Colin McCahon’s Northland Panels travels north to the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Earlier this year I travelled to Auckland Art Gallery with one of Te Papa’s masterpieces, Colin McCahon’s Northland Panels, 1958, which is the centrepiece of the exhibition Modern Paints Aoteraroa.

The painting installed in the gallery. This image has All Rights Reserved. Image © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

Northland Panels, 1958, by Colin McCahon installed in at Auckland Art Gallery. This image has All Rights Reserved. Image © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

This was the first time in 25 years that the iconic painting has travelled to another institution, and the first time in five years that the work has been on public display, thanks to developments in conservation practice that allowed it to undergo treatment here at Te Papa.

McCahon had used a matte interior house paint called Monocoat to paint the canvases on the deck of his Titirangi home in 1958. This paint was designed for  use on solid, stable structures, such as ceilings and not for use on flexible supports, such as the unstretched canvases he used for this artwork. Over time, this meant that the surface of the Northland Panels became increasingly unstable and caused some flaking of the paint layer.

Many artists around the world were experimenting with non-traditional paints at this time, and it’s the study of these materials in New Zealand that has led to the development of the Modern Paints Aotearoa exhibition as a collaborative research project between painting conservator Sarah Hillary at the Auckland Art Gallery and conservation scientist Tom Learner at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles.

Painting conservator Sarah Hillary, painting conservator Tijana Cvetkovic, curator Caroline McBride, curator Catherine Hammond and conservation scientist Tom Learner. Image courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

Painting conservator Sarah Hillary, painting conservator Tijana Cvetkovic, curator Caroline McBride, curator Catherine Hammond and conservation scientist Tom Learner. Image courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Traditional techniques used to consolidate flaking paint layers were not appropriate to use on this painting as they would have caused changes to the appearance of the paint layer. It was not until advances in conservation techniques and materials in the last few years that a suitable consolidant was found that could be used to re-adhere the paint flakes without causing any visible changes in the matte paint.

Former Te Papa conservators Katherine Campbell and Melanie Carlisle painstakingly spent 18 months researching, testing and treating the panels to stabilise the paint surface, using an adhesive derived from a Japanese red algae called JunFunori. They did a fantastic job that has meant that the artwork is able to be exhibited once again.

Earlier this year my fellow painting conservator, Linda Waters and I worked closely with crate maker, Pierre Lagace, to pack the panels in custom built trays and crates to safely transport them to Auckland.

Transporting the crate into the exhibition space at Auckland Art Gallery. Image courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

Transporting the crate into the exhibition space at Auckland Art Gallery. Image courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Unpacking the panels from the crate. Image courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

Unpacking the individually trayed panels from the crate. Image courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Once arriving at the gallery the paintings were left to acclimatise for 24 hours before opening the crate, and then Sarah Hillary and I checked the condition of the panels’ paint surfaces before we worked with the installation crew at the gallery to hang the panels.

Sarah Hillary, Tom Learner and Tijana Cvetkovic discussing the painting's surface. Image courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

Sarah Hillary, Tom Learner and Tijana Cvetkovic discussing the painting’s surface. Image courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Tijana Cvetkovic and Sarah Hillary condition checking the painting's surface. Image courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

Tijana Cvetkovic and Sarah Hillary condition checking the painting’s surface. Image courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

During installation of Northland Panels. Image courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

During installation of Northland Panels. Image courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

The exhibition runs until 15 March 2015, so if you happen to be heading to Auckland then it’s a wonderful opportunity to view this iconic artwork.

Modern Paints Aotearoa exhibition – find out more

Tijana Cvetkovic, Painting Conservator, Te Papa

5 Responses

  1. Phillip

    Do you have the dates of the Auckland showing please?

    thanks

    Reply
    • Tijana Cvetkovic

      Hi Phillip, the exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery goes until 15 March 2015. I hope you get a chance to see it. Regards, Tijana

  2. sylvia dolling

    Thank you for your reply yes have about jonathan I met him several times what a lovely man . If you want to look at some of lois,s work go to the remuera gallery and search under her name she has written a book jonathan was one of the people with lois and colin in titirangi and jonathan wrote to lois and said he was going to whakatane to be a window dresser and she wrote and told him not to do that as he had a great future in art jonathan has spoken on the radio about this. He was about 17 at the time. Regards sylvia dolling artist

    Reply
  3. Sylvia Dolling

    Wonderful to see Colin’s paintings as I have a connection through my Teacher Mentor Lois McIvor who was a friend and student of Colin’s. I find it very hard to understand why Te Papa has not got any of Lois’spaintings as she is 84 now her work is wonderful. She was also a friend of Jonathan Mane. Regards Sylvia

    Reply
    • Tijana Cvetkovic

      Thank you for your message, Sylvia. It was a real pleasure to work closely with the Northland Panels. I will pass your enquiry about Lois McIvor on to Te Papa’s art curators. If you haven’t already seen it, you might be interested in our dedicated arts website: http://www.arts.tepapa.govt.nz, and in particular, a tribute display and feature issue of our e-magazine Off the Wall that we’ve created to remember Jonathan Mane-Wheoki. Kind regards, Tijana

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