31 March – 26 April 2019
Preview: Sunday 31 March, 2 – 4.30PM

These paintings in this exhibition form a diary of places I’ve visited over the last year. The two paintings of the volcanic cones From Tawirikoko and The Volcanoes are from a trip last September to the Chatham Islands or Eastern Zealandia, as Hamish Campbell and Chris Adams the geologists who organised this visit refer to it. These ancient volcanic cones in the north east of the main island have spent much of their time under the sea. Further along the northern coast we visited Ocean Mail Beach where the ship Ocean Mail ran aground in 1877. Fortunately the passengers and crew made to shore in the ships long boat. Down the west coast of the main island winds have piled up huge sand dunes in Petrie Bay. Walking over these to the beach inspired From the Beach to the Lagoon and Over the Dunes. Often a painting is inspired by a particular place and it becomes something else as it is painted, by the time Over the Dunes was finished it seemed to represent a walk to the beach that could be anywhere.

Behind these dunes, out of the wind, we stopped in a grove of kopi trees. In New Zealand these trees are called karaka but in the Chathams they are known by the Moriori word kopi. I had recently completed some illustrations for No Ordinary Sheila. Hugh McDonald’s film about the writer and illustrator Sheila Natusch that celebrated a long life sharing her understanding of New Zealand’s nature and history. Sheila had family connections to the Chathams and I figured she would have liked the kopi grove so I took the liberty of painting her in Sheila Natusch in the Kopi Trees. Our trip to the Chathams was supposed to include a trip to Pitt Island. Unfortunately the sea was too rough for the boat trip to so I took the journey in my imagination helped by a little visual research for the group of small paintings about the Islands. Earlier in the year I paddled down the Waihou River and explored some of the coast of the Firth of Thames as research for a young adult novel I was working on. This journey resulted in The Waihou. On the way back to Wellington I stopped near Tokaanu, took the kayak off the roof of the car and explored the raupo swamp at the southern end of the lake. The dingy that first appeared on The Waihou and then again in The Raupo Swamp mysteriously turned up again some months later in The Dingy on the South Coast after a Sunday walk from Wellington around the coast past Red Rocks.

A few weekends ago walking off the Desert Road towards Waihohonu I was surrounded by acres pink flowers pushing through the tussock. In 1947 when my father arrived in New Zealand from Scotland he bought with him a collection of Robert Burns poems with a piece of Scottish heather pressed between the pages. He thought he would never see heather again. He didn’t need to worry. The flowering heather that I was walking through came from seeds scattered by Police Commissioner Cullen early last century. He wanted to change the landscape of the Tongariro National Park into an English moorland so that he could dress like an gentleman in his tweed jacket and go shooting the grouse that he had also released. The grouse didn’t survive but the heather did. It is now regarded as an inappropriate weed. I have had a couple of earlier skirmishes with the police commissioner. The first in an exhibition about the Waihi miners strike and the second in an exhibition about about his invasion of Rua Kenena’s community at Maungapohatu.

If you are interested in going to the Chathams on one of the tours organized by Hamish Campbell and Chris Adams you can find out more from the Friends of Te Papa website.


Bob Kerr's creative practice combines his two artistic endeavours: painting and writing and tells the story of New Zealand's history, people and the landscape. Born in Wellington, Kerr has a DipFA (Hons) from the University of Auckland. He has written and illustrated a number of children's books, receiving the Best First Children's Book Award in 1993 for The Optimist (1992). His paintings are held in private collections across New Zealand and overseas, with his best-known work appropriately appearing on the cover of Michael King's book The Penguin History of New Zealand (2003).