Thursday, 6 May 2010

The Byron of Burnside - Text

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The Byron of Burnside

Gallery hours:
11-5pm Wednesday to Friday
11-2pm Saturday

192 Bealey Avenue
Christchurch 8013

0064 3 366 8487

‘The Byron of Burnside’ new works by Rudolf Boelee
In 2009 I found a book ‘The Letters of A.R.D. Fairburn’ at a church fair in Christchurch. It was one of those inspired finds that can make that sort of activity so worthwhile and has been such a big part of my practice as an artist. Rex Fairburn (1904-1957) was one of our first major poets, also a satirist and critic whose varied career (insurance clerk, free-lance journalist, Farmers-Union secretary, radio scriptwriter, craftsman, English tutor and art lecturer) gave but a bare indication of the range of his interests. Reading this fantastic book opened a window into his era and was the beginning for this new exhibition ‘The Byron of Burnside’. The new show follows on from my national touring exhibition ‘Exiles’ (2007 -2010), featuring portraits of Charles Brasch, Robin Hyde, Dan Davin, Rewi Alley, James Bertram, Geoffrey Cox, and John Mulgan. I selected these characters as homage for their ability to see beyond boundaries and the confines of their homeland and from a personal angle, because they were of my father’s generation and shared similar left wing political beliefs. Of the ‘Exiles’, Dan Davin and Sir Geoffrey Cox remained in England, Rewi Alley in China, Robin Hyde and John Mulgan died young and only Charles Brasch and James Bertram returned to New Zealand after the Second World War to contribute to a new era in New Zealand literature and art..
As a relatively new society in the inter war years (1920-1940), there were limitations in some fields of New Zealand life and culture. New Zealand took decades to achieve cultural independence and emerge as a nation in its own right, with the specialized occupations of an urban culture. Initially a rural people, New Zealanders were often ambivalent toward intellectual or artistic aspirations. Writer Katherine Mansfield (1888–1923) was one who felt stifled by the drudgery and conservatism of colonial life, and like many others she left for Europe as soon as circumstances allowed. Writing from Cairo during the Second World War, John Mulgan expressed this wanderlust: ‘New Zealanders … spend their lives wanting to set out across the wide oceans that surround them in order to find the rest of the world’. At the end of the Second World War a new nationalist spirit about the New Zealand experience emerged with poets Allen Curnow, A.R.D. Fairburn, Denis Glover and Charles Brasch who saw themselves as the new ‘do it yourself’ guardians of High Culture. They set up independent presses and publications: Landfall, Caxton Press, Nag’s Head Press, Pelorus Press, Pilgrim Press, Here and Now, among others.
Being a Christchurch resident for thirty years, many of the titles in ‘The Byron of Burnside’ refer to or are associations with Christchurch. For instance, it was the then Christchurch poet Denis Glover who dubbed author and publisher Bob Gormack the 'Byron of Burnside' (a suburb of Christchurch). The figures portrayed in these works are of the much maligned ‘Good Keen Man’ era, usually with an even more capable ‘Good Keen Woman’ as back-up. All portrayed either were friends or knew each other well, in other words, the ‘New Zealand Way’, where everyone sort of knows everyone else!

Rudolf Boelee


flying dutchman said...

Nice piece of digging up the not so distant, in my eyes, past. Interesting that the peace and quietude of New Zealand was not enough for these guys and they had to seek their solace elsewhere. I guess these days communications are so much more sophisticated that being in NZ would not give them that sense of isolation.
I have lived in the State of Vermont where there are more cows than people. It is VERY rural and VERY quiet but people go there FOR that reason. To get away from the insanity of urban existence.

Rudolf Boelee said...

We had 'the cultural cringe' here in New Zealand for many years....what then turned into a sort of cultural muscle flexing during the 80's & 90's. Now we have a number of holy cows, none of these mainly institunial attitudes are very helpful for becoming a society with a truly pluralistic attitude. So from total 'phillistines' to tedious 'gatekeepers'.....