Return to ‘Song of the Years’
1 March 2019 - 1 April 2019
These paintings are inspired by James K Baxter’s poem, Song of the Years. For around 12 months in 2001-2 this poem captivated me and I painted prolifically. I discovered that during that same period Dave Dobbyn had set the poem to music, and his rendition expanded my appreciation of the poem’s beauty and power. In 2018 I felt inspired to return to the poem. These works are the result.
The poem is full of the intense emotions of Baxter’s personal passage through life. There is at times a sense of ultimate struggle for truth and humanity, futility, grief, grievance, and despair; other times a celebration of joy, love, worship and uplifting hope in God.
I see my task as a visual artist to capture the essence of Baxter’s poem and to re-express this in a visual form that upholds the integrity and sensitivity of the poet’s work, while not detracting from it. These paintings, then, are not intended as illustrations of Baxter’s poem but rather visually reinterpret the essence of this poem.
Several themes are present in these paintings. One theme conveys a sense that all things are purposefully interconnected and related. There is an organic beauty in the mystery of creation. The paintings, therefore, connect Maaori and Christian perspectives, as both are instrumental for New Zealanders in explaining and understanding their identity and relationships to the land.
Another theme takes me to the hills and river which, for me, are the Parapara hills and the Whanganui river. The hills and river return me to my place of belonging. The paintings, therefore, aim to convey not only a presence of organic beauty, but of hope and optimism, and a sense of being home.
About Colin Gibbs
Colin Gibbs was born in Whanganui. He spent his childhood in the shadows of the Parapara, and alongside the Whanganui River. Colin specialised in art at Palmerston North Teachers’ College from 1968-1969 under the tuition of Frank Davis and Ray Thorburn. He has worked as an art teacher, primary teacher and university professor.
During earlier years, Colin completed paintings that presented social and political messages—appropriate in times when issues such as Maaori land claims were surfacing and New Zealand became involved in the Vietnam War. His more recent work explores biculturalism, relationships with our land, and social commentary.
From late 1970 to 1998 Colin completed only one painting. He destroyed almost all his early works – only one of these survives, in the collection of the Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui.
Image: Song of the Years no. 24, Colin Gibbs