By LINDA HERRICK
An erstwhile 60s popstar-turned-advertising-whiz and the voyages of Captain James Cook are the unlikely partners in an artistic project which has turned into an ongoing mission called Waterlines. It began when Clyde Scott, who trained at Ilam Art School in Christchurch in the late 50s before building a 30-year advertising career in Auckland, sold up and decided to go full-circle back to painting.
But having abandoned the arts for so long, he didn't know where to start. "When I first opened my palette, I thought what am I going to paint?" says 65-year-old Scott, the older brother of broadcast veteran Lloyd Scott and father of Youth Theatre-cum-Shortland Street director Sam. "And I also kept wondering: what is the relevance?"
With a work ethic galvanised by deadlines, Scott entered a landscape in the 1991 Central King Country Art Awards - and won a $1000 prize. "That was a starter. Having a deadline, a purpose, and getting some encouragement, that all helped me," he says. "I spent quite a bit of time doing different things to try to find a direction, find some work that was saying something and doing something."
He kept working, steadily exhibiting in North Shore galleries through the 90s - but he was still searching for a subject which really connected his heart and mind. The answer came through a family death. Scott's wife, Carole, is from the Barton family, owners of Barton & Sons Boatbuilders in St Marys Bay from 1901 until 1954, when motorway development forced them out. But the Bartons also had a secondary boatbuilding shed in Beachhaven; when Carole's uncle died in the late 90s, the Scotts made a discovery.
"We went in to sort through the stuff in the shed, which was full of wonderful things," recalls Scott, "and that's when I discovered the strakes, the long, thin curved kauri strips which are used to make clinker dinghies."
Charmed by the strakes' elegant shapes and smooth texture, Scott had his raw material, although he didn't know for what purpose except to "maybe make a mobile".
His wife - an anthropology tutor at Auckland University - was again instrumental. Sitting at his kitchen table, Scott opens Carole's battered copy of Professor Anne Salmond's Two Worlds, the fascinating account of the first encounters between Maori and Pakeha from 1642-1772.
The book (which came third in the 1992 Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards) includes long, thin coastline drawings by Herman Sporing, Joseph Banks' secretary aboard the Endeavour during its circumnavigation of New Zealand in 1769-70.
And so Waterlines was born, long drawings on the strakes of the coastline charted by Cook, tinted with acrylic and gold text which explains the naming of the place or an event which happened there.
"This book is where the Cook series all started," Scott explains. "I was looking through this one day and came across Sporing's drawings of the coastline along Tolaga Bay. It was like a lightbulb going off, it really was. Sporing was not an artist but the detail and accuracy is incredible. I used the Tolaga drawings as the basis for the first few works and I won the premiere award in the North Shore City Art Awards in 1998." Since then, Scott has exhibited two sellout Waterlines series. Nearly 40 works are completed and a new series opens this week.
The further he goes, the deeper his interest. He now literally follows Cook's path. He periodically travels to the relevant spots, hires a boatie to take him out to sea and photographs the coastline with a 50mm lens, linking the images together as the template for his detailed, scale drawings on the strakes.
"I see them as tinted drawings," says Scott. "I use acrylic paint but everything else is linked to the old craft. I want to get the sense of a watercolour so you can still see the drawing, which is an important part of the delineation of the coastline."
So far he has travelled north from Tolaga Bay, around the North Cape and down the west coast to Hokianga. Scott plans to eventually cover both islands, with the Waterlines series expanding to at least 100 works. "I used to worry that every time I went out on the water it would all look the same. How far could I push it? But every time it is all different - the way the land meets the water.
"Through this, I have learned so much about the New Zealand coastline and I'm going to see all of it eventually from a point of view most of us never see. That's what the boat people say as well. I hire them to take me out, they start to watch me and they get interested in looking at the coastline in a new way."
SCOTT and his brother, who grew up in Lyttelton, had more of a taste for the theatrical than the nautical as youths. While Lloyd went on to become a broadcaster and actor, most famous for his Toyota telly ads as Barry Crump's sidekick, Clyde was a cardigan-clad pop singer in the early 60s in bands such as the Senators (with Gray Bartlett on guitar), the Zanyopolis and the Clansmen.
These were innocent times; Scott and his bands released singles with names like Grave Digger's Rock, Cool'n'Crazy and Bluebird, and the Senators played live at the Majestic Theatre in Queen St during the opening screenings of a movie starring teen idol Fabian.
In 1962, Scott hosted TV pop shows In the Groove, Teen Scene and Swinging Safari. But advertising, believe it or not, was his great passion - which is why he went to Ilam.
"I wanted to learn to paint and draw properly before I went into advertising because I didn't want to be tied into commercial techniques, which was the big danger in those days. You went straight into an agency after school and they would teach you - there were no graphic design courses then. But I wanted flexibility in my technique. I wanted to go into advertising and change the world."
Scott moved to Auckland after graduating from Ilam in 1958, where he studied under lecturers such as Bill Sutton. His first job was with Brian Blake, Sir Peter Blake's father, "his first and only boss".
He quit after 18 months and set up an agency, Gray Scott Advertising, which later became known as GSI. Those years at GSI were times of immense social change, says Scott, with the arrival of television and a country struggling under severe import restrictions which are hard to imagine today.
"Creativity was a dirty word then and that was a thing I wanted to change. It was all men in suits in big agencies based in Wellington with overseas head offices dictating what was happening in the advertising scene.
"Because I had a background in amateur theatre and was avidly interested in film [he had a role in the 1977 Sam Neill movie Sleeping Dogs], when television started in New Zealand we were able to go straight into it. We had an advantage over the big ad agencies."
After selling GSI to giant Rubicon & Young in 1985, Scott continued as a freelance graphic designer, designing and directing the multi-screen "Waterwall" at the Pavilion of New Zealand at Expo '88 in Brisbane.
"I didn't retire - I don't like that word," he says emphatically. "When I came back to painting in the early 90s, it was a change of career path. I didn't paint at all when I was in advertising. Bill Sutton had said I wouldn't and I'd told him yes I would, I'd paint at the weekends. I tried but when you're putting all your creative juices into one area, there isn't anything left.
"Now after all this time, the factors have come together so I can do this Waterlines work. I think this is something I should do, rather than just paint. Once you get on to a mission, the painting becomes a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. It's a matter of finding the mission and I feel very fortunate."
And just who is buying the Waterlines works, which each sell for several thousand dollars?
"Some people buy these because they know the particular place and they have an immediate response," says Scott, "but quite a few people buy because they simply want one - any one of them."
* Waterlines: The Voyage Continues, McPherson Gallery, Wednesday-August 31.
By LINDA HERRICK