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Bill Sutton

Landscape Elements

1970
oil on board
595mm x 1210mm

signed WD Sutton and dated ’70 in brushpoint lower right

Provenance

Private collection, Auckland.

Essay

All the shapes I wish to use are about me in our natural environment.¹
—W. A. Sutton

 

The distinctive ochre-coloured lan...

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Estimate $25,000 - $35,000

Bill Sutton

Landscape Elements

1970

oil on board

signed WD Sutton and dated ’70 in brushpoint lower right

595mm x 1210mm

Auction N˚7

Estimate $25,000 - $35,000

Footnotes

1        “Nineteen Painters: Their Favourite Works,” Islands 10, Summer 1974, Vol. 3, No 4, 1974, 376.

2        Lara Strongman, 101 Works of Art, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, 2015, 194.

3        Deborah Shepard interview with W. A. Sutton, audio tape, 20 March 1982, Robert and Barbara Stewart Library and Archives, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.

Shifting Shadows

by Grant Banbury

All the shapes I wish to use are about me in our natural environment.¹
—W. A. Sutton

 

The distinctive ochre-coloured landscapes of W. A. Sutton are synonymous with Canterbury’s dry arid summers. Inspired by the landforms, geological structures, seasonal changes, weather and cloud patterns, his paintings are governed by and immersed in a sea of yellow ochre. The varying moods of the Canterbury landscape, where the artist was born and trained, and where he lived his whole life, became a vital touchstone for him, stimulating numerous series of paintings over the course of a productive
career that spanned more than six decades.

Initially working in a pseudo-impressionist manner, following in the footsteps of his tutors at the Canterbury College School of Art, Sutton produced one-off representational landscapes. After a near two-year study period in London and exposure to Cezanne and other international artists, his real breakthrough came with Dry September (1949), painted on his return to New Zealand. This work, with its dramatic perspective, bridge structure, riverbed and distant ochre hills, highlighted Sutton’s
“new interest in compositional structure.”²

However, through constant reproduction both Dry September and Sutton’s now iconic composite work Nor’wester in the Cemetery, both painted when the artist was in his early thirties, have to a great extent come to define his contribution to New Zealand art during this period. The term “regionalist,” so often applied to Sutton and a number of his South Island contemporaries, including Doris Lusk and Olivia Spencer Bower, suggests their output has no relevance beyond where they were executed. Sutton’s own words tend to refute this reading; he memorably stated that he “had no desire to create or recognise national totems,” a startling assertion given the status he has retroactively been accorded. Ultimately, Sutton’s positioning as an icon of a nationalist, regional style of New Zealand Modernism needs rethinking, and the relevance of his works, divorced from their status as the kinds of “totems” that Sutton refers to, warrants exploration. Arguably, such positioning of Sutton’s practice comes at the expense of work produced in the latter period of his career, when he began to engage more fully with the possibilities of Modernism. As aspects of abstraction invigorated his approach and extended his thinking, he produced some highly original, lyrical and almost classical paintings, that reconfigure the landscape in bold and striking ways.

By 1960 Sutton found his previous figurative approach wanting, and he began experimenting with various forms of abstraction, while still relating his work to direct experience and observations of his environment. He travelled constantly throughout Canterbury and into the foothills and the Port Hills region, recording his observations on the spot in pencil and with watercolours. Later, back in the studio, he distilled and reworked his findings, often onto expansive canvases that bridge the gap between pure, imaginative abstraction and traditional observational landscape painting.