Michael Craig Makoure Scott. “The Landscapes”, 2000 – 2001
In 2000 and 2001 the artist painted four very fine large landscapes which depict strong traditional Maori ethnicity along with colonial and religious undertones in the subject matter.
The paintings differ from the artist’s more mature Geometric Abstract style as they are closer in technique to Expressionism, and in some ways recalling the dream-like qualities of Edward Munch’s famous “Frieze of Life” series, which the artist painted during the 1890s.
Scott is apparently attempting to show the historical importance of the original New Zealand settlers, the Maoris, the influence of Christianity and the sad waning decline of the Maori race, as has happened with so many other indigenous peoples around the globe. He in part depicts this decline by showing empty canoes (Waka) by which the Maoris arrived on New Zealand’s shores.
Three of the landscapes were painted on old sail cloth canvas.
This is a theme found throughout Scott’s portfolio, of using materials to highlight the background story to the painting and show the influences that helped him create the work.
In this instance he is most probably drawing attention to the Maori people’s arrival by sea onto the shores of New Zealand. They are believed to have arrived in New Zealand at the end of the thirteenth century, around 1250 AD.
Waka, a Maori word has many meanings. It can mean a walker,a conveyance, a spirit medium but in this instance a canoe. The artist is using the empty canoe approaching the shore to depict both the arrival of the Maori people in New Zealand along with their sad decline today.
An example of a Maori sentence using the word Waka (traditional canoe), ‘The waka, the spiritual image for the march, left Stewart Island for Bluff with its cargo of stories.’
“Dream Waka” can also mean something akin to a Sleep Walker,which adds to the sense of reverie of this Expressionist style painting.
The artist refers to these four landscapes as “Dream Waka”.
The two golden crossed lines that extend vertically and horizontally across the painting, are intending to represent the spiritual influence and impact of colonial religious beliefs on the country and forms an endless cross.
The cross also represents the golden light of Christianity spread across and within the country.
On the right-hand side of the painting a vertical panel of woven flax acknowledges the Maoris deep spiritual cultural influence on the landscape.
The sandy shores are empty of any features perhaps reflecting the purity of the uninhabited land.
There is a serpentine white cloud-like band which traverses the top of the painting following the contours of the land, sea and sky. This has a number of references for the painting.
Firstly this refers to the Maoridom name give to New Zealand, Maori Aotearoa which translates into “Land of the long white cloud”. The name possibly originates from the first sightings by the Maori settlers while at sea in their canoes, as they approached the country for the first time.
Secondly the Maoris believed that following death, their spirits travelled from south to north, eventually arriving at their most sacred place Te Rerenga Wairua, (Cape Reinga) on the far northernmost tip of New Zealand. The “leaping place of the spirits”, the gateway to the underworld.
The literal translation of the painting’s title is “Goodbye No No”. It is a salutary phrase which has many meanings ie.”be safe”,” how are you”, “goodbye”, “thank you very much” etc.
The artist used raw materials taken from the West Auckland coast at Kare Kare beach and the nearby waterfall which supplied materials used in the building of the texture and extraction of pigments for the work.
The two golden lines again are meant to represent the spiritual influence and impact of colonial religious beliefs on the country. Maori deep spiritual beliefs and cultural influences are also illustrated by a woven vertical band of flax on the right-hand side of the painting.
An equilateral open-ended cross is embedded into the mountainside on the right of the work. The cross is attempting to reflect balance and extends in perpetuity in all directions, also represented by the two golden lines.
At the centre of the painting lies a volcanic larva peak which is emitting a magma flow down its side into the sea, reflecting the volcanic nature of North Island and Rotorua which means “second lake”, taken from the Maori term, Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe.
The thickly layered blue, blackish hues of the sea impasto is reflecting both the violent turmoil and the serenity of the ocean.
The use of colour layering is something the great Post-War American Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko used to such great effect during his mature period in the 1950s and 1960s, when painting his “large fields of colour” on his works to express his own version of Abstract Expressionism.
Rothko stated if the viewer only saw colours he didn’t understand what the artist was trying to achieve, to create the idea of thoughts and emotions within the layering of the impasto. Rothko once commented ” if you cried looking at one of my paintings, know that I cried also while I was completing the work”.
I think Scott is also attempting to encourage the viewer to become emotionally involved with these landscapes and indeed his later Geometric Abstract series, by using authentic materials which are spiritually or scientifically connected to the painting subject matter.
In the sky upper left, there is a “spirit bird”, carrying the spirits of the dead to the spirit river
(the long white cloud), note the equilateral cross in the landscape and clutched in the “spirit bird’s” claws. The Maoris believed “spirit birds” were the messengers of the Gods. There are many different species of bird which feature in Maori spiritual beliefs and artwork, like Harriers (Raptors) and Fantails (Passerines).
Scott recalls on the day he finished this painting, a young Maori boy was tragically drowned
off the beach. The beach was closed by the local Kaumatua (Maori priest) and was made a “tapu”,(a sacred protected area).
Unknowingly he went for a walk along the beach (his studio was situated nearby),and wondered why he was the only person walking on one of the most spectacular beaches in New Zealand, when he met the Kaumatua who told him about the tragic accident earlier that day.
He returned to his studio and added the “spirit bird” to the painting. It was a final intuitive touch to the work, so typical of the artist’s sensitivity.
This large triangular painting is dominated by two features.
The first, one of the most famous and difficult to reach mountains in New Zealand, Mitre Peak named Rahotu by the Maori, renowned for the beauty of its surroundings and its inaccessibility.
Its sheer face rises 1690m over Milford Sound in New Zealand’s Fjordland.
Milford Sound was discovered by the Maori and named Piopiotahi (Place of the singing Thrush). The bird is now sadly extinct. They crossed it on their way to reach the greenstone (Jade) rich region of Anita Bay.
The second feature is a huge empty Waka, a traditional Maori canoe. The Waka as previously mentioned is both representing the highly important ethnic culture of Maoridom and its sad decline through the centuries.
A triangle has many different meanings depending on which religion you are referring, it can mean equilibrium, harmony, balance.
In some religions, a deity, in Buddhism the power of the number 3, considered by many to be the perfect number.
In this painting it is for the viewer to decide what the artist is trying to portray, based on the three important features, the triangular form, the mountain and the large empty canoe (Waka) in the foreground.
This powerful and imposing work is not easily ignored and will I am sure create a strong impression among those who view it in the future.
Tititea, the Maori name for Mount Aspiring, located on South Island, translates into” The peak of glistening white”.
The tondo format of this fine and complex painting is full of Maori ethnic influences, art forms and written lower left around the rim an inscription or poem. Pounamu is the Maori word for greenstone which is what they called Jade, a hardstone which was used a great deal for their art objects.
The swirling ethnic imagery of a serpentine sacred bird whose plumed head-dress is centred by a green jade eye, opposite an orbital white hardstone, is called a Manaia.
The Manaia in Maori culture is most often depicted as having the head of a bird, the tail of a fish and the body of either a man or in this instance a snake.
The Manaia is traditionally believed to be the messenger between the earthly world of mortals and the domain of the spirits and its symbol is used as a guardian against evil.
Manaia-like symbols are also found in other Polynesian cultures, such as Hawaii and Easter Island.
Mount Aspiring (Tititea) and a dark sky with cloud lines can be seen at the upper right part of the work.
The vibrant colours of this tondo are enhanced by being painted on steel, creating a very dramatic Maori spiritually inspired work with a vividly strong palette.
The artist only painted four landscapes in his Expressionist style as by 2002 he was beginning to develop his Geometric Abstract series, Galaxy etc.
However the quality of these landscapes is undeniable and depict Scott’s strong religious and ethnic beliefs and understanding in an accomplished manner. I am quite sure they will stand the test of time and will always be appreciated by their viewers.
Brian Ivon Jones.
Fine Art Consultant.
London and Shenzhen.