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Ways of painting place

Shane Cotton evokes a specific place in his paintings in many different ways, including literal renderings of land, textual references, and a range of symbols that imply a certain place through cultural associations. These techniques were all most prevalent in his works of 1998-2001, in which Cotton asserted his Ngā Puhi and Ngāti Rangi identity 7 Bishop-Jahnke, “Tuakiri,” 41.
An example from this period is Ruarangi (Fig. 1), painted in 2000. This work consists primarily of a solid black field, with a landscape along the top edge portraying hills silhouetted against a dawn sky. The presence of this landscape denotes a specific place, whether recognised or not, due to the long history in the Western art tradition of landscape painters naturalistically depicting a real place. This landscape is therefore understood as corresponding with the land formation in a certain place, and this understanding is reinforced by the labelling of two of the hills: Pouerua and Ohaeawai.
However, in this case the horizon is more of a symbol of the area rather than an accurate depiction of the land’s outline. Lara Strongman has described it as “a symbolic landscape of memory”.11 Cotton has not worked from a photo in this instance, instead relying on the text to specify the place he is referring to. Both ‘Pouerua’ and ‘Ohaeawai’ refer to places within the wider region of Taiāmai. Pouerua is the name of a volcanic, cone-shaped hill near Pākaraka, which was once a pā site.12 It remains a place of great significance to Ngā Puhi13 and to Cotton’s Ngāti Rangi hapū in particular, as it is to Pouerua where Ngāti Rangi descendants trace their origins.14 Ohaeawai is Cotton’s tūrangawaewae, the name of an area in Taiāmai and of a small township close to his maunga, Maungaturoto, and also near his marae at Ngāwhā.15
The title, ‘Ruarangi’, is also the name of a place in Northland, which is not near the Taiāmai Plains but relates to the narrative of one of Cotton’s ancestors, Maikuku. As Bishop-Jahnke explains, “due to the gravity of her tapu, Maikuku lived in isolation in a cave at Ruarangi…”16 Wiremu Wi Hongi continues this narrative, describing how Hua came to the cave to take Maikuku as his wife, and how after the birth of their first child “they moved and finally settled at Pouerua.”17 It was here that all the rest of their children 10 Robert Jahnke, “Voices Beyond the Pae.” in Shane Cotton, ed. Lara Strongman (Wellington, New Zealand: City Gallery Wellington; Victoria University Press), 10.
This clarifies the connection between Ruarangi, Pouerua and Ohaeawai, and shows how Cotton locates Ruarangi in his ancestral homeland of Taiāmai by literally referring to these places in the title of the work and by labelling of two of the local hills. There are also several purely symbolic, rather than literal, elements that reinforce this connection by indirectly referencing Taiāmai, or Te Tai Tokerau more generally. The first is the image of a small white bird with wings outstretched, silhouetted against the black background. This image evokes the story of Taiāmai, after which the region inland of the Bay of Islands was named.19 Deidre Brown recounts the story, in which a large
white bird …suddenly arrived in the area, and began to drink from a water-filled hollow in a rock, near the modern-day town of Ōhaeawai. Kaitara, who was the local rangatira (chief), told his people that the bird had come from Hawaiki, their ancestral homeland. He said that the bird had been delivered to them by the winds of Tangaroa (god of the sea), and for that reason it should be known as ‘Taiāmai’, meaning ‘towards us from the sea’. Although according to Kaitara the bird would belong to the tribe, it was also tapu (sacred, prohibited) and should not be approached. The continued appearance of Taiāmai at the rock, in the domain of Kaitara, enhanced the mana (prestige, status) of the place and, by extension, its people. Some time later, a jealous rangatira, from a nearby tribe, attempted to capture Taiāmai. However, the bird escaped by melting into the rock. Taiāmai never reappeared… Kaitara named the rock ‘Te tino-o-Taiāmai’… In time, the name ‘Taiāmai’ was applied to the region around the rock.20

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Ways of painting place
Cultural underpinnings
Place and identity
From the local to the universal
Painted space
Symbolising time
Linear and cyclic time
Transformation and change
Painting through time
Perceptions of temporality
Bicultural symbols and narratives
Language and text
Bicultural receptions
End of narrative
Multiplicity of meanings
Allegory in art
Appropriation of imagery
The influence of surrealism

Te Tūtaki: Place, Time, Biculturalism and the Postmodern in the work of Shane Cotton, 2000-2012

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