Towards a Promised Land: On the Life and Art of Colin McCahon

Gordon H. Brown

Author: Gordon H. Brown
Availability: No longer in print
Format: Hardback
Pages: 216
Published: March 2010
Specs: 24.8cm x 20.0cm
ISBN: 9781869404529

‘Once the painter was making signs and symbols for people to live by’, Colin McCahon wrote, ‘now he makes things to hang on walls at exhibitions.’ Filling his paintings with kauri and cliffs, the candle and the cross, McCahon sought to develop signs and symbols for our modern world.

In Towards a Promised Land, leading McCahon scholar Gordon H. Brown presents viewers with new insight into the meanings of Colin McCahon’s paintings. Tracing McCahon’s life and work, from his student days at King Edward Technical College in Dunedin, through learning from Toss Woollaston, and on to his adult life working at the Auckland Art Gallery and at Elam School of Fine Art, Brown analyses key aspects of the paintings: the role of the Bible, the idea of the promised land, the use of words and numbers. And Brown gives us fresh insight into McCahon the man, leading us into McCahon’s various studios, his involvement with the theatre and his life at home.

A trusted friend of Colin McCahon from 1952 until the artist’s death in 1987, Gordon Brown draws on that personal relationship and on many years writing, thinking and talking about the meanings of McCahon’s paintings to offer a vivid new portrait of our most distinguished artist.


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Drawn both from his keen observation and from private conversations with McCahon, Brown’s reflections shed a warm light both on the work and the person; a nuanced human portrait of the artist struggling to communicate his powerful vision in paint. – Lara Strongman, NZ Herald

This is a very special book, a fine piece of publishing, (I always greatly appreciate French folds being used on covers of special titles like this one), an important work of scholarship by our leading McCahon scholar. My congratulations to both author and publisher, you should feel very proud indeed. – Graham Beattie

Beautifully written and personally engaging, Towards a Promised Land is also a serious book by one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent senior art historians. – Lara Strongman, NZ Herald