Robert Ellis

Motorway Journey

1970
oil on board
890mm x 890mm

signed Robert Ellis and dated 1970 in brushpoint lower right; signed ROBERT ELLIS, dated 1970 and inscribed ‘MOTORWAY/CITY’ WELL. EX NËš7. ‘MOTORWAY JOURNEY’ B.L. EX. NËš3. in brushpoint upper left verso

Provenance

Private collection, Auckland.
Acquired from Dunbar Sloane, Wellington, 2003.

Essay

Motorways in 1970 were a completely different affair to the myriad of concrete and asphalt pathways that we know today. For Robert Ellis, they affected every facet of life. He r...

Read full text
Estimate $18,000 - $24,000
Achieved $30,191.88

Robert Ellis

Motorway Journey

1970

oil on board

signed Robert Ellis and dated 1970 in brushpoint lower right; signed ROBERT ELLIS, dated 1970 and inscribed ‘MOTORWAY/CITY’ WELL. EX NËš7. ‘MOTORWAY JOURNEY’ B.L. EX. NËš3. in brushpoint upper left verso

890mm x 890mm

Auction N˚4

Estimate $18,000 - $24,000

Achieved $30,191.88

Motorway Journey

by Ngarino Ellis

Motorways in 1970 were a completely different affair to the myriad of concrete and asphalt pathways that we know today. For Robert Ellis, they affected every facet of life. He remembers the 25 bulldozers that transformed Grafton Gully into new motorways, a location he knew well from time spent living on Grafton Road. In a short time, it had all changed, the noise and the dust bringing forth a new type of Auckland. It was these motorways that Ellis would enjoy exploring in his new (second hand) Ford Prefect, as he wondered when all the building was going to end. Ellis could see a potential landscape full of cars. He had been doing paintings relating to the use of land for a while: with the emergence of these new pathways through the land, Ellis began to explore a new series of permutations on the theme of cars and landscape. How might, for instance, these new developments affect the 40 extinct volcanoes that characterise Auckland’s terrain?

Ellis began investigating these problems in the mid-1960s, in his City series. Here, the land is depicted as series of geometric patterns, using a distinctly New Zealand colour palette of red, white and black.  Through this use of colour, he demonstrated his understanding of the intimate relationship between red volcanic earth, the black soot from the demolitions, and the white of the new motorways. Ellis considered these three primordial colours as representative of New Zealand as a whole, an understanding based on his growing knowledge of a range of Māori arts, most notably kōwhaiwhai. He was one of the few Pākehā trained by master carver Pine Taiapa at a week-long workshop at his home at Tikitiki on the rural East Coast in 1966. Insights he gained there in relation to form, line and use of colour would be explored in works like these. Red paint, for instance, could be conceptualised as kōkōwai, a red pigment primarily sourced from the earth, giving the colour red a very New Zealand relevance. More than just patterns, these designs, like kōwhaiwhai, have real meanings and deliver real messages: about the land, the community and the environment.