There is an undeniable humour in the work of Ted Dutch, an artist whose long career encompassed painting, printmaking, ceramic sculpture, animation and graphic design. His distinctive style of illustration drew liberally from cartoons and pop imagery, while his light-hearted choices in subject matter saw him create highly stylised, colourful and humorous responses to the anxieties of the twentieth century.
After graduating from St Martin’s School of Art in London, Dutch worked for some time as a film animator, an occupation that would later come to inform his illustrative style. However, in accompaniment to his commercial work, Dutch also exhibited gouache paintings as a founding member of the Graphic Arts Group. In 1951, at 23 years old, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He immigrated to New Zealand that same year.
On arrival, Dutch found work as a graphic designer in Auckland’s screenprinting industry. He became fascinated by the possibilities of screenprinting as an artistic medium and from 1962 began to produce fine art screenprints. The subjects of many of these prints were overtly technological, such as military aircraft and ‘spacemen’. These works, as well as many of his later pieces, were overlaid with stylised schematic plans which appear to encroach on the subjects of the paintings, expressing an anxiety over the unrelenting technological progress of the period.
Dutch’s willingness to explore new artistic challenges saw his practice expand to encompass other technically-demanding media and processes. Through the seventies, he continued to work with screenprinting as well as returning to painting and graphic design. During this period he also began to produce complex ceramic sculpture. These three-dimensional versions of the figures that populated his paintings and prints grew increasingly refined and achieved international recognition.
Regardless of the medium chosen, Dutch’s primary creative vehicle was drawing. Thousands of small drawings and sketches were made over the years, demonstrating his tremendous confidence andskill as a draughtsman. The defining feature of Dutch’s work is the quality of his lines, which are simple yet immensely expressive. This is a product of his work in the animation industry, where simple, stylised line work is the key means of communicating emotion and action.
Although Dutch’s style varied throughout his career, several aesthetic and conceptual motifs recurred consistently throughout. He tended towards playful geometric compositions in bold, flat colours, depicting figures in various narratives and settings. There is an emphasis on expressive colour and line, and the simple pleasure of seeing. Dutch believed that “we get stuffed up by attempting to be too representational; when we try too hard to portray what something ‘should’ look like, we usually miss the point.”
Taking cues from Picasso and Mondrian, Dutch uses his playful, cartoonish style to address the prevalent anxieties of his generation. Ideas of isolation and social tension are frequently suggested, though always in a humorous, sometimes absurd manner. Dutch was keenly sensitive to the complexities of these psychological states. He evoked them effortlessly in his art, but never took himself too seriously, favouring the light over the dark.
Born: London (d. Auckland, 2008)
Education: South West Essex Technical College, London; St Martins School of Art, London
Awards/Distinctions: 12th International Biennial Print and Drawing Exhibition, ROC, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts - Finalist (2006); Portage Trust - Award for Ceramic Art (2001); Zagreb Triennial Exhibition, Croatia - Merit Award (1987, 1990, 1993, 1996);Fletcher Challenge Ceramics - Merit Award (1980); Print Club USA - Merit Award (1966); Royal Society of Arts, London - Elected Fellow (1951)
Collections: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington; Auckland Art GalleryToi O Tamaki; Hocken Pictorial Collections; Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga O Waikato; Auckland War Memorial Museum
Public Exhibitions:Shaping Modernism, Hawke’s Bay Museum & Art Gallery (2007); New Vision: The New Vision Gallery 1965 - 1976, Gus Fisher Gallery, Auckland, (2008); Expo 70, Japan - Invited Exhibitor (1970)
Publications/Articles: Pearson, Helen (editor), Vehicles in Contemporary Art, Whangaparaoa: Integrated Education Ltd, 2010; Sanderson, Kylie, Tamara Darragh and Kim Atherfold, The Artists: 21 Practitioners in New Zealand Contemporary Art c. 2009-2011, Auckland: Beatnik Publishing, 2009, pp 20-23; Lloyd Jenkins, Douglas, 'Ted Dutch (1928-2008): The Anxiety of Technological Man', Art New Zealand, Winter 2008, No. 127, pp 30-33;Lloyd Jenkins, Douglas, 'Ahead of his time', Art News New Zealand, Autumn 2008, pg 60; Robinson, Denis (editor), New Zealand's Favourite Artists 2, Auckland: Saint Publishing, 2008, pp 31-31; Lloyd Jenkins, Douglas, 40 Legends of New Zealand Design, Auckland: Godwit, 2006; Lloyd Jenkins, Douglas, ‘Legends: In the Blood’, Home & Entertaining May 2003, pp 63-65; Blumhardt, Doreen and Brian Blake, Craft New Zealand, Wellington: Reed, 1981; Cape, Peter, Prints & Printmakers in New Zealand, Auckland: Collin, 1974