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Hammond's Powerful Impact

The loss of admired NZ artist Bill Hammond has unified the creative world. This week's arts news bulletin reflects on his legacy plus the latest on concerts, cancellations and culture.


Incredible, inimitable, our Bill

After several weeks of divisive issues headlining the Lowdown, the biggest story in the Aotearoa arts world this week is a unifying one, albeit with a heavy heart.

The passing of Bill Hammond, one of the country's most influential contemporary painters, at 73 has been met with an outpouring of love, sadness and remembrance. News of his death began to filter through on Monday, with RNZ’s confirmation replicated across multiple mainstream media outlets.

Tributes have come from fellow artists, galleries, the halls of power in parliament and a multitude of fans and followers across social media, hailing his remarkable vision and the strong social and environmental influence to his art. 

Curator and art critic Hamish Keith described Hammond as "always ahead of the curve" and his work as having "a compelling magic". Speaking on RNZ’s The Panel, Keith remarked: "You can't fault his work in technical ways. It was never crude, rude - it was always up to the mark."

His career - described as immense and of immeasurable impact -  is one worth noting for many an artist out there. Hammond was no overnight success. After studying at the University of Canterbury’s Ilam School of Fine Arts from 1966-1968, he didn’t begin exhibiting his work publicly until 1980. In fact among the quirky anecdotes shared since his passing, in his early days Hammond used to settle bar tabs in his hometown of Lyttleton with canvasses - surely a bargain for those publicans smart enough to snap up the deal.

Cave Painting 4: Bone Yard Open Home by Bill Hammond.

Head of art at Webb’s auction house, Charles Ninow pointed out to Stuff that Hammond’s larger works would be worth upwards of half a million dollars in the modern-day market.  “He is one of those artists where his imagery has become so iconic that people who are not interested in art history recognise his work….He has created his own visual language that is utterly unique.’’

Hammond never clamoured for the limelight. While many in his position could have gravitated towards the bright lights of Auckland, Hammond instead was drawn to the remote Auckland Islands off the coast of Bluff, a trip that influenced much of his remarkable work.

Jingle Jangle Morning (2006) by Bill Hammond.

As well as his irrefutable artistic talent, Hammond’s personal qualities have been wonderfully highlighted. Loyal, honest and humble are words that have been used often in the past few days to describe a ‘Lyttelton legend’.

The many skills of Hammond have been recounted - from his ability on the skiffle drum and his role in the Band Of Hope Jug Band to his other creative talents with brief stints making jewellery and wooden toys.

Bill Hammond in jug-band mode in the 60s.

As well as his strong connection to the Peter McLeavey Gallery in Wellington, Hammond’s work is a cornerstone of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. In offering their condolences, Christchurch Art Gallery highlighted director Blair Jackson’s comment: “Bill has that rare quality in an artist; he’s someone who is highly regarded by his peers, but whose works appeal to people from all walks of life.”

The Fall of Icarus (After Bruegel) 1995 by Bill Hammond.

All are invited to the gallery tomorrow (Friday 5 February) from 5pm to remember Hammond and celebrate his legacy with the artist’s family and friends at the home of his iconic Fall of Icarus (the link here has a wonderful audio commentary of the famed piece, exquisitely narrated by the exceptional Sam Neill). 

The reserved Hammond once said of his work, “I fumble around history, picking up bits and pieces.” He did a bit more than that, for which we - and generations to come - will be eternally grateful.

Bill Hammond 1947 - 2021.

Ockhams time rolls around again

There’s been general praise for the vibrancy of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards after announcing their long list for 2021.

One of the biggest prizes in New Zealand literature, 40 are left standing from 173 entries - with 13 first time authors included in the list, as well as a healthy smattering of familiar names like Pip Adam, Tusiata Avia and Leonard Bell.  

It comes off the back of a positive year for Aotearoa authors, with NZ published adult book sales up 12.5% on the year before, according to Nielsen BookScan, 

Catherine Woulfe on The Spinoff has praise for ‘un-Ockhamlike’ inclusions on with predictions. The Newsroom’s Steve Braunias is also impressed with some of the categories, but has a scathing review of the non-fiction section and their “unfortunate omissions which cast doubt on the sanity and intellectual acumen of judges.” He shared his thoughts further with RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan here.

The awards will be handed out in May during the Auckland Writers Festival, hopefully in person after Becky Manawatu’s 2020 triumph for Auē (reviewed brilliantly here on The Big Idea by Dina Jezdic) was an online affair thanks to the Pandemic.

Waitangi Day disappointment

Curse you, COVID...

Speaking of COVID and its ability to ruin important occasions, it’s naturally disappointing to see the big, red CANCELLED signs back out again for some of the Waitangi Day celebrations planned in Tāmaki Makaurau this weekend.

Waitangi Day Ki Ōkau 2021 and Waitangi ki Manukau have both been canned as safety precautions due to the most recent community cases. Te Ao Māori News reports that tens of thousands were expected to attend to see the Māori music royalty like Herbs, Annie Crummer and Che Fu and the Crates perform - but a cautious approach to put public safety first has been taken.

There will still be plenty of Waitangi Day celebrations happening around Aotearoa - including confirmation that the annual festival in Waitangi itself will go ahead.

Around the regions, Manatū Taonga has funded 34 grants totalling $288,000 for events to mark the occasion. You can see the full list of where and when these events are on at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage site.

‘Roaming ballet on scooters’

There’s lots more on over the long weekend on the arts and culture front - including the intriguing What if the City was a Theatre? performance event in Wellington. Described in the publicity as a “roaming ballet on scooters’ - 45 performers will be taking over Whairepo Lagoon on Friday night to kick off a two-month free programme of dance, lights and music. 

Consider us intrigued.

Colour and Cupadupa

Previous CubaDupa scenes. Photo: Oliver Crawford Photography.

The announcements of events are starting to come thick and fast - despite the recent COVID scares.

Still in the capital, CubaDupa is charging full steam ahead for next month’s two-day event - announcing a flurry of new artists, stages and creative zones for New Zealand’s largest free street festival. There are some goodies in there too, with the always entertaining Hip Hop starlet Jess B and French singer-songwriter Franck Monnet among those confirmed. Further details here on Stuff.

And the self-described ‘best little arts festival in New Zealand’, Wānaka’s Festival of Colour have released their programme for April, which includes three world premieres - – two works from the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Ultra Violet and The Autumn Ball; The Hall, as well as the New Zealand String Quartet performing The Dry Cardrona, based on James K Baxter’s poem.

Youth making a difference

We all know the importance of the creative arts and the difference it can make to an individual or community. But it’s not always easy to keep those outlets, those opportunities open for all.

Shout outs must go to those who are making it happen.

Youth Arts New Zealand’s continued good work nurturing the minds and leadership of rangatahi is paying dividends with the determined push to spread a creative writing programme through the country’s prisons thanks to funding from Creative NZ.  The two young writers behind the project,  Zak Devey (21) and poet Eric Soakai spoke to RNZ’s Standing Room Only.

And the New Zealand Herald has covered a story of true community spirit, profiling the revival of the Lakes performing arts centre in Rotorua with dance director Rebecca Brake.

Culture, comebacks and Queue-jumpers

There are plenty of good stories and features on determined creative minds popping up online.

Among them, the refusal to let COVID call the shots and the unwavering desire to get the fascinating Strasbourg 1518 production back on stage for this year’s Auckland Arts Festival. Director, choreographer and performer Lucy Marinkovich opens up on the emotional journey and the importance of rebellion here on The Big Idea.

Over at Artzone, Fairooz Samy has a piece on the talented Taepa whānau and the incredible artistic lineage that’s filtering through the generations across so many different disciplines. As Ngatai Taepa explains, “it’s not just a profession for us, it’s a way of living, a way of being.”

And Stuff columnist Joe Bennett is at his acerbic best as he gives an insight into what he calls “the sheer entitlement” of cashed-up foreigners on boats trying to buy their way out of quarantine and full house signs to see his play The Die, at the Lyttelton Arts Factory. Spoiler alert; he’s having none of it.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

4 Feb 2021

The Big Idea Editor