John Oxborough explores genres such as landscape, still life and figure painting, the keystones of Western art. Most specifically he holds a significant place in New Zealand’s rich tradition of landscape painting, working from an Expressionist approach as well as an analytical one.
While some of Oxborough’s representations of the land have taken a geological and geographic perspective, many of his most recent paintings are a recollected vision of a place. A place is not remembered without an emotion tagged to it – and it is emotion that gives life to Oxborough’s works. The trigger could be a child’s toy or a motorbike, motifs that have become iconic in the artist’s work. Or it could be an asphalt road divided by its centre line, leading the eye into the hinterland and carrying the story of Oxborough’s journey from his early days in Dunedin to his current studio in Auckland’s Beach Haven. Memories merge into flashes of form and colour against the patchwork of a panoramic view.
Recollected snippets of a place or experience are built up, layer upon layer, in a rhythmic pattern that creates a canvas in the Modernist manner. In this way, compositions are developed out of blocks and swathes of colour that reference the surface of the canvas and always remind us of the creative process. Colour and line give expression to the artist’s thoughts and emotions, but it is a two way process. It is the memories and experiences of the artist that provide the raw material for him to explore the potential of colour and line.
Oxborough gives himself permission to make things up. Fragments of figures intermingle with more abstract experiences; memories of well-travelled places merge with landmarks of more recent journeys. Objects, shapes and forms coalesce in patterns of colour that deny chronological time. Glimpses of a life, past and present, intersect and overlap; recollections and toys from Oxborough’s childhood merge with those of his children’s lives. Through strong use of colour, certain objects become a point of focus within a painting, commenting on the process of perception and recollection.
Oxborough employs a bird’s eye perspective to develop a spatial recession in his views, leading the eye into the distance. In these aerial views, line interacts with colour which is employed in broad, sweeping planes as well as being thickly applied in compact blocks. Oxborough is a fine colourist, modulating his tones and interspersing patches of bold colour to build structure into his compositions. Above all, colour is the means by which objects become the focus of a work and convey the distinct clarity of special moments.
Oxborough employs a similar technique in his still life works. Familiar objects, aerial and close up views, fluid line and splashes of colour combine to present the incongruity of everyday encounters that recount the story of a life.
Essay by Robin Woodward
Education: Diploma of Fine Arts in Painting (Hons), Otago Polytechnic School of Fine Arts
Awards/Distinctions:The Wallace Art Awards – Finalist (1992-2007, 2011, 2012); NZ Painting and Printmaking Award - Merit Award (2009); Norsewear Art Awards - Finalist (1999); Abernethy Award for Painting – Senior Prize (1990); Wilkins and Davies Young Artist of the Year - Finalist (1989)
Collections:Auckland City Council; Dunedin Public Hospital; Hotere Trust Collection, Dunedin; Otago Polytechnic School of Fine Arts; Whangarei Art Museum; The James Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland
Public Exhibitions: NZ Sculpture OnShore, North Shore City (2012, 2010, 2008); The Wallace Awards Traveling Exhibition, Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland, Pataka Museum of Art, Wellington, The Wallace Gallery, Morrinsville (2012, 2011); Sculpture in the Gardens, Auckland Botanic Gardens, 2011;The Wallace Awards Traveling Exhibition, Aotea Centre, Auckland and Pataka Museum of Art, Wellington (2006); The Wallace Awards Traveling Exhibition, Auckland Museum and Massey University, Wellington (2003); New Zealand and the Pacific, IPC Manawatu Biennial, Palmerston North (1991); A Range on the Home, Dunedin Public Art Gallery (1990)
Publications/Articles: ‘Working from the shoulder’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Mar 2014; 'Confrontational and meditative’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Apr 2013; ‘John Oxborough – Peninsula Heads’ by Louise Wilton, Art in Dunedin, Sept 2005, Vol. 2, No. 5, pp 5-8; ‘Running hot and cold’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Mar 2005; ‘Dunedin Exhibitions’ by Bridie Lonie, Art New Zealand, Summer 1995-96, No. 77, pp 39-41; ‘Jagged chord on silence’ by Richard Dingwall, Otago Daily Times, Sept 1994; New Zealand and the Pacific Catalogue, IPC Manawatu Biennale, 1991, pg 13; ‘A Range on the Home’, Otago Daily Times, Sept 1990; ‘Paintings by John Oxborough’, The Press Christchurch, Apr 1990; ‘Beyond the City Limits’ by Caren Pain, Otago Daily Times, Feb 1989