Brendan McGorry

Brendan  McGorry

The Girl with the Golden Thought, 2023, acrylic & charcoal on canvas, 555mm x 460mm


During the late 19th century, Japanese art and artefacts flooded onto European markets, where it inspired Impressionists and Post-Impressionists including Monet, Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh. In what became known as Japonisme ¸ artists either directly depicted Jap- anese objects and costumes in their art (such as Tissot) or chose to incorporate certain qualities of Japanese art into their works (such as Degas and Cassatt). These qualities, seen in ukiyo-e woodblock prints as the main imported fare, included strong, expressive lines, flat picture planes, unique angles and bold colours and patterns.

In Hero, Brendan McGorry bridges the gap between these two modes of incorporation. While there are stylistic elements reminiscent of Japonisme through the inclusion of Japanese accoutrements, the works take on their own meaning through the depiction of his grand- daughter Aaliya – who is portrayed as a warrior princess.

In Cleopatra, his granddaughter sits in a pose reminiscent of rulers in imperial portraits, donning royal purple and jewellery, her gaze directed at us, her power apparent. In Portrait of the artists granddaughter in the studio, she stands contrapposto, wearing a full-length kimono tied with an obi and holding a katana on her shoulder, while in The Warrior Prin- cess, Aaliya is wearing chain mail armour. In each of the works, the art historical canon surrounding portraiture is alluded to, whilst Surrealist motifs and Art Nouveau floral pat- terns surround the figure, creating dreamlike scenes. Historic and aesthetic references are juxtaposed with contemporary features such as thick leather boots, striped socks or a cat idly walking by.

The use of his granddaughter as muse continues previous work McGorry has done where he focusses on genealogy (including Great Expectations, 2015 and Walking home through the forest, 2009). And the genealogical aspects of his work are not only personal, but also artistic as this kind of bridging is characteristic of McGorry’s oeuvre overall, where he seamlessly merges multiple genres. In Hero, along with Japonisme, he has included elements of Surrealism, COBRA, Orphism and Abstract Expressionism. These aspects serve to create conceptual layers that are mutually reinforcing, enabling a sincerity in the way McGorry presents his subject and reflecting an awareness of the interconnectedness inherent across the history of art.

Though the artist clarifies that the merging of artistic styles and the theme of Hero run parallel to one another, the works as a result seem to be in conversation. Life is a long quiet river and The Girl with the Golden Thought are both kindred in their embodiment of resolve, as if the invisible breeze blowing through his granddaughter’s hair in the former (bolstered by lyrical Orphic forms in the background), represents the golden thought of the latter. Sunshine mirrors Portrait of the artists granddaughter in pose and positioning of the figure on the picture plane, and the cat in The Blue Cat in a surrealist turn, seems almost to have jumped out of the kimono from Portrait of the artists granddaughter, perhaps suggesting companionship and transformation.

The most important conversation going on here though, is that of a young woman with her inner self and inner warrior. It is this humanistic element that distinguishes the works in Hero from traditional Japonisme style works and situates them firmly in a contemporary world. While the inclusion of Japanese objects and influences were usually decorative or artistic, here the donning of the kimono, the holding of the katana or the adornment of statement jewellery reflects a young woman’s strength in the face of adversity. McGorry’s characteristic contrasting of charcoal and colour adds further nuance to this conversation where for Aaliya, in the safety of her grandfather’s studio, the challenges and struggles she has faced have been turned into vivid patterns of resilience and growth - showing her and us that there is always hope for brighter days.

Essay by Fine Lavoni Koloamatangi



BORN: 1966, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

LIVES: Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

EDUCATION: The New York Studio School

COLLECTIONS: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Poneke Wellington; The Arts House Trust, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland; Auckland City Council, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

PUBLIC EXHIBITIONS:NZ Sculpture OnShore, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland (2014, 2012, 2010); Male Nudes, Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, , Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland (2013); Portrait Painting, Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland (2012); Auckland Arts Festival (2011); Gods Little Laundrette, Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, , Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland (2011); Works on Paper, Uxbridge Creative Centre, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland (2011); Through the Looking Glass, Uxbridge Creative Centre, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland (2011); Skins, Outdoor Billboard Project, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland (2009)

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY: ‘Art of the Week’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, 2019; ‘Brendan McGorry and the Belle Epoque’ by Michael Wilson, Art New Zealand, 2018; ‘Long Live the Art of Painting’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Aug 2016; ‘Great Expectations’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Oct 2015; ‘Exploring Space and Absence’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Aug 2009; ‘Perspective on art’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, 1994; ‘Joy of life’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, 1988

AWARDS: Molly Morpeth Canaday Award - Finalist (2015, 2011); Molly Morpeth Canaday Award - Merit Award (2014); Wallace Art Awards - Finalist (2018, 2016, 2008-2014, 1992–1999); Estuary Artworks Award - Paramount Award (2010); Field Days Number 8 Wire Art Award - 2nd Prize (2009); New Zealand Painting and Printmaking Award - Finalist (2009); National Drawing Award - Finalist (2008); North Shore City Art Award - Finalist (2008); Walker and Hall Waiheke Art Award - Finalist (2008); Anthony Harper Contemporary Art Award - Finalist (2008); Adam Portraiture Award - Finalist (2008)


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