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

These paintings are a diary of places 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 call it. These ancient volcanic cones in the north east of the main island have spent much of their time under the sea. Along the west coast of the main island winds have piled up huge sand dunes in Petrie Bay. Walking over these to the beach inspired the painting Over the Dunes, however, by the time this painting was finished it seemed to represent a walk to the beach that could be anywhere. Behind the dunes we stopped in a grove of Kopi trees sheltered from the wind. 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 paintings for No Ordinary Shelia. Hugh McDonald’s wonderful film about the writer and illustrator Sheila Natusch that celebrated her long life sharing her understanding of New Zealand’s nature and history. Shelia 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 Shelia Natush 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 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 and The Puriri Trees. 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.

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. Perhaps he thought he would never see the heather again. He didn’t need to worry. A couple of weekends ago, walking off the Desert Road into Waihohonu heather was in full flower. The heather in the Tongariro National Park was planted by Police Commissioner Cullen early last century. The Police Commissioner also tried to release grouse so that he could go shooting like an English gentleman. The grouse didn’t survive but the heather is blooming and is now regarded as an inappropriate weed. I’ve had two earlier skirmishes with Cullen. 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 organised 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).