers of trans­par­ent glazes lay­ered in such a way that, as light changes, the lay­ers clos­est to us ap­pear to dis­ap­pear and we see through the lay­ers be­neath. As the sub­tle hues of day­light change, so too do Tim’s paint­ings,” ex­plains Rachel Harper-di­b­ley of the Tim Wil­son Gallery in Queen­stown.

For Tim, it was al­ways about light, how it shone and danced. He wanted to ex­plore why it made him feel the way it did.

Per­haps just as as­tound­ing as his method is the fact he recre­ated these land­scapes from mem­ory and imag­i­na­tion. He re­mem­bered ev­ery­thing, says Rachel. “The smell, tem­per­a­ture, what the stones were, how the light changed. He could re­call how the en­ergy or ‘spirit of place’ made him feel on ev­ery level. Back in the stu­dio, with­out the aid of pho­tos or sketches, he painted from this place.”

It was this abil­ity to trans­late his feel­ings, through oil on Berge li­nen, that leaves any­one stand­ing be­fore his works sim­i­larly moved. Any­one – in­clud­ing the Kennedys.

In 2012, Tim was the only non-amer­i­can artist in­vited by Bobby Kennedy Jr to paint an im­pres­sion of the Hud­son River for a fundrais­ing art auc­tion hosted by Sotheby’s in New York. Tim’s paint­ing, On The Hud­son, hung along­side works by Chuck Close, Jasper Johns, Willem de Koon­ing and Jeff Koons. The auc­tion was won by a cou­ple who owns one of the largest pri­vate col­lec­tions in the US. They in­vited Tim to paint on their pri­vate is­land in the Hamp­tons and also bought these works for their col­lec­tion. They dubbed Tim “this cen­tury’s Bier­stadt” – 19th cen­tury Amer­i­can-ger­man painter Al­bert Bier­stadt, one of the found­ing mem­bers of the Hud­son River School. The next gen­er­a­tion of these painters be­came some of the found­ing fa­thers of the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art (MOMA) in New York.

Tim’s con­tri­bu­tion to New Zealand art was also im­mense. “He has been an in­spi­ra­tion and mentor for many artists, en­cour­ag­ing them to al­ways fol­low their heart and al­ways to paint,” says Rachel. Tim took not only land­scape paint­ing, but the en­tire genre, to a whole new level. A com­mon con­ver­sa­tion in the gallery, says Rachel, is that Tim’s paint­ings make peo­ple see the land­scape from a to­tally new per­spec­tive. “We can be out in the land­scape and say ‘OMG, look at that; it’s just like a Tim Wil­son paint­ing…’”

So the teenage dreamer gaz­ing out of that bus win­dow did in­deed make oth­ers see through his eyes. “Ob­serv­ing the re­sponse of the thousands of peo­ple who have been through the gallery in these past 11 years alone, there is no doubt he achieved that mas­tery,” says Rachel. “His work speaks for it­self.”

The fea­tured paint­ing is Haast Im­pres­sion 2019; oil on Berge li­nen

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