Bryan Dew, New Zealand artist of the 1960s

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Image (detail) from MTG website

Bryan Dew & the panorama of social unease’ is the name of a small exhibition I saw over Easter in Napier at the MTG (it stands for Museum, Theatre, Gallery – although that wasn’t obvious to me). This is the museum formerly known as Hawkes Bay Exhibition Centre, with a recent extension and new display galleries. Also on was an exhibition of Artist’s Proof prints by Dick Frizzell, and an exhibition of art works from the MTG collection from the 1970s and 1980s. The Bryan Dew (who I hadn’t heard of before) fitted well with the other art exhibitions, although it was on the ground floor whereas they were on the first floor.

Bryan Dew (1940-2006) was born in Hastings in Hawkes Bay and attended Auckland’s Elam School of Art, graduating in 1961 after which he returned to Hawkes Bay. The works on display (about 6 paintings and several drawings) were produced over the next two or three years before he moved to London. From London he moved to America for the rest of his life, although he held a few exhibitions in Hawkes Bay before he died unexpectedly in 2006. This is a review of an exhibition in 2005.

This particular series could be described as satirical or social commentary on the everyday rituals of life then – twenty-first birthday parties, weddings and the wedding breakfast with speeches, school reunions (see Auckland Art Gallery’s ‘Jubilee’ (1963)), beauty contests, and so on.

According to the gallery website: “Dew produced his important works while still ‘an angry young man’. He was repelled by a society he saw as dull, self-important, pompous, ritualized, claustrophobic, close minded and chauvinistic. In this series of works Dew avoided the bright natural light that dominated the New Zealand painting of his day. Instead he ventured indoors to capture, under harsh fluorescent light, the pre-sliced white bread, brown-bottled beer and ill-fitting clothes preferred by the ‘bug eyed men and po-faced ladies’ he encountered.”

There was a quote on the wall from artist Don Binney (1940-2012) who I presume was at Elam with Dew and probably remained a friend as the drawings were on loan from the estate of Don Binney. The quote (which I wish I had copied out) was about the stultifying conformity of New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Wedding Breakfast, Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust (http://www.mtghawkesbay.com/museum-collection/highlights/fine-arts/)

Although it is a small exhibition, it was very enjoyable and the paintings were evocative of the time. The exhibition is on from Monday 6 April 2015 – Sunday 31 May 2015.

Here are a couple of photos of members of the Read family at the sort of occasions that he would have satirised.

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I think this was my great-grandmother’s 90th birthday in 1952 (Ruth Read – in the middle). Her three daughters are included (Winifred far left, Evelyn next and Violet second from right). You can see these three at younger ages in my NZ Edwardian photo album post.

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The same three (my grandmother Winifred is on the right this time), and my aunt Gwen is looking at the camera. Two unidentified women at the left. I’m not sure what this occasion was.

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