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Review: The Male Figure in the Art of John Z. Robinson

Sat 18 Apr 2009 In: Books View at Wayback View at NDHA

   Review: The Male Figure in the Art of John Z. Robinson Brent Coutts, Peter Graczer and Malcolm Templeton 176 pp, $40     As you flip through the reproductions of John Z Robinson's painting-sequence '29 Nudes', your first thought is 'how come I didn't know John Z. Robinson was this good?' John Z. Robinson painting in his studio When faced with Robinson's exuberant palette you've immediately realised that the New Zealand paintings you've seen before this have been drab by comparison – all manuka-green and karitane-yellow. Robinson's lilac-magentas, blush-pinks, peacock-greens and tiger-lily oranges stand out from the average run of New Zealand art like a swallow-tailed Amazonian butterfly in a field of cabbage-whites. Robinson's bold brush strokes are both tactile and economic. New Zealanders -despite their philistine history – have never been good with the depiction of human bodies in art. Robinson's fluid swathes of colour manage to suggest human volumes and spaces with ease. And the ice-cream gaudery of his paints simply enhances the fact that you actually want to put these almost -touchable bodies in your mouth... It is good art. It is bold, original and it says something. The just-published 176 page 'The Male Figure in the Art of John Z. Robinson' by Brent Coutts, Peter Graczer, and Malcolm Templeton is a well-produced, retrospective look at the life and work of the Dunedin painter - as seen through his paintings and sketches of male nudes. The book is copiously and beautifully illustrated. It draws on Robinsons works from the early 1980s to the present day and is an attempt to explain just where Robinson has come from and where, perhaps, he is going. Homosexuality is central to Robinson's work – or at least these particular works. The leading essay by Brent Coutts unearths Robinson's gay history in terms of his depiction of the male nude. It is a very familiar story – except this one is charted in an artist's paintings. Robinson came out late. In one of his statements concerning this process he says "I didn't want to face up to being gay. So I wasn't looking for myself clearly. So that's how I viewed the world. In my early paintings there was no detail..." (emphasis added). And, one could even say, there was frequently no gender. It would be impossible to sex many of the human depictions in Robinson's early work. John Z. Robinson The Male Figure in the Art of John Z. Robinson was launched recently along with Amy Bock: A Series of Drawings by John Z. Robinson by Peter Graczer which examines and backgrounds Robinson's sketches based on the enigmatic life of Amy Bock, 'male impersonator,' in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. More information on ordering the books can be obtained from The retail price for Amy Bock is $25 plus packaging and postage. The Male Figure in the Art of John Z. Robinson is $40 plus packaging and postage. David Herkt - 18th April 2009    

Credit: David Herkt

First published: Saturday, 18th April 2009 - 5:12pm

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