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West Coast Arts
Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 5
PICTURES: Jo Keppel
Hokitika painter Catherine Brough with one of her high country landscape paintings.
“This century I have lived in two places — the West Coast and the Canterbury high country. That ’s a great advantage
for a landscape painter.” So says award-winning Hokitika artist Catherine Brough, well-known for her gestural,
expressive brushstrokes and closely observed colour which bring to life the atmosphere of isolated stretches of New
Zealand’s landscape. With an exhibition of 10 of these paintings showing from Friday at the Left Bank Art Gallery
in Greymouth, Brough talked to JO KEPPEL about her life, her relationship with the land and elements and her
interpretation of these in oil paints.
atherine Brough was
born in Invercargill, the
daughter of a school
teacher and the family
moved to various parts
of New Zealand as her
father took up positions
in different schools.
“ We went to the King Country and stayed
there a while. It was a very wild, bleak place
with burned trees and craggy mountains.
I have continued to try to find subjects in
fairly isolated places, probably because I was
brought up there (in the King Country).”
Later, Brough studied at university gaining
a Bachelor of Arts in English, and lived in
Auckland and Bougainville.
“I was not greatly into painting then,
but I always carried a sketchbook and a
sable brush and I did some watercolours in
beginners’ art class at WEA (the Workers’
Educational Association) and then I walked
into Canterbury art school and told them
I wanted to learn to paint. It wasn’t that
simple, of course, but I graduated in fine arts
the West Coast to an art teaching job at
Westland High School. ”
Brough said what artists paint and the way
they paint is often affected by their stage of
life and circumstances.
“ Turbulence in life can be reflected in
painting and some of mine certainly do that.
I suppose I painted landscape because there
was a convention to do so.”
When she came to the West Coast, the
landscape was very new to her and she
wondered where to start.
“At first I went to the beach and started
painting driftwood. It was wild and desolate
and I could see the violence and vigour of
nature there. I took a lot of photos.
“At that stage, working on the spot seemed
daunting and difficult but as time went
on I felt a compulsion to be outside in the
landscape when painting it. Photographs do
different things from the eyes. Eyes take it
in differently. When you are outside you feel
the landscape and have sounds and details
— the whole atmosphere.
“David Hockney said, ‘Landscape is an
extreme sport’. You pull the easel up the
hill, anchor it, to suit whatever conditions,
and then you ‘stick it out ’ there painting for
a few hours. So each landscape has to be a
one-off. It’s like a marathon to try to do this.
There is a lot of physical work involved in
painting ‘in situ’, ” Brough said.
After art school, she started exhibiting
and is a veteran of many shows, but the one
she was “proudest of and happiest in” was
Canterbury Painters of the 90s, featuring
34 paintings, at Christchurch’s Robert
McDougall Art Gallery in 2000.
“I was pleased and surprised to be in this
with all the ‘high flyers’. There were 34
works by emerging and established artists,
all artists involved in contemporary painting
practice. Mine was one of only a few
landscapes, and there were only 11 women
chosen for that decade.
“My art was said to have a contemporary
look, somewhere between realism and
The catalogue said, “finding her subject
within the physical forces of nature,
Catherine Brough combines energetic,
expressive brushstrokes with closely
obser ved colour to convey a sense of the
isolated corners of Canterbury and Westland
where nature remains unchallenged. Craigie
Burn Range and Broken River (1999)
evokes the wild and windswept nature of
Brough’s landscape subject with the raw
mountain range crowding physically out
of the canvas to an almost claustrophobic
In the late 1990s, Brough won a Trustbank
Canterbury Art Excellence award and
decided to have an exhibition at COCA
(Centre of Contemporary Art). She then
won the inaugural Margaret Stoddart prize
for 2000, awarded to an artist whose work
“engages with the land and environment of
This cash prize enabled her to rent a
cottage as a centre for painting in the Castle
Hill high country, giving a sharp contrast
with the West Coast scenery.
“The Coast was dense and green and the
high country parched, with bland earthy-
coloured spaces,” Brough said. She later
“ bought a place” there and travelled to other
parts of Canterbury to paint, as well.
“I never wanted to put anything down on
the canvas that I hadn’t seen. I used water
colour when I started painting, went to oil
painting classes and when at university, I
had a try at acrylic. But I preferred oil paint
and I have stuck with it.
“A big part of my practice has been
drawing on other artists’ works, and
especially techniques, to extend myself.
I have studied New Zealand art,
especially landscape but I have also been
greatly influenced by post-war Abstract
“Usually when you start a picture, it ’s like
opening a can of worms. You don’t know
how it’s going to go. It has a life of its own
and there seems to be an element of chance
about it. However, you do need a bit of an
underlying routine about how you work, I
She quotes Frank Auerbach: “ There are
times when art happens and you hang
in for those times. But often, nothing’s
These days, Brough, at 79, is not
painting as much as she used to but
she is still taking a lot of photographs
when she goes tramping weekly with the
Hokitika tramping group and recently she
challenged herself with a six-day mountain
She still thinks about doing some more
painting, especially now with her current
Greymouth exhibition, From Tasman to
Torlesse, which runs until August 7.
“There is some x-factor in painting that
‘makes’ it. It’s very hard though to nail what
it is!” she muses.
Brough’s expressionist descriptions of the
New Zealand landscape are included in a
number of significant collections as well
as those in private homes and business
Catherine Brough’s oil painting on canvas, titled Plains, one of her works in the Tasman to Torlesse exhibition.
Hokitika painter Catherine Brough’s work Kowai River Valley, one of her abstract expressionist landscapes in her Left Bank Art
Gallery exhibition until August 7.
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