McLeavey Gallery

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Richard Killeen & Robin White

Richard Killeen & Robin White
9 Feb – 5 Mar 2022
An exhibition of four significant works by Richard Killeen and Robin White, from 1974 and 2021.
Install view
Palm
Richard Killeen, 1974
oil and acrylic on canvas, 1727 x 812 mm
Black and white photo
Richard Killeen, 1974
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 650 x 600 mm
Install view

About the exhibition

In 1975, Peter McLeavey Gallery exhibited its first major show of work by Richard Killeen. Twelve works from the 'Comb’ group of works, which dominated Richard's practice from 1973–1974, were exhibited. Nearly 50 years later, Richard released three more works from that period to be exhibited here for the first time.

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In 1975, Peter McLeavey Gallery exhibited its first major show of work by Richard Killeen. Twelve works from the 'Comb’ group of works, which dominated Richard's practice from 1973–1974, were exhibited. Nearly 50 years later, Richard released three more works from that period to be exhibited here for the first time.

Combining domestic and international influences ranging from Gordon Walters to Kazimir Malevich, Richard created a distinctive visual language of ethereal abstractions.

Made using oil and acrylic paint and handmade paper stencils, works from this period demonstrate Richard's interest in creating images from a wide variety of botanical, historical and cultural sources. Featured in Palm is a stylised zig-zag shape inspired by a Polynisian comb – an image which recurs throughout his oeuvre. 

These simple, elegant works hum with a generosity of spirit and decades later they are as startlingly contemporary and sophisticated as they were in 1974.

In 1981 Robin White and her family moved to Kirbati, where the different physical and social environment introduced changes to her artistic practice. Hard edged oil paintings and screen prints in the regionalist style were swapped for wood cuts, etchings and pencil drawings. Images of the New Zealand environment were replaced by images of life on Tarawa – a remote atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The response from the still fledging NZ contemporary art market was, at first, tepid. In 1984 Peter McLeavey wrote to Robin contemplating why this might be:

"It may be that as you are no longer living here that the culture feels you are no longer part of it. This does seem strange, I know, but art is a funny business and much of it is sold to people who are really looking for ikons of place. This seems particularly so when a culture is emerging from the 'frontier' stage and people are yearning for their own (very own) art. It may be that works based on Pacific Island culture do not necessarily relate to many of the people here. That said, it is my opinion that your 'island' prints are among your very best work. Perhaps your best..."

Over time perceptions changed and Robin, working as a full time artist, was able to support her family by sending artwork to Peter in Wellington for sale. 

Forty years later, following a significant commission from the Art Gallery of New South Wales to respond to Henri Matisse's work, Robin honours Peter McLeavey in a new work titled Looking for ikons of place.  Featuring a hat (a style of which Matisse and Peter both favoured) and Peter's chaise lounge, Robin imagines a conversation between the two men, who have just stepped out of the frame. Set in a collapsed timeframe, the work is replete with symbols. A hand sanitiser pump nods to the pandemic, a conch shell and woven wall coverings suggest a Pacific setting, the ceiling moulding and stairwell reference McLeavey Gallery and a copy of Robin's 1971 Mangaweka painting functions as an "ikon of place". 

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Looking for ikons of place
Robin White, 2021
barkcloth (masi), earth pigments, 2000 x 1500 mm
Palm
Richard Killeen, 1974
oil and acrylic on canvas, 1727 x 812 mm
Untitled
Richard Killeen, 1974
oil and acrylic on canvas, 700 x 500 mm
Black and white photo
Richard Killeen, 1974
oil and acrylic on canvas, 650 x 600 mm

Artists

Richard Killeen

Robin White

More Exhibitions

Early works
Richard Killeen
Aio ngaira (this is us)
Robin White

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