Colin Wheeler’s box of tricks

Colin Wheeler’s art boxes and materials. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Colin Wheeler’s art boxes and materials. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
An artist’s travelling companions provide insights, writes Ingrid Cole.

When I was a child I really enjoyed nosing around in other people’s bathrooms. If I could pop into a bedroom on the way there, it was a bonus. This desire to find out how other people be human followed me into adulthood; I nearly became an archaeologist, I nearly became a psychologist, I did become a designer.

I see many paintings, artforms, arrangements of colour working at the Forrester Gallery and luckily for me, I am obsessed with colour. I like colours that sit closely together and annoy me. I like colours that are far apart but meet in the middle. I like unexpected pairings and slaps of colour that should not work but do.

When Colin Wheeler’s art boxes and paint tins arrived, I was excited. We have a magnificent collection of Colin Wheeler paintings, he painted North Otago extensively for more than 50 years and gave more than 150 paintings and drawings to the Forrester Gallery. His works are not my favourites but I do appreciate their technical skill, the years of dedication, the steady repetition, the plodding familiar greeny beige tones that have so effectively recorded our district. I am more excited by the magic behind them, the wizardry that made them, the man behind the curtain.

I imagine Colin Wheeler took his art box with him on his travels, up the valley, to record all those sheep stations. One looks homemade, with a leather carrying handle that cleverly clips off to reveal a table-top surface, and an inbuilt mixing palette. Inside another is a graphic delight; with names of towns and stop off points painted in coloured letters. The interior is divided up to house his many paint brushes (one fashioned from a quill), several scraps of patterned fabric (presumably to wipe the brushes, and most endearing to me, a piece of a man’s shirt, including the pocket).

There are neatly folded pieces of brown paper, maybe for notes or future painting ideas, and other sections for the famous colours; the tubes of paint that made those beloved paintings. Partially squeezed tubes of Rojo de Indias, Indian Red, burnt Siennas or Terre de Sienna Brulee. A choice of yellows with delicious Spanish names: Ocre Amarillo and Amarillo de Cadmio. An unexpected Veridian, an aha moment; the key to it all. No black to speak of but a solid French Ultramarine. And gallons of trusty Titanium white to knock back anyone shouting too much.

That is what I suspect after seeing many of his paintings, a taming of a wild orchestra of colour. What a treat for me. Such a treasure. The cake and the recipe too.

I sat in the stores for ages, imagining him using his kit and felt that childlike curiosity again, nosing around in a stranger’s house and finding it familiar.

 - Ingrid Cole is design, marketing and activities officer, Forrester Gallery and Waitaki Museum and Archives.

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