Two pairs ofagate and sterling silver earrings $30 each
Moments in Time is a book full of small but interesting surprises. The first is that Ralph Miller even existed. His name is probably well-known in art circles in Otago, especially given he has enjoyed a retrospective exhibition at the Hocken Collections Gallery at Otago University in 2006 which lead to 10 reproductions now hanging in the Mayor’s Lounge at Dunedin Town Hall.
But this book, written by his son Brian Miller (Lifelogs Ltd) introduces Miller’s work to a wider audience, which would otherwise be impossible given nearly all his work have only ever been owned by family members. Brian Miller is more than just an enthusiastic amateur keen to promote his father to the general public, being a professional writer, publisher and photographer. He does an excellent job of not only presenting and explaining Ralph Miller’s work, but putting it within the context of the times and experiences the artist lived through, particularly daily life in Dunedin, and New Zealand’s military involvement in the Pacific during World War II.
Ralph Miller came from a family of craftsmen and began working for his father Oswell Miller’s sign writing business after leaving school. However, Ralph always found sign writing artistically limiting and studied oil painting privately under A H O’Keeffe, not enjoying this medium, and then water colour with Kathleen Salmond who was a far greater influence.
Much of Ralph’s training though, came through the sketches he made during World War II when he played brass in the Third Divisional Band in the New Zealand army.
In this capacity Ralph became an unofficial New Zealand war artist. Interestingly, Russell Clark, one of the official war artists, was “surprised by the number of men he saw drawing sketches. ‘It was an astonishing experience. Instead of a man here or there, there were hundreds doing such things.’
Ralph’s commitment to his art during this period is impressive, writing to his wife Nan that he had “a constant job keeping the paper from getting damp and mildewed while living in tents with tropical rain, mud and dust.”
Ralph never drew the more military aspects of war, “instead he captured his soldier friends in everyday life, sitting around playing cards and darts, drinking, smoking or just relaxing in tents and barracks.” He also drew the environment they were a part of – buildings, jungle and wildlife. It is this interest in and observation of people that sets Ralph apart from so many other artists of his era and which gives his work a unique value.
By the time Ralph returned to Dunedin and was raising a young family, both his observational skills and drawing technique were highly developed, so we are able to enjoy vignettes of life in Dunedin in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Many of the most outstanding examples are street scenes, Ralph leaving to posterity a rare pictorial glimpse of daily life at the time, with an intimacy that photographs can’t convey. Ralph had a particular finesse for street fashion, both men’s and women’s.
It is quite clear that at this time Ralph’s technique was still evolving both in his drawing and commercial work, having return to the family business after the war. The author importantly points out that Ralph was an avid student of the American Regionalist School, but just as significantly loved Walt Disney books and movies. There’s always a sense of currency about his work.
Ralph used a small range of mediums – pencil, pen, wash, watercolour, conte etc. The foundation of all his work is his draughtsmanship, my favourite drawings being those where the thick lines of conte define the figures and buildings, while the colours in the wash have a very nice subdued palette but with enough bright accents to escape the impression we have of the 1950s in New Zealand as being grey and dour.
While Ralph’s dominant drawing style is typical of many New Zealand artists of his generation, a quite different drawing style appears regularly throughout the book which is almost Rococo in character with its restless curves. I find these less appealing and effective in describing his subjects such as the crowd at a Ranfurly Shield rugby match at Carisbrook Stadium.
It is interesting to note that for his street scenes, Ralph didn’t draw exactly what he saw on any a single occasion, but would combine elements of different scenes he had observed and sketched previously. Ultimately with Ralph’s best works, you don’t just see what life looked like in the early 1950s but you feel what it was like. Ralph was a part and product of his time and place, but he also had the ability to observe it with a certain detachment.
Sadly, Ralph died suddenly at the age of 37, leaving about 1000 sketches, 50 finished paintings, and the feeling he could have achieved so much more. I like the final paragraph Brian Miller ends with. “Hopefully this book will give inspiration for other artists to draw people in groups and in their communities, and to gain as much enjoyment from the act of drawing as Ralph did.”
You can find out more about Ralph Miller and view more of his works at www.ralphmiller.co.nz
This necklace has been about ten years in the making, which is how long I’ve had the sterling silver wire necklace which I bought about six years ago, to which I’ve added a multi-faceted yellow to green (depending on which area of it you are seeing) agart stone which I just bought, with two brown to black sawdust fired ceramic beads on either side which were fired about ten years ago. You can see a close up image below. The photos aren’t half as nice as the real thing though with lots of subtlety and variation in the colours. The necklace got its name from the young woman in the shop where I purchased the agate who calls them “dragon’s eggs because that’s what they remind me of.”
On the Passing of Ian Scott (1945-2013)
It was sad to note the passing of Ian Scott as I discovered in a recent copy of Art New Zealand with an excellent obituary by Edward Hanfling.
While artists may consistently produce a body of art throughout their working lives, if one was to be honest, few artists hold your attention all that time, and often it may be just one or two of their paintings that you find memorable.
But even this is no small achievement. Like in pop music, where to have one hit song that millions listen to and buy is more than most musicians ever achieve.
For me, that would be Scott’s painting Jump Over Girl, above (or was it the similar Leapaway Girl) which I saw with my brother in the national art gallery as a teenagers on a visit to Wellington in the mid-1970s
What made it immediately striking to a 16 or 17 year old with no art history background was first the fact that it was figurative (so easier to digest), but more significantly, an example of pop art (although a purist and Scott might disagree) which was the one genre of contemporary high art that had a close affinity with pop and rock music which we were into (in fact, one only has to note the importance of record cover art to show how close the two were).
The second time Scott made an impact was when I interviewed him for my bi-weekly Visual Arts feature page that ran in the Dominion Post for around 8 years. Scott was extremely pleasant and forthcoming on the phone and even posted me a book of his paintings out of the blue with a nice note written on the inside cover. One might see this as simply a form of promotion and maybe he had lots of copies to give away. But I appreciated it as a simple act of generosity.
As one can see in the Art New Zealand article, Scott was a photogenic artist in the 1970s when art and counter-culture co-habited (New Zealand seemed to produce a lot of photogenic younger artists in that era. We don’t seem to have that anymore). While in later life he became a pleasant slightly portly looking man with little of the Romanticism surrounding the “artist” about him (if judged by the second photo), there seems to be something soft and sweet about his character that makes him immediately likeable.
I have yet to be excited by his “lattice” work. And wasn’t certain his series of soft porn nudes with famous art works was convincing. But nevertheless, he produced a number of art works in the early years that captured the spirit of the times in New Zealand perfectly, and as in music, how many artists can convincingly make that claim that their work has impressed upon, as well as captured the collective spirit of their day.
David Famularo, January 2014
Woman in Blue
I have this theory that when you are meant to meet up with an object or person, something in you already knows they exist and vice versa.
All that remains to do is to be drawn towards each other, where intuition or following a whim can play an important part.
That intuition took me into a charity second hand store for the purpose of buying some cheap records. Instead I left with four paintings by G Quaintrell.
I only almost by accident saw one of these oil paintings sitting in a cardboard box along with the usual assortment of visual bric-a-brac.
Once the other three paintings were discovered it became obvious they were all by the same artist and most likely from the estate of a deceased person. However, the deceased was not necessarily the artist.
My suspicion is that the paintings had been inherited by another family member who had now passed away.
I’m not sure if the (unattractive) frames are original as they look like they belong to the early 1980s whereas the paintings were completed some time before 1967. I know this because they have a price on the back in pounds.
It says on the back they were framed by McGregor Wright Gallery in Wellington, but it may be possible that the backing board was original while the frames were not.
Which poses another question, were they exhibit by McGregor Wright Gallery. I suspect not as they sit outside the typical bounds of that gallery.
McGregor Wright Gallery has been going since 1879. It was at one stage one of the leading galleries in Wellington, New Zealand, with Frances Hodgkins exhibiting paintings there before she left New Zealand for England for good in 1906.
Any avant garde tendencies evaporated half a century or more ago, to the point where today the gallery, which is now located on the Kapiti Coast, north of Wellington, shows works by competent contemporary artists painting in a “traditional” style.
In Pensive Mood
So what do we know about G Quaintrell.
She was probably a woman as there seems to be a very faint “Mrs” before the name on the back of one of the paintings. She lived in Wadestown, Wellington when these works were painted.
The subjects are most likely family members or friends. Most likely she was an amateur artist who possibly belonged to an art clique.
Interestingly “Lady in Blue” has NFS (Not For Sale) on the back which suggests the works were exhibited. The other three were for sale for between five and six pounds, but none of them would have sold, otherwise they would not all be still together. I would guess they were exhibited at some sort of art club exhibition.
On the subject of art clubs, in those days they did harbour some very talented amateur artists, at a time when art clubs still played an important role in the artistic landscape of New Zealand.
G Quaintrell was probably largely self-taught although she may have attended art classes of some sort.
It feels like she spent a lot of time studying art works but it is unclear who her primary influences were. They are traditional portraits in a sense, but they don’t have much in common with pre-twentieth century European portraiture.
They almost have an Art Deco portrait style. Art Deco portraiture was a revision to more traditional styles following the rush of “isms” but was inevitably influenced by them nevertheless.
I suspect ultimately G Quaintrell simply had a unique style, which innately reflected the contemporary tastes of her time. She wasn’t quite a “colourist” but certainly had a talent with colour, with a fresh and original palette that would probably have been outside the conservative artistic milieu she would have inhabited, but which feels quite fresh and modern today, right down to the colour combinations of the artist’s signature.
Her drawing and perspective skills are her weakness. The painting of the man in particular suffers from a slightly irregular jaw line, and the pipe he is holding is quite oddly drawn. The physical proportions seem to be “incorrect” as well. The man’s head is too small for his body.
However, by accident or design, she mostly seems to make the odd proportions work, for instance, note the tiny feet of the sitter in “A Pensive Mood.” (A title typical of art club fare of the 1950s and 1960s). Incidently, anatomically odd paintings don’t necessarily preclude them from being good works. You only have to look at some of Picasso’s portraits from his Blue Period or Johann Tischbein’s painting of Goethe with two left feet – undoubtedly done this way on purpose.
The painting of the young woman is the best work and is reminiscent of some of the more naïve fayum Greco-Egyptian mummy portraits.
Her works are naïve but painted by someone with a genuine and original talent for colour. They brim with life. It didn’t seem right that they should end up being separated from each other.
Genuinely talented, genuinely naive artists are a rare combination. While G Quaintrell isn’t an undiscovered Henri Rousseau, finding someone who could paint as well as she did for a few dollars is not something that happens every day.
Gladys Quaintrell Rediscovered!
Photo: Wairarapa Archives
After posting this story, Wairarapa history enthusiast Adele Pentony-Graham of Carterton came forward with the following information:
Gladys Quaintrell (1892 -1987) was the daughter of Carterton settler family Frank William Dundee Quaintrell and Clara Quaintrell (nee Francis).
Adele contacted one of Gladys’ relatives, Sue Macdonald, who had this to say about Gladys:
[Gladys] was my mother’s cousin (although much older), and very well known to me from when I was a young child. Her mother was Clara Francis .. the Francis family farmed out of Carterton in the late 1800s and Francis Line is named after the family.
Gladys initially lived at a farm called Brookfield which was on Francis Line but the family moved to Wellington in about 1910ish.
She lived all the rest of her life at 17 Rankin Street, Wadestown, taught at Marsden College and played the piano accompaniment for a ballet school in Wadestown for many years.
I have a few little diaries and in 1935 and 1940 she seemed to go to Choral Society on Tuesdays and ‘Art Club’ on Wednesdays! I guess it would have been either Hutt Valley or Wellington. Her father was a keen photographer and dabbled with painting. I have one of his.. the Tararuas from Upper Plains Road Masterton,.. taken from one of his photos.
Gladys was an only child and never married as she was required to care for her parents! She was very artistic.. very musical and loved painting. She belonged to the Art Society most of her able life, always had a canvas on the easel and painted many portraits.. including mine as a child. She may have had lessons but I have no idea.
She was a rather interesting person who had she lived in today’s world would have enjoyed very different opportunities in life.
David Famularo December 2012