A Kiwi take on French cubism

Homage to Leger, by John Weeks. Photo: Dunedin Public Art Gallery
Homage to Leger, by John Weeks. Photo: Dunedin Public Art Gallery
Born in 1886 in Devonshire and immigrating to New Zealand in 1892, John Weeks was a leading New Zealand painter of the 1930s and '40s, James Hope writes.

Educated at the Elam School of Art in Auckland and the Canterbury College School of Art in Christchurch, as well as overseas, Weeks travelled and studied throughout Europe from 1923 to 1930, learning under Andre Lhote at his academy in Montparnasse, Paris. Through his travels he fell under the influence of cubism, obviously taken by the avant-garde style that exploded painted objects into a series of geometric shapes.

Weeks' Homage to Leger draws on the French artist's identifiably unique style of cubism; Fernand Leger's early work walked the line between representation and abstraction. A work such as City (La ville) contains recognisable elements such as letters, staircases, figures and signs. It captures the dynamism of a metropolitan area: bright colours vie with black-and-white, layering themselves on top of one another. Leger's paintings seem to move, the shapes unfolding and revealing themselves to the viewer, analogous to the way one's perspective is constantly shifting when walking or driving through the city.

Weeks' painting riffs on Leger's treatment of a cityscape, but transforms the subject matter into an industrial scene. The layering of vertical elements fills the entire picture plane and we get a sense that we are standing from a lower perspective, looking up at the structures. Weeks has placed in the lower left corner a cog, and above it what looks to be a couple of cam belts. As with Leger, Weeks' use of colour adds to the vibrancy of the scene, but in contrast with his work, the colour fills the image and downplays the heightened contrast of colour with black and white which the French artist used to bold effect.

See it

Homage to Leger is part of the exhibition "Freedom and Structure: Cubism and New Zealand Art 1930-60", Dunedin Public Art Gallery until 29 July. 

James Hope is the curatorial intern at Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

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