New Zealand in the spotlight

Nigel Brown is exhibiting at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Photo: Bjorn Houtman
Nigel Brown is exhibiting at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Photo: Bjorn Houtman
Kea Just Curious, by Nigel Brown
Kea Just Curious, by Nigel Brown
Uncertain Weather, by Nigel Brown
Uncertain Weather, by Nigel Brown
Ponga Man, by Nigel Brown
Ponga Man, by Nigel Brown

Nigel Brown is the first artist to be offered a solo exhibition in the new Te Kongahu Museum of Waitangi. He talks to Rebecca Fox about the honour.

Native birds and trees feature heavily in Dunedin artist Nigel Brown's work.

He believes the ''New Zealand feel'' he is known to have in his art work is what attracted the Te Kongahu Museum of Waitangi to show his work on the eve of Waitangi Day.

Museum manager curatorial and education programmes Caitlin Timmer-Arends said Brown was an obvious choice.

''He's such a big name in New Zealand art and has a real conservation nature to his works.''

The museum opened in 2016 and features a permanent exhibition which aims to tell the story of New Zealand from the first contact between Europeans and Maori to the present day.

The exhibition space aims to develop community engagement with New Zealand art, she said.

''A large percentage of people who will see the show are Friends of Waitangi ... we have over 10,000 on our database.''

Response to hearing Brown would exhibit has been ''overwhelmingly positive'', she said.

As well as the 30-odd paintings on display, Brown has also created two freestanding works for the exhibition.

He said the works he had completed for the exhibition continued to build on his theme of using native birds and New Zealand ''icons''.

''I'm preoccupied with birds probably because we live in the green belt and I see a lot of wood pigeons - I still find them mysterious.

''Birds are soothing things to most people.''

While he uses the works of specialist photographers and bird painters as inspiration, his work is slightly different.

''These are expressive works using detailed layering of paint. You have to find your own way to do it.''

Brown said he wanted to highlight the importance of the birds, trees and other creatures that are becoming extinct.

''I'm pushing the idea of nurturing. I was delighted to do these works.''

Some of his paintings were inspired by what he had read in old books, such as one about trapping kea because they were menace to sheep.

''It was quite sobering seeing the old photos.''

Motivated by environmental issues, such as climate change and coastal erosion, Brown has visited Dusky Sound three times to see conservation work in the area.

''There is this big debate about farming verses tourism verses conservation - it's a source of tension.

''Our attitudes to what the future holds interests me.''

These issues are not just a New Zealand problem but a worldwide one.

''We're on this ball hanging in space and it's not as forever as we thought it might be.''

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