Philip Clairmont

Philip Clairmont (1949 – 1984)

New Zealand lost one of its most dynamic and gifted artists when Clairmont took his own life at the age of 34. He was an expressionist, working in that style a decade before neo-expressionism became an international movement. The essential elements of the original expressionism are all present in Clairmont’s paintings.

Clairmont began drawing compulsively from the age of eight, encouraged by his mother. At Ilam School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury, his tutor was Rudolph Gropas, an artist from Lithuania whose own work was in the expressionist tradition. Clairmont was soon recognised as an artist who needed only encouragement, not tuition, and he had already done some of his finest work before his graduation in 1970. He usually painted at night, to the accompaniment of loud rock music and by artificial light, the strong highlights and dramatic shadows giving him a starting point for composition. His settings and subject matter were almost entirely confined and domestic – furniture, mirrors, stairwells, and still lifes together with portraits of himself and his partner.

Several themes recur in Clairmont’s painting as generators of emotional force, either, pumping energy out or sucking it in: vases of flowers, with their riotous colour and radiating stems; staring eyes and flames; doorways, cupboards, and fireplaces; swinging, bare light bulbs emitting jagged rays; mirrors and windows, offering passages through to another dimension or ruthlessly reflecting the inner self. Clairmont had the ability to take unremarkable objects such as a battered couch and imbue them with demonic character. A wardrobe becomes a crypt from which a skeleton spirit struggles to escape. A clothesline whirls like a dervish in a frenzy. A dressing table reflects nightmares from its wing mirrors. A fireplace is a tunnel entrance from which the night train to oblivion is about to hurtle out.

Clairmont spent much of his life in shabby digs, and lived in bohemian style. His paintings project the psyche of the artist – they are truly reflective of his struggle with life and art in the best traditions of expressionism. With the exceptions of Kiefer and Paladino, no one comes near to matching Clairmont’s convincing fervour.

– Warwick Brown, 100 New Zealand Paintings By 100 New Zealand Artist (Auckland: Godwit Publishing, 1995).


1967-1970 Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours), Ilam School of Fine Arts, the University of Canterbury


Clairmont, Several Arts, Christchurch

Interiors, CSA Gallery, Christchurch
Exhibition of Drawings & Collage, New Vision Gallery, Auckland

Philip Clairmont: Painting, Collage, Drawing, New Vision Gallery, Auckland

Mirrors, Bett-Duncan Gallery, Wellington

Philip Clairmont, Barrington Gallery, Auckland

Wardrobes, Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington
Clairmont: Recent Work, New Vision Gallery, Auckland
Clairmont, Peter Webb Galleries, Auckland

Clairmont, Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington
Manawatu Magic, Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North
Selected Works, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui; and Govett-Bewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth
Operation Steinbach: New Works on Paper, Peter Webb Galleries, Auckland

Peter Webb Galleries, Auckland
Phil Clairmont at Elva Bett Gallery, Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington
Auckland Experience 1978, Bosshard Galleries, Dunedin

Philip Clairmont, Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington

Philip Clairmont: Works on Canvas and Hessian, Bosshard Galleries, Dunedin
Art is my Wife – Golden Oldies, Closet Artists Gallery, Auckland
New Images, A Variety of Media, Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland

No Tour: Recent Work, Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland
Amandla: New Work, 1981, Janne Land Gallery, Wellington

New Paintings 1981-1982, Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland

Philip Clairmont: Paintings and Prints, Janne Land Gallery, Wellington
A Decade in Relief, Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland
Night Site, First and Last Café, Auckland


Students Art Festival Exhibition, Otago University, Dunedin

Five Young Painters, Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch

New Artists from Elam & Ilam, Bett-Duncan Studio Gallery, Wellington
Christchurch ’71, New Vision Gallery, Auckland
Six Young Christchurch Painters, Visual Arts Association, Dunedin

Annual Exhibition, Kaikoura Memorial Centre, Kaikoura
Prospect, Bett-Duncan Studio Gallery, Wellington
The Group Show, CSA Gallery, Christchurch

New Year/New Works, Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
The Group Show, CSA Gallery, Christchurch
Canterbury Confrontations, CSA Gallery, Christchurch

Art N.Z. ’74, CSA Gallery, Christchurch
Holdsworth Gallery, Sydney, Australia
Portraits, New Vision Gallery, Auckland

Figurative Art Now: 9 New Zealand Artists, Barrington Gallery, Auckland
Portraits, New Vision Gallery, Auckland
The Human Head, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui

Recommended Paintings, Peter Webb Galleries, Auckland
New Zealand Drawing, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland
The Group Show, CSA Gallery, Christchurch
150 x 150, Peter Webb Galleries, Auckland
4 x 3, Dowse Art Gallery, Lower Hutt

The Word in Art, National Art Gallery, Wellington
Private View, Dowse Art Gallery, Lower Hutt
Modern Art in the Hocken Library, Hocken Library, Dunedin
39 Drawings 8 New Zealand Artists, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland
Young Contemporaries Exhibition 1977, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland
Director’s Choice, Elva Bett Gallery at Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington
Hand in Art, Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North
The Group Show & the Last, CSA Gallery, Christchurch

Auckland Artists: A Selection of Painting and Sculpture, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland
Six Figurative Painters, Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
Fomison/Clairmont/Albrecht, Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington
Little Works, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland
The Govett-Brewster’s Great Show of its Purchases Over Ten Turbulent Years, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth
Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland

New Year/New Works, Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
Paintings from Private Collections in New Plymouth, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth
Figurative Artists – 1979, Peter Webb Galleries, Auckland
Clairmont, Trusttum, Gopas, New Vision Gallery, Auckland
Vision Works, Wellington City Gallery, Wellington
Me By Myself, National Art Gallery, Wellington
Artists on Artists – the Way Artists Influence Other Artists, Peter Webb Galleries, Auckland
22 Shopping Days to Christmas, Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland

Drawing the Line, Dowse Art Gallery, Lower Hutt
15th Anniversary, Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
Mixed Mulch, Closet Artists Gallery, Auckland
Figurative Artists, Peter Webb Galleries, Auckland
Directions in New Zealand Printmaking, Govtt-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth
Blueprints for a New Age, Closet Artists Gallery, Auckland
Canterbury Society of Arts Centennial Exhibition, CSA Gallery, Christchurch
Still Life is Still Alive, Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North
Portraits by Invited Artists, New Vision Gallery, Auckland

Stations of the Cross, Govett-Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
Opening Exhibition, Janne Land Gallery, Wellington
Gordon H Brown’s Collection, Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North
Spring Exhibition, Bishop Suter Art Gallery, Nelson
Festival international de la peinture, Cagnes-sur-Mer, France
Parihaka Centennial Exhibition & Art Auction, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery
Paintings from the Festival international de la peinture, Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt
Portraits by Invited Artists, New Vision Gallery, Auckland

The Prospect Collection of New Zealand Paintings, Hamilton Arts Centre, Hamilton

Anxious Images: Aspects of New Zealand Art, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland


Jim and Mary Barr, Philip Clairmont, exhibition catalogue (Whanganui: Sarjeant Gallery, 1987.
Warwick Brown, 100 New Zealand Paintings by 100 New Zealand Artists (Auckland: Godwit Publishing, 1995).
Gordon H. Brown and Hamish Keith, An Introduction to New Zealand Painting 1839-1980 (Auckland: Collings, 1982), pp. 210, 214.
Alan Brunton, “Philip Clairmont,” Spleen (July 1976): 4.
Philip Clairmont, “Philip Clairmont Paints a Triptych,” Art New Zealand, no. 11 (Spring 1978): 38-41.
Howie Cook, “Phil Clairmont 1949-1984,” Metro (September 1984): 204-205.
Michael Dunn, Figurative Art: 9 New Zealand Artists, exhibition catalogue (Auckland: Barrington Gallery, 1974), pp. 5-14, 43-47.
Martin Edmond, The Resurrection of Philip Clairmont (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1999).
―, “Review,” Art New Zealand, no. 5 (April/May 1977): 13-14.
―, “Philip Clairmont: New Auckland Paintings,” Art New Zealand, no. 10 (Winter, 1978): 16.
―, “Disappear Those Bones,” Six Figurative Painters, exhibition catalogue (Auckland: Barry Lett Galleries, 1978)
Ross Fraser, “Philip Clairmont: The Anachronism of Visionary Perception,” Art New Zealand, no. 1 (August/September 1976): 18-20.
Marti Friedlander, and Jim and Mary Barr, Contemporary New Zealand Painters (Martinborough: Alister Taylor, 1980), pp. 40-49.
Alexa Johnston, Anxious Images: Aspects of Recent New Zealand Art, exhibition catalogue (Auckland: Auckland City Art Gallery, 1983), pp. 11-15
Heather McPherson, “Philip Clairmont,” Landfall, no. 102 (June 1972): 160-162.
Francis Pound, Forty Modern New Zealand Paintings (Auckland: Penguin, 1985).
John Roberts, “A Disciplined Demon,” New Zealand Listener, 7 May 1977.
Rob Taylor, “Review,” Salient, 30 May 1983.