Grumpy Graham

Jenny Harper
Posted on 6 March 2024

At Grumpy’s funeral service a rendition of What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong was played. We were asked to remember good times — and we did. He was such fun and he lived life to the full and to its end.

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū was a grateful recipient of his generosity and largesse. And only a week before he died, he was the guest of honour at our 2015 Foundation dinner. These annual events, designed to ensure support for our collections during the Gallery’s five-year closure for earthquake strengthening following the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010–11. They were black-tie dinners, but while I visited him during a short spell in hospital prior to the event, he wondered if he could wear his jeans. How many others would have asked this, I still ask myself? And to whom else would I happily say it was all right?

Martin Creed

Work No. 2314

Christchurch Art Gallery Foundation Collection, commissioned 2015, gift of Neil Graham (Grumps)

Photo: John Collie

For, Grumpy had donated the third great work for Christchurch, Martin Creed’s Everything is Going to be Alright. Against all odds at a time of repair, Gallery staff worked to ensure that it was ready in time; and it was lit up at that dinner on 23 September 2015. He received a huge standing ovation — and he deserved it! Of course he was pleased, but he was especially delighted when he heard that someone in Christchurch Hospital had seen it that evening and been buoyed by its message. And this says so much about him.

Prior to his gift, I and our Gallery fundraiser visited him at home quite a bit to talk about it. Champagne was always on ice, and sometimes we cooked for him. His own collection was varied and would not have had a Creed in it. But how well I recall his pride when he showed us his six Goldies in a room of their own. They were special to a special man and I think they will remain special…

So here’s a toast to Grumps (never Neil to us)!

Jenny Harper
Former Director
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū