Colin McCahon: There is Only One Direction, Vol. I 1919–1959

Peter Simpson

Author: Peter Simpson
Format: Hardback, Ebook
Pages: 360
Published: October 3, 2019
Specs: 28.5cm x 23.5cm
ISBN: 9781869408954

Available in Ebook

An extraordinary two-volume work chronicling forty-five years of painting by our most important artist, Colin McCahon.

Colin McCahon (1919–1987) was New Zealand’s greatest twentieth-century artist. Through landscapes, biblical paintings and abstraction, the introduction of words and Māori motifs, McCahon’s work came to define a distinctly New Zealand modernist idiom. Collected and exhibited extensively in Australasia and Europe, McCahon’s work has not been assessed as a whole for thirty-five years.

In this richly illustrated two-volume work, written in an accessible style and published to coincide with the centenary of Colin McCahon’s birth, leading McCahon scholar, writer and curator Peter Simpson chronicles the evolution of McCahon’s work over the artist’s entire forty-five-year career.

Simpson has enjoyed unprecedented access to McCahon’s extensive correspondence with friends, family, dealers, patrons and others. This material enables us to begin to understand McCahon’s work as the artist himself conceived it. Each volume includes over three hundred illustrations in colour, with a generous selection of reproductions of McCahon’s work (many never previously published), plus photographs, catalogue covers, facsimiles and other illustrative material.

Along with Colin McCahon: Is this the Promised Land? Vol.2 1960-1987, this will be the definitive work on New Zealand’s leading artist for many years to come.


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‘With a generous regard towards his subject, a magisterial command of the material, and scrupulous attention to detail, Peter Simpson has crafted an indispensable work of art-historical scholarship. Colin McCahon: There is Only One Direction draws upon diaries, letters and other contemporary sources to document the artist’s life from 1919 until 1959, alongside a magnificent selection of his works, many of which have not been reproduced before. It is a remarkable achievement.’ – Martin Edmond

‘New Zealand’s foremost artist Colin McCahon is many things to many people: modernist, visionary, environmentalist, shaman, preacher, rustic provincialist, bicultural trailblazer, painter-poet, graffiti artist, teacher, maverick . . . Peter Simpson’s account interrogates as well as accommodates all of these possibilities. Guiding us year by year through the artist’s career, he offers a ground-breaking overview of the life’s work of a tenacious, brilliant and endlessly fascinating figure.’ – Gregory O’Brien

‘Peter Simpson brings formidable credentials to the task – decades of cross-disciplinary inquiry specifically into McCahon, and a scholar’s way with research and documentation. The study is strenuously thorough, seeking to account for every aspect of the work and its interface with the life, the times, and the art world. He traces crosscurrents and contradictions pertinaciously, handling the voluminous evidence with a light touch and straightforward clarity.’ – Janet Hughes, Artzone