Win Wide Acclaim
‘The best thing that has happened to art in Auckland this year,’ is how a newspaper critic described the emergence of the young Maori painter Selwyn Muru, who made his artistic debut in autumn 1963.
At the annual Autumn Exhibition held by the Auckland Society of Arts, Muru created a great deal of interest with six paintings ranging from an impressionistic landscape to a painting which gave to a traditional Maori motif the jewelled richness of colour which one associates with medieval stained glass.
The traditions adopted by this society since its establishment in 1870 had undergone a sudden and surprising change at this 1963 exhibition, thanks to the forward-looking policy of the committee headed by Professor Paul Beadle. Usually, dozens of members' paintings are hung, filling both galleries and overflowing up the stairs; but this time only sixteen paintings were chosen to be hung. Six of these paintings—the maximum number accepted from any one painter—were by Selwyn Muru.
In his opening address, Dr John Reid praised the young painter's work and asked where he had been hiding his talent for so long, that the public had never heard of him.
From Te Hapua in the Far North
But in Muru's home town, Te Hapua, in Auckland where he now lives, and in places where he has stayed as a school-teacher—Ruatahuna, Matakana Island, Urewera, Papatoetoe—most of his friends and acquaintances already knew of his talent and were not surprised by news of his success. Many of them had his paintings in their homes, given in return for the hospitality and friendship he found in the north.
Selwyn Muru was born in Te Hapua, the third son of Mr and Mrs Henry Muru. He has three brothers and five sisters; the family is extremely musical and the son inherited both musical and artistic talents from both his
Muru went to Northland College and got to know most of the young men who are now promising young painters in the Auckland district and further north (among them Para Matchitt, Ralph Hotere, Selwyn Wilson and Muru Walters). He went on to Ardmore Teachers' College at Papakura, and then for two years he taught in primary schools in the north, specialising in arts and crafts at Ruatahuna and Matakana Island. As a teacher, he began to find he had less and less time to paint; so he gave up teaching and for the past two years he has been doing part-time work in the evening (including private art tuition), and painting during the day.
His first one-man exhibition was held a few months ago in the Ikon Gallery, Auckland. Landscapes featured prominently in this show, including views of the city—the tight-packed sea of houses as seen from Mt Eden, the mount itself with a crater made dark and fantastic—and an exploration of the Northland scenes in which his earlier years were spent. His paintings were praised for their ‘purity and precision, and the element of freshness and vigour they have brought to New Zealand art.’
Style Counts More Than Subject Matter
Muru does not believe that the subject matter is the main criterion in painting. ‘It is the actual execution that counts, how much the artist can inject of his own original thought. For example, we don't remember Van Gogh
for his ability to draw so much as for his unusual and highly original technique.’
Muru bases his philosophy of painting on that of Pablo Picasso—‘I do not seek but I find’. At times, he says, some images seem to appear of their own accord on the canvas. ‘Then, you have a feeling of surprise at what you've done. But in fact, all these images spring from your own personal experience, things you have seen and done in your life. I remember, for instance, the dead fish and seaweed washed up on beaches around Parengarenga Harbour, and have used these in recent paintings.’
Art, he says, must develop naturally. The important things is to be honest—if an artist is sincere about what he is doing, without being influenced too much by contemporary fashions, then he has nothing to worry about.
Speaking of traditional Maori art, he says, ‘I feel the old masters have done an excellent job; therefore there's no point in trying to better what they did. But the creative avenues leading from traditional Maori art are still open for the artist to explore.’
Hopes of Overseas Study Soon
Recently Muru held a second one-man exhibition of 50 works, and received favourable reviews. In the near future he hopes to go overseas, preferably to Spain, to further his studies.
After a television appearance in Auckland recently, he received the following review in a weekly periodical:
‘Black and white photography cannot do justice to any paintings, but this programme did make me want to see Mr Muru's work in realty, for even in flat shades of black and grey tonings, virility and depth were more than hinted at. The artist himself came across as a quiet yet forthright young man with all the innate dignity of his race.’