Nigel Brown and New Zealand National Identity

Maori people Group identity Arts New Zealand

New Zealand national identity has dominated the art of Nigel Brown, emerging in various guises throughout his career. This thesis examines his work from his school drawings through to his development into a mature, established and significant artist. The introduction reflects the role of New Zealand national identity within the context of Nigel Brown‟s oeuvre, providing an overview of his style and subject matter and concludes with a biographical summary. Chapter One considers Brown's origins: his upbringing, school-boy art and art school days, through to his first solo exhibition in 1972. This section of my thesis also includes a discussion of his key educators including Ray Ericson, Fred Graham, Garth Tapper, Pat Hanly, Colin McCahon and Robert Ellis. Chapter Two examines the artist‟s nationalist symbolism and draws attention to the way in which Brown‟s visual language speaks to a predominantly New Zealand audience. This chapter identifies and clarifies key symbols from his oeuvre: the fern, black dog, black-singlet-clad bloke, James K. Baxter as well as a cast of other disparate "characters", spiritual symbolism and McCahon. Chapter Three considers notions of belonging and explores living in Aotearoa, New Zealand, as a feature within Brown‟s art practice. Included is a discussion of his uncomfortable position within the New Zealand art scene where, despite the impediment of occasional cultural snobbery, the artist nevertheless achieved a significant reputation. The chapter also takes into account traditions of the figured landscape, the depiction of rural and suburban New Zealand, as well as this country‟s historical and cultural makeup from Pākehā, Māori and Pacific perspectives. In Chapter Four Brown‟s response to aspects of politics, social change and protest are considered. Brown is an artist with a strong social conscience and this chapter reflects on the diverse range of issues and events he tackled in his artwork such as the Vietnam War, suburban neurosis, The Springbok Tour rugby protests, pacifism, nuclear arms, feminism, human rights and environmentalism. When pulled together, the diverse threads of Brown‟s oeuvre explored in each of the above chapters, display an over-riding sense of New Zealand national identity.

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