Book Review: Hand-Coloured New Zealand – The Photographs of Whites Aviation, by Peter Alsop

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_handcoloured_new_zealandSometimes a book appears on the bookshelf in your local bookshop and it catches your eye and you think, “Wow, what an amazing book”. So, you step inside and take the book in your hands and start to flick through. Often it is sort-of interesting, nice pictures, a bit long, not really my thing. But sometimes, just sometimes, it absolutely captures your heart. This is that very special book.

From 1945 Whites Aviation took a number of photographs of New Zealand. These images were often spectacular, very beautiful and impressive. Then they went a step further. They decided that by hand-colouring each photograph they could produce an even more spectacular record of the beauty of New Zealand. The images are known to us still. They graced the walls of offices and homes, they travelled around the world on postcards and they are sought-after vintage photos for the current generation.

While all this sounds interesting it is the story of the people involved in this process which captivated me. Leo White who founded the company, Clyde Stewart who not only took the photographs but was the lead photo colourist and then the colouring-ladies. These remarkable women spent countless hours with cotton wool colouring each photo in a realistic and sympathetic way. The subtle tones and shades, the depth and the detail all came from their talented hands. The stories of the people behind the images added a real depth to the second half of the book: the plates themselves. So many of these images are familiar to me. I grew up with these in public buildings, in shops and offices and we even owned one of Franz Josef, which hung in pride of place in the good lounge!

The details are superb both in image and story. Leo White’s first images of the Homer Tunnel avalanche, of the Napier earthquake and then of Northland, where a night in the mud on 90 Mile Beach resulted in health issues for the rest of his life. In fact, he found the only relief from his asthma was the Glaciers, and spent 2-3 months each year in this favourite part of the country. It is such details that lift this book above the coffee table tomes of the past.

When you have read the stories, you get to enjoy the images. They are wonderful and all of my Christmas visitors have had a session at the dining table, reverently turning the pages. At $80, this is the best buy book of the year. It is big, beautiful and a bargain to boot.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Hand-Coloured New Zealand: The Photographs of Whites Aviation
by Peter Alsop
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503154

Books I’m Giving This Christmas by Stella Chrysostomou

Stella Chrysostomou and Thomas Koed have just opened VOLUME, Nelson’s newest bookshop. Between them, they have decades of experience in bookselling, and Stella has been on our board for many years. Here is what Stella is buying for her friends and family this Christmas.  And you can win them: just tell us one book you plan to buy for Christmas in the comments, and/or over on Facebook!

Heap House, by Edward Carey (Hot Key Books) 9781471401572
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After hearing Edward Carey at the Auckland Writer’s Festival in May, I was fascinated by his description of the world of the Iremongers, and this has been the find of the year for intriguing and excellent children’s writing. The third in the trilogy, Lungdon, has just been published, but start with Heap House. In the opening pages we are introduced to the unusual Iremonger family, who live on the outskirts of London where they collect and sift the rubbish which has grown into great moving heaps with a life-force all of its own. Meet Clod and the serving girl, Lucy, and begin an adventure of twists and turns, the unexpected and surprising. The language is captivating, the world is fascinating and the plot is both philosophical and beguiling. Great as a read-aloud, for summer family reading, and for 12+. Sarah Forster interviewed him earlier in the year, if you are keen to learn more.

The Wish Child, by Catherine Chidgey (VUP) 9781776560622
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Recently released, Catherine Chidgey’s The Wish Child is a stunning portrayal of war-time Germany through the eyes of two children, Sieglinde, from a middle-class family in Berlin, and Erich, from a farm near Leipzig. Theirs is a story of secrets, fear and overwhelming loyalty – for both the right and wrong reasons – a story that plays out in an atmosphere of paranoia and loss. Yet there is beauty in the small details and the happenstance relationship between Sieglinde and Erich. Chidgey’s novel is reminiscent of Jenny Erpenbeck’s End of Days; it’s beautifully crafted, building tension and foreboding and never letting the reader off the hook. The narrator’s voice is one of haunting sadness, all-telling yet allusive. The Wish Child is a must-read for this summer.

This Model World, by Anthony Byrt (AUP) 9781869408589
cv_this_modern_worldIf you are looking to keep abreast of developments in contemporary NZ art, go no further than Anthony Byrt’s This Model World. Immensely readable, Byrt combines serious art discussion with his own personal take on our contemporary artists, as well as letting us into his world as a critic. Drawn from interviews conducted at the artists’ studios, the conversations flow and we are given an insight into what compels these artists to make, how they frame themselves in the world, and the ideas they discuss through their work. Artists include Shane Cotton, Judy Millar, Peter Robinson and Yvonne Todd. This Model World is remarkable in its ability to be simultaneously very personal and informative, with Byrt intertwining his own life into these observations about art and the place of art in our lives.

Hotel, by Joanna Walsh and Dust, by Michael Marder (Bloomsbury Academic) 9781628924732 and 9781628925586
cv_hotelBig ideas can come in small packages (a principle we represent at VOLUME!), and the books in the excellent ‘Object Lessons’ series published by Bloomsbury each take an everyday object (bread, hood, password, bookshelf, silence, &c) and explore the deep strata of meaning and cultural resonance inherent in that object but to which we are usually blinded through familiarity. Favourites read so far include Hotel by the incomparable Joanna Walsh (which correlates the breakdown of her marriage with her time spent as a hotel reviewer, and plays rigorously with the idea of the hotel and with the idea of home that is its complement and shadow) and Dust by Michael Marder (which explores the philosophical weight of the universal substance which is comprised of things that have lost both identity and form).

cv_children-of-the-new-worldChildren of the New World, by Alexander Weinstein (Text Publishing) 9781925498387
The debut short story collection, Children of the New World, is the brainchild of American writer Alexander Weinstein. The opening story, ‘Saying Goodbye to Yang’, sees a family sitting around the dining table watching Yang, a sophisticated big brother robot, malfunction. In the story ‘Children of The New World’ a couple live a virtual existence, complete with two perfect children, a nice suburban house and everything is wonderful until they venture into the Dark City. Their adventuring brings a virus into their perfect world, creating chaos. Many of the characters in the stories are disconnected from each other and from place, addicted to their programmes, technological implants, computer generated improvements and virtual worlds. Weinstein gives us wry stories – many are darkly funny – which question our obsession with technology, social media, perfection, identity and our desire to recreate ourselves. Set in a near-future this collection is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Hand-Coloured New Zealand, by Peter Alsop (Potton & Burton) 9780947503154
cv_handcoloured_new_zealandHand-Coloured New Zealand is a stunning publication from the dream team of Peter Alsop and publisher, Potton & Burton. From 1945, Whites Aviation produced the best hand-coloured photographs. This book is a tribute to the expertise of the company that produced these works, to the photographers and colourists whose work was exquisite. There are in-depth chapters about Leo White, the company founder; Clyde Stewart, chief photographer and head of colouring; and my favourite entitled ‘One of the Girls’ about Grace Rawson and her work as a colourist at Whites. The book is generously illustrated; many images will be familiar, either glimpsed on an aunt’s wall or as large-scale photographs in public buildings. This beautifully produced publication is a must for collectors, photographers and for anyone interested in New Zealand’s social history.

by Stella Chrysotomou

Book Review: Mauri Ora – Wisdom From the Maori World, by Peter Alsop and Te Rau Kupenga

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_mauri_oraMauri Ora is a beautiful book of Maori whakatauki (proverbs) that are grouped into themes and illustrated with photos from a variety of artists. Each whakatauki and image are carefully matched and the overall impression is of a carefully curated book.

The authors explain the point of their book is “to share the gifts of cultural knowledge to new audiences in a new and engaging way.” By drawing on the distilled knowledge and wisdom of whakatauki important lessons are passed on – both day to day function wisdom but also the knowledge to cement cultural values into new generations.

The six themes in the book are matauranga/ wisdom, maia/ courage, atawhai/ compassion, ngakau tapatahi/ integrity, whakahautanga/ self-mastery and whakapono/ belief. Each whakatuaki is in both Te Reo and English.

The images that match the whakatauki in each section were selected to provide a visual match to the proverb. They are not subsidiary to the wisdom, rather by themselves they contribute to the visual history of Aotearoa. The printing of the images is beautiful and clear. I was transfixed, and have gone slowly through the book, looking at the images and whakatauki together and leaving with a deeper sense of understanding of New Zealand’s history.

This book arrived for review the morning after the recent earthquakes here in New Zealand. As I looked through this book the next day I was taken by an image of an enormous crayfish. Shortly afterwards I learnt of the marae feeding stranded tourists and homeless locals crayfish. I’m sure many visitors left New Zealand with a genuine taste of manaakitanga.

I can think of so many different groups of people who would love to receive this as a gift – it would be great for anyone who enjoys books with wise advice, those looking to improve their Te Reo, teachers, parents – just about anyone. A beautiful book.

Review by Emma Rutherford

Mauri Ora – Wisdom From the Maori World
by Peter Alsop and Te Rau Kupenga
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503147

Book Review: Marcus King: Painting New Zealand for the World, by Peter Alsop & Warren Feeney

cv_marcus_king_lrgAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

There is a mission manifest in the publication of Marcus King: Painting New Zealand for the World. In recent years, Peter Alsop has been central to the production of accessible art history books (Selling the Dream; Promoting Prosperity) that focus on poster design for tourism and advertising, and foreground the art and artists, blurring the line between fine art and commercial art. It seems his mission has been and is to shine a light on this body of work, to bring its quality and quantity back into the public and professional gaze and in doing so, prevent its disappearance from the public record.

In this latest in a line of luscious books Alsop, along with co-author on this occasion Warren Feeney, has turned his attention toward printmaker, designer and painter Marcus King, “arguably New Zealand’s most viewed artist… but until now, relatively unknown.” True enough. So who was Marcus King, and what led to his becoming “one of New Zealand’s leading exponents of Impressionism and a prominent commercial artist with a vision of New Zealand presented extensively both locally and abroad”?

Within a commercial and public service career spanning many decades, King appeared as a muralist in almost every International exhibition New Zealand attended between the wars, and designed tourism posters for the National Publicity Studios. Though King himself may have regarded his employment mainly as an income stream to sustain his passion to paint (“You’ve got to put a little butter on the bread — you have to make a crust somehow”), this prodigious output stands alone as an impressive body of work.

His primary mission however was to paint. Reflecting on his life in an interview in the Kapiti Observer in 1974, King comments, “I have wasted so much valuable time, which I could have spent painting. Whatever I’m doing, painting is never far from my mind.” Throughout his life, King painted coastal scenes of Wellington’s inlets and harbours, and pastoral and forest scenes from all round New Zealand, initially in watercolors, then in oils. Trained thoroughly at Elam School of Art, and heavily influenced by the Swedish painter Claus Edward Fristrom, King was a master of colour and an expert with glare, admired in particular for his ability to capture the way light plays on water. King’s large scale paintings and murals, often depicting popular milestones in New Zealand history, have become some of his most recognisable and reproduced works, most notably his often unacknowledged, iconic painting of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

For all of this — for his“truthful and real” representation of culture and history, for his consistent presentation of New Zealand as a modern, optimistic and light-filled country, for his contribution to “the branding of New Zealand as an alluring tourism utopia … and agricultural paradise” — this book contends that Marcus King can be credited for “shaping the country’s identity at a formative time.”

How then did Marcus King and his work slip for so long out of favour with art collectors, historians and institutions, in the process becoming practically invisible to the general public? According to Dick Frizzell, who provides typically energetic commentary in the preface, King suffered from the mid-20th century conceit that “only Modern artists could somehow perceive the truth in things.” King was lazily ring-fenced within the genre of “mid-century landscape artists.” There was also his reputed modesty and routine work habits — “a personality and approach… removed from popular perceptions about the … individuals more frequently associated with leading the fine arts.” Finally, there is also the residual reluctance to view commercial artists and their work as worthy of the status enjoyed by fine artists. This last assumption in particular, Alsop and Feeney are at pains to address in a finely written and comprehensive essay entitled ‘Discovering King.’

Readers, art lovers, designers and cultural historians are all likely to be grateful to Alsop and Feeney for their discovery and recovery operation, for their evangelism, and for sharing the good news. Excellence abounds in Marcus King; the publication is meticulously researched, expansive, and driven by an aesthetic and intellectual zeal. The reproductions of prints and paintings are luminous, electrifying.

King, Alsop, Feeney, The Gas Project, Potton & Burton: mission accomplished.

Marcus King: Painting New Zealand for the World
by Peter Alsop and Warren Feeney
Potton & Burton
ISBN  9781927213704

Promoting Prosperity, by Peter Alsop & Gary Stewart

ImageThis book is available in bookstores nationwide.

Internationally, New Zealand has long advertised itself as a prosperous land of natural splendour with a resultant surplus in primary products. Selling the Dream, the recent offering by Alsop, Stewart and Bamford, dealt with the art that shaped and characterized early New Zealand tourism. Art that promoted mountain and lamb, butter and beef, apple and hot pool.

Hot on the heels of the dream has come a second magnum opus, Promoting Prosperity, dealing with similar themes and the same period of advertising history: that leading up to the arrival of television. But if the earlier book focuses on the art that was used to present New Zealand to a global audience, this one zeroes in on how New Zealand companies used advertising to promote their products to domestic consumers; in doing so, it sheds insight on how the images used may have shaped as well as reflected the nation’s view of itself.

This second book makes clear that it wasn’t only the private sector attempting to win hearts and minds; the governments of the time also used poster art to appeal to the better moral instincts of the citizenry. Sections of Promoting Prosperity with such titles as ‘Five plus a day’ and ‘Health is wealth’ contain evidence of these altruistic (or social engineering) tendencies, while ‘Loose lips sink ships’ is devoted to images of brave New Zealand soldiers as well as graphic invitations to contribute to the war cause via the Victory Loan.

Kevin Roberts of Saatchi and Saatchi has written the foreword. Several of his comments succinctly draw attention to the all round excellence of Promoting Prosperity: “… a treasure trove of illustration, painting, typography, copywriting and studio production;” “a rare combination of passion, productivity and visual and editorial literacy;” “designers globally will tip their hats to this effort;” “Craig Potton Publishing are a world-changing outfit, every book a bullseye…”

Clearly then, the cast and crew involved in production have been in fine form. The star of the show is naturally the artwork itself, and the black and white photos book- ending each section. The original images come from billboards, posters, magazine adverts and journals, made with techniques including lithograph, woodcut and painting. The designs are often hard to resist: a reader might find herself considering the logistics of transferring them to tee shirts. One-offs of course, to avoid legal issues, though perhaps there would be few complaints if the wearers were opening up new markets for, say, HONEY or WOOL, taken from posters in the section ‘Britain’s farm.’

The same reader might think twice before transferring images from ‘Sex, drugs and alcohol,’ not because those products are not still in demand, but because there tends to be a bit of stigma attached to advertising them. Such messages as ‘ATM cigarettes- Irresistible!’ and ‘Smoke Park Drive- It lasts longer!’ and very simply, ‘Try it!’ suggest that even in the early to mid twentieth century, exclamation marks were needed to help consumers overcome their health concerns when it came to tobacco.

Good news for literary types: the eleven essays grouped together in the early pages of Promoting Prosperity are as literate and stimulating as the works of art. Without wishing to agree with Kevin Roberts too much, I think he is correct when he commends Dick Frizzell’s essay in particular for its originality and quirk.

Multiple entry points then. Something for the reader, something for the viewer. Something for the aesthete, something for the anthropologist. Something for the art historian, something for the common woman. And a question, perhaps, for the curious: does the best advertising, as Kevin Roberts suggests, make things clear and simple to inform choices, form preferences and ultimately make better lives? Or does it direct the general population toward mass consumption, and shape artificial preferences based on the illusion of choice?

Promoting Prosperity does not seek to answer that question. Nor need it. For it is splendid and abundant and it smells good. Try it! You’ll like it! Or your money back.

Reviewed by Aaron Blaker

Promoting Prosperity: The Art of Early New Zealand Advertising
by Peter Alsop & Gary Stewart
Published by Craig Potton Publishing
ISBN 9781877517969

Selling the Dream: The Art of Early New Zealand Tourism

Selling the Dream 300dpiAvailable in bookshops now, shortlisted in the Illustrated Non-fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards

An immediate side effect of opening this book in public is the conversations that it invites. People who see the massive, gorgeous artifact on my lap or flattened across a tabletop feel compelled to comment or ask questions, to make contact. A typical conversation, on this occasion with a man named Greg* in the Otago Museum foyer, went something like this.

“What’s that you’re reading, mate? Looks interesting.”

“Well” I began, only slightly resentful of the interruption, “This is a book about the art of early New Zealand tourism. You know, the posters that were commissioned by Tourism Departments and the like, designed to show off New Zealand and lure people to the country.”

“That right?” and Greg leaned right in, then sat down on the padded bench. I started flipping the thick, shiny pages. There was colour contrast and a blooming scent of newness, of quality. “Old school, are they?”

“Yep. Pre 1960s. Before photography and television. Look at this one.” There it is, Mitre Peak, symbol of all that is grand about New Zealand, one of many mountains and glaciers represented in these pages.

“Or this.” The mighty Rangitata, pride of the New Zealand Shipping Company, taking the shortest route to London. Men in white jackets and Panama hats wave from the canal’s banks to leave us in no doubt as to where the journey will take you.

“Then there’s this kind of thing.” And there she is, a Maori maiden with naked thigh and bare shoulders, gazing up in expectant adoration at a Pan American jet as it propels its cargo of tourists toward the jewel of the southern seas. Mt. Cook in the background, a pastoral scene to the fore, the Union Jack covering part of the thigh. This poster, also the book’s cover image, is magnificent. Published in 1940, how could it not have enticed war weary Europeans and war wary Americans?  Even Greg was having trouble tearing his eyes from the slopes and motifs.

Or it could have been the book altogether that was mildly stunning his sensibilities. Because that’s the other side effect of Selling the Dream. The actual art – each piece so skillfully rendered, originally on silk screens or as lithographs, by talented and meticulous artists – is exceptional. You could spend a long time admiring the simplification of form and swimming in the broad, flat areas of pure colour. To see them all together, contained (but only just) within these four hundred pristine and glorious pages, would be overwhelming, were it not for the careful curation of Alsop, Stewart and Bamford.

Arranged in sections with such titles as Unique Maoriland; Plains, Trains and Automobiles (and Ships); and Pastoral Paradise, the posters by themselves are a narrative of how a ‘young’ nation perhaps saw itself, or of how it wanted to be seen by the rest of the world.

“For those who like words with their pictures,” I said to Greg, “There are also a dozen essays on hand to further tease out the narrative and shed insight on the artistic process, the outrageous cultural appropriation, the role of publicity in shaping New Zealand’s identity.”

But I had lost him to the glossy pages, to Timaru by the sea, to Mt. Cook’s Hermitage, thousands of feet above worry level, to trout fishing in the Routeburn river. He was stopping to sniff the trout. I drew the line there. “Greg,” I said, “If you’re that keen, get yourself across the road to the University Book Shop right now.”

As he disappeared out the sliding doors I re-entered Selling the Dream, to bathe in splendour, to await the next enquiry.

*Not his real name

Reviewed by Aaron Blaker

Selling the Dream: The Art of Early New Zealand Tourism
Edited by Peter Alsop. Gary Stewart, Dave Bamford
Published by Craig Potton Publishing
ISBN 9781877517778