Colin McCahon 'Landscape Multiple No. 11'

Ben Plumbly
Posted on 7 November 2023

This gem of a landscape painting is from a small series of twelve paintings the artist exhibited at Barry Lett Galleries in 1968, under the unusually jovial exhibition moniker: ‘Colin McCahon’s Bargain Basement!’. Landscape Multiple No. 11 (1968) is also somewhat of a misnomer, there were twelve paintings in the series, each of which are completely unique. Exhibited alongside three other bodies of works, the exhibition included, alongside the twelve ‘Landscape Multiples’, the equally reductive ‘Helensville’ landscape series, the ‘South Canterbury’ paintings, and the artist’s eight work ‘Visible Mysteries’ series.

Each of the twelve ‘Landscape Multiple’ paintings share the same format and formal orientation: two zones, representing sky and earth, divided by a horizontal line. The upper zone constituting approximately one third of the picture plane and the lower zone approximately two thirds. They were all completed across a two month period in Autumn of 1968 and each differs, particularly, in the upper third of the composition where the artist varies the treatment of the sky and atmosphere.

Appearing ostensibly to be of the Otago and Canterbury region, these paintings represent a landscape which is both specific and universal. Landscape is perhaps the defining trope in McCahon’s oeuvre, a constant presence in a large and challenging body of work. As the title alludes, this is a painting designed to evoke an emotional and contemplative response rather than to recall a specific place, the specifics of locality being less important to the artist than the symbolic content embodied by the landscape.

Colin McCahon
Landscape Multiple No. 11
synthetic polymer and sawdust on board
title inscribed, signed and dated May-June ’68 and inscribed No. 11 of series of 12 verso
295 x 295mm

Private collection, Wellington.

Colin McCahon Database ( CM001129.

‘Colin McCahon’, Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland, 14 October - 25 October 1968.

$65 000 - $85 000

View lot here

Despite this, the series takes its cue from a body of South Island landscapes the artist began working on in the previous year: the ‘North Otago’, ‘South Canterbury’ and ‘Craigieburn’ landscape series. All of which share a broadly similar palette and the same two-part division between land and sky. As with the small ‘Craigieburn’ series, here McCahon uses sand and sawdust to create texture and depth and as a means of not just depicting the landscape, but of making of the painting of the land itself. The textured landscape is disrupted by a diagonal line denoting a ridge or gully in the Southern Alps, where the plains uneasily and abruptly meet the mountains.

Born just north of the region in Timaru on August 1st 1919, the artist was raised in Dunedin and attended secondary school in Oamaru at Waitaki Boys’ High School, making the journey on State Highway 1 through the heart of the coastal Otago region many times as a boy. The artist revisited the North Otago and Canterbury region three times during 1967 and 1977 and was completely captivated by the region’s beauty and solitude. These trips south constituted somewhat of a refamiliarization with a land the artist new well and were all undertaken in winter. The artist recounting: “Each time it has been windless and cold. Once a thin snowfall lay over the hills…”. In gazing upon Landscape Multiple No. II one can feel the icy chill of the region’s infamous Southerly wind on a cool Autumn morning.

Landscape Multiple No. II represents McCahon’s landscape painting as among its most refined, eloquent and reductive. This is a land both specific and universal, literal and transcendent.

Ben Plumbly