Te Papa

Wellington is the windiest city I have ever experienced – I know it is the stereotype but it is true, even the newspaper front page refers to the wind with affectionate and humorous tones, yesterdays paper stated, ‘If you’ve showers they’ll clear. The wind is a different story’ The wind here is a presence, often personified and considered a protector against those who don’t love this city. Today’s weather in the newspaper, ‘Mostly fine but keep the raincoat handy for tonight’. Perhaps in a maritime climate the weather becomes a part of your core understanding of your self. The people certainly identify their preferences for a southerly or a northerly – the winds are known. In Melbourne the weather is changeable but is not felt with the same intensity, the faces of each wind are not identified or keenly discussed.

Yet whilst the winds are known here by name Godfrey Miller is not – his name is only known by a handful of collectors and he is not listed as a significant New Zealand artist. The land that formed him does not recognise him. In the museums and galleries the holdings are slight but today at Te Papa this opinion may be debunked…

In ‘Art at Te Papa (ed) William McAloon’ and short listed for the National NZ book award for the illustrated non-fiction category, we find on page 10, Godfrey Miller listed amongst the Australian Paintings collected after a consultation with Daryl Lindsay. In the same book on page 282 there is a full page featuring ‘Nude and Moon’ and several paragraphs noting his birth in Wellington, but again, page 282 falls in a chapter on International Art 1945-1990. In discussion with his nieces we wonder at this and discuss other New Zealanders too who have become more identified with Australia. However, in Godfrey’s case, we consider, place is less important to him as an artist because thought and experience are his growth place. If his rough life journey is sketched NZ – Turkey – Melbourne – London/Europe – Sydney with Eastern visits interspersed, we note a patterning of an artist coming into being formed by colonial and natural volcanic forms into the madness and terror of injury at Gallipoli, convalescence, a rebuilding of self and intellect as an artist, first in Melbourne, then exiled in London and maturing in Sydney. I’m feeling very strongly about a post-war transformation and will explore this as far as I am able.

Te Papa honoured us today with an appointment to see ‘Nude and Moon’ and 6 sketches held by the Museum. Frances Speer (Collection Manager) took us into the back rooms, firstly for ‘Nude and Moon’; the nude was drawn out and supported on two blocks for our viewing. This is a more monochrome work than the one in the series held by AGNSW. The tesserae are longer, elongated, the mood is more silvery, more night-like and she has her back toward the viewer. Beautiful.

We stood with her for some time discussing her, the lower full moon with a rising ink-line representation, the frame paint-marked with the lattice falling into the canvas, a left leg executed with a break in form which we did not understand…even for our Wellington cousin this was a moment of discovery. She was re-tied and slid away, hopefully waiting her exhibition day, her time out on Level 5 of Te Papa. We were then steered toward another holding for the sketches, and these with such quick deft lines with minimal shading all the time revealing the nude with a feeling of flow, some with distinct movement, dance-like, as if the life model were about to rise into a new pose with arms outspread. The library was our next impromptu stop and the full file was shared – including a pamphlet where ‘Nude and Moon’ is celebrated as the July 1965 ‘Picture of the Month. In this pamphlet it does explain ‘…must be classified as “Australian School” although Godfrey Miller was born in Wellington. Others born in New Zealand who have lived and worked in Australia include Elioth Gruner, Robert Johnson, Roland Wakelin, James R Jackson and John Henshaw.’ John Henshaw, artist, who became such an important friend and one of the executors of Miller’s will.

We forgot all about the wind outside.

And my son is in Morocco looking at arches and architecture that mesmerised Miller.

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