Artwork that bubbles all around

By Cindy McQuade

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Theo Schoon captured this mudpool in the 1960s.
Theo Schoon captured this mudpool in the 1960s.

When you live in a unique region, it's easy to get blase about the natural landmarks you see.

Photographer Theo Schoon had a fascination for this landscape, and he believed Rotorua residents inhabit a living art gallery but most can't see it.

Schoon took his first image of Rotorua's geothermal landscape in 1950 and by the 1960s he was spending more and more time in the region taking photographs. During his artistic career, he took hundreds of photographs of Rotorua mudpools and silica as he believed our geothermal region was one of the greatest natural art galleries in the world.

"He would wait for hours to get the perfect shot he wanted and thought it was the most amazing canvas," said Rotorua Museum communications lead, Jo Doherty.

Rotorua residents viewing the exhibition of his work might be surprised by the abstract art lurking in our mudpools, as "most people taking photographs do a typical landscape shot, but Schoon focused on the smaller details, the patterns of nature, and his work is quite modernist," said Ms Doherty.

Not only was he inspired by geography, he also engaged with Maori artistic traditions and spent time with Maori artists, including carver Pine Taiapa. In order for New Zealand modernism to be distinct, he thought it needed to use Maori designs and motifs. This was to influence the practice of artists such as Gordon Walters and Dennis Knight Turner.

The title of this exhibition comes from a letter Schoon wrote to friend and former Rotorua Museum director John Perry in 1982. In it he described his amusement at New Zealanders' lack of interest in art despite the fact that in his opinion they were always surrounded by art - in the form of nature: "I found [it] particularly amusing, whenever I thought of the uneasiness and discomfort of New Zealanders in the presence of abstract art. Here at least they can't splutter and waffle: nature is a modern artist."


* What: Splutter & Waffle - Theo Schoon's Rotorua

* Where: Rotorua Museum

* When: Until May 2016

- Rotorua Daily Post

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