Story: Painting

Colin McCahon, 'Walk (series C)' (4th of 4)

Zoom in to view these 11 one-metre-high canvases, which were first displayed at the Peter McLeavey Gallery in Wellington in 1973. On the invitation to the exhibition Colin McCahon was quoted as saying: 'People should know perhaps that I don't regard these canvases as "paintings", they shouldn't be enclosed in frames, they are just bits of a place I love and painted in memory of a friend who now – in spirit – has walked this same beach.  The intention is not realist but an abstraction of the final walk up the beach. The Christian "walk" and the Maori "walk" have a lot in common.'

The canvases were in memory of poet James K. Baxter, who was an old friend of McCahon, but the two had fallen out in the mid-1960s. Following Baxter's death in September 1972 McCahon was moved to paint this tribute as an act of reconciliation. The series is a walk along Muriwai Beach in which Baxter's life is symbolically imagined against the 14 stations of the cross. The large T in the opening canvas was a common symbol in McCahon's work for the Christian cross, and represents the moment when Baxter accepted the Catholic faith. Along the way there are moments of distress, such as in station VIII, and on the last canvas, where the lines become dots, symbolising the departure of Baxter's spirit from Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Rēinga) where, in Māori tradition, the spirits of the dead depart.

About this item

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Reference: 2004-0017-1 A-K to K-K
Acrylic on hessian by Colin McCahon, 1973

Permission of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

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How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Painting - Nationalism and landscape painting, 1935 to 1965', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/zoomify/45892/colin-mccahon-walk-series-c (accessed 29 May 2017)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 22 Oct 2014