By T.J. McNAMARA
This neat little book, published in association with the Hocken Library and the City Gallery Wellington, goes some way toward filling the gap that has yawned in our art history because the catalogue that accompanied the retrospective exhibition of painter Rita Angus' work two decades ago has long been out of print.
Jill Trevelyan contributes a brief account of Angus' life which conveys a good deal about her character, though her depression is understated and her left-wing politics and the left-wing milieu in which she operated are less emphasised than her role as heroic lone woman artist.
The second essay recycles the university study Vita Cochran did on Angus' many self-portraits. There is much useful descriptive material and chronology but Angus' own words in a letter to Gordon Brown where she urged the critic to go back to the work, "to study the art not the artist", are not closely followed.
Angus produced a series of self-portraits and it is hard to separate the work from the person, but more comment could be made on what constitutes the artistic merit of the work. After all, the self-portraits are uneven in quality and it is extraordinary how bad the nude self-portrait drawings are, given the excellence of Angus' draughtsmanship.
The two dozen colour plates are of good quality. Although the self-portraits predominate, they include the classical landscape Cass and the Portrait of Betty Curnow which Peter Tomory rightly called the "portrait of a generation" and which Angus came to dislike because she thought its fame made her a one-work painter. This book begins the necessary correction of that idea.
* T.J. McNamara is the Herald art critic.
By T.J. McNAMARA