Tony Fomison

TONY FOMISON (1939 – 1990)

In New Zealand Art: A Modern Perspective, gallerist Elva Bett stated: “If McCahon’s mantle is to fall on shoulders equally capable of carrying the weight it must be on those of Tony Fomison. He, too, has followed a uniquely individual and solitary way in finding his own metaphors to express a deep concern for humanity. … Fomison needs no Christian name, no signature, for, like McCahon, his work stands on its own irrespective of fashions or passing trends.” (Elva Bett, New Zealand Art: A Modern Perspective, Auckland: Reed Methuen, 1986, p. 96)

Tony Fomison was born in 1939 in Christchurch. He studied at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts, graduating in 1960 with a Diploma of Fine Arts in sculpture. Following this, he was appointed Assistant Ethnologist at the Canterbury Museum in 1962 which involved recording Maori rock drawings for the Museum and the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. This experience had a profound influence upon Fomison who developed a deep awareness of Maori and Polynesian culture. According to Warwick Brown, elements of these cultures “…can be seen in the artist’s work, but strangely transformed. Fomison’s world was peopled by spirits, legendary and historic figures, and enigmatic imaginary entities who disturb the viewer of his works, stirring recollections of childhood dreams and fears.” (Warwick Brown, 100 New Zealand Paintings: By 100 New Zealand Artists, Auckland: Godwit, 1995)

During 1966 and 1967 Fomison travelled extensively overseas where he studied the artworks of European Old Masters such as Goya and Caravaggio. Their influence can be seen in Fomison’s dark palette, his use of monochromatic tones, and his depiction of oppressive darkness. Furthermore, Fomison’s working method was similar to that of the Old Masters. Brown writes that “He prepared a white ground and then sketched in shape the ideas that came to him, using thin oils and a limited range of colour. … The density of colour was built up through many glazes so that the finished pictures glow with an eerie light. … Fomison worked for weeks on his pictures as his vision evolved and changed, describing this process as his paint brushes talking to him.” (Warwick Brown, 100 New Zealand Paintings: By 100 New Zealand Artists, Auckland: Godwit, 1995)

According to art historian, Michael Dunn, Fomison evolved “the darkest and the most troubling imagery” of all of the New Zealand Neo-Expressionist painters. This can be seen in the artist’s practice of distorting faces and hands in order to suggest pain, anxiety, fear or similar such emotions. This, Dunn asserts, “changes the scale to enhance the power of certain figures and to reduce others to positions of submission or helplessness.” Consequently, Fomison can be described as the archetypical Expressionist artist, an “outsider” who lived an alternative lifestyle free from convention and dominated by the consumption of drink and drugs. Thus, his life and artistic practice captured the “myth of the artist,” and as such ensured that his artwork was coveted by the bourgeois society he rejected. (Michael Dunn, New Zealand Painting: A Concise History, Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2003, pp. 139-141)

SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS

Several Arts Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

1963
Canterbury Society of Arts, Durham Street Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

1970
CSA Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

1971
New Vision Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
CSA Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand
Rue Pompallier Gallery, Akaroa, New Zealand

1972
New Vision Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Dawsons Exhibition Gallery, Dunedin, New Zealand

1973
Brooke Gifford Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand
Rue Pompallier Gallery, Akaroa, New Zealand
Bett Duncan Studio Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

1974
Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland, New Zealand
Bett Duncan Studio Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

1975
Bett Duncan Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

1976
Bosshard Gallery, Dunedin, New Zealand
Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland, New Zealand
Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

1977
Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland, New Zealand
Brooke Gifford Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

1978
Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

1979
Tony Fomison – A Survey of His Paintings and Drawing from 1961 to 1979, Dowse Art Gallery, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

1980
Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

1982
Janne Land Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

1983
Bringing Back the Scattered, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Hamilton Centre Gallery, Hamilton, New Zealand

1984
New Vision Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

1985
Fomison, National Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

1986
Tony Fomison – Recent Works 1980-85, Dowse Art Gallery, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

1987
Tony Fomison: My Works, My Self, Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North, New Zealand

1989
Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

1990
Memorial Exhibition, National Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Tony Fomison Memorial Exhibition, the Bath House Art and History Museum, Rotorua, New Zealand

1994
Fomison: What Shall We Tell Them?, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

1962
Several Arts Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

1963
Biennale de Paris, Paris, France
Contemporary New Zealand Painting, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Autumn Exhibition, CSA Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand
The Group, Durham Street Art Gallery, Christchurch

1964
New Zealand Artists 1964, Qantas Gallery, London, the United Kingdom

1967
The Group, Durham Street Art Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

1968
100 New Zealand Painters, Durham Street Art Gallery, Pan Pacific Arts Festival, Christchurch, New Zealand

1969
Graphic Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

1971
30 Plus, Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand
Christchurch ’71, New Vision Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

1972
Prospect, Bett Duncan Studio Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
The Group, CSA Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

1973
New Year/New Works, Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland, New Zealand
Eight Young Artists, New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington, New Zealand
University of Canterbury Centennial Exhibition, Christchurch Town Hall, Christchurch, New Zealand
The Group, CSA Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand
Drawing Invitational, Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North, New Zealand

1974
Art New Zealand ’74, CSA Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand
The Group, CSA Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

1975
New Year/New Works, Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland, New Zealand
The Group, CSA Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand
Christmas Selection, Bett Duncan Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

1976
Drawing Invitational, Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North, New Zealand
New Zealand Drawing 1976, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
The Group, CSA Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand
Behind the Eye, A & P Hall, Whangarei, New Zealand

1977
Director’s Choice, Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Private View, Dowse Art Gallery, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Stock Show, Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Bosshard Gallery, Dunedin, New Zealand
The Group Survey 1927-1977, Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand
The Group, CSA Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

1978
Six Figurative Painters, Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland, New Zealand
Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

1979
Peter Webb Galleries, Auckland, New Zealand
Recent Acquisitions, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
St Clair Antiques and Gallery, Whangarei, New Zealand
Nelson Art Society Spring Exhibition 1979, Bishop Suter Art Gallery, Nelson, New Zealand

1980
Drawing the Line, Dowse Art Gallery, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Photographs by 4 Painters, Real Pictures, Auckland, New Zealand
Festival International de la Peinture, Cagnes sur Mer, Menton, France
First Annual Exhibition of the Tangihua Dream Company, Outreach Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

1981
Stations of the Cross: An Exhibition Based on the Passion of Christ, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand
Amnesty International Exhibition of Works by Invited Artists, New Vision Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Parihaka Centennial Exhibition, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand
Collectors’ Exhibition, Nelson, Bishop Suter Art Gallery, Nelson, New Zealand
Second Great Annual Tangihua Dream Show, CSA Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

1982
Me by Myself – The Self Portrait, National Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
School of Art Centennial Exhibition, Brooke-Gifford Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand
Group Show, Janne Land Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
The Prospect Collection of New Zealand Paintings, Hamilton Arts Centre, Hamilton, New Zealand

1983
Group Show, Janne Land Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Paintings by Betty Curnow and Tony Fomison, Sculpture by Gary Schofield, Pumphouse Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Group Show, Marshall Seifert Gallery, Dunedin, New Zealand

1984
New Works by Gallery Artists, Janne Land Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Group Show, Janne Land Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Anxious Images, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

1985
Better than Collecting Dust: The Collection of Jim and Mary Barr, Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Face the Face, Dowse Art Gallery, Lower Hutt, New Zealand

1986
Tarawera Today, the Bath House Art and History Museum, Rotorua, New Zealand

1988
Drawings, Dowse Art Gallery, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Paper Treasures, Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

1989
Traditional Themes and Other Explorations, Dowse Art Gallery, Lower Hutt, New Zealand

1990
A Canterbury Perspective, Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand
Celebration, Fisher Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Two Centuries of New Zealand Landscape Art, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

1991
The Mystical Landscape, National Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Te Moemoea No Iotefa (The Dream of Joseph), Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, New Zealand

1992-93
Hit Parade (the Paris Family Collection), City Gallery Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bett, Elva, New Zealand Art: A Modern Perspective (Auckland: Reed Methuen, 1986).
Brown, Gordon, and Hamish Keith, An Introduction to New Zealand Painting 1839 – 1980 (Auckland: Collins, 1982).
Brown, Warwick, 100 New Zealand Paintings: By 100 New Zealand Artists (Auckland: Godwit, 1995).
Cape, Peter, New Zealand Painting Since 1960: A Study in Themes and Development (Auckland: Collins, 1979).
Cartwright, Garth, “Recent Work by Tony Fomison,” Art New Zealand, no. 52, Spring 1989.
Docking, Gil, and Michael Dunn, Two Hundred Years of New Zealand Painting (Auckland: Bateman, 1990).
Dunn, Michael, “Tony Fomison: A Consideration,” Artis, vol. 2, no. 2, April 1972.
—, A Concise History of New Zealand Painting (Auckland: David Bateman, 1991)
Horton, Murray, and Lara Strongman, “A True Original,” NZ Monthly Review, no. 329, March 1991.
Johnston, Alexa (ed.), Anxious Images: Aspects of Recent New Zealand Art (Auckland: Auckland City Art Gallery, 1984).
McIntosh, Jill (ed.), Contemporary New Zealand Prints (Wellington: Allen and Unwin/Port Nicholson Press, in association with Wellington City Art Gallery, 1989).
Pound, Francis, Forty Modern New Zealand Paintings (Auckland: Penguin Books, 1985).
Ross, James, “A Singular Vision: The Paintings of Tony Fomison,” Art New Zealand, no. 2, October – November 1976.
Summers, John, “Narcissus: Tony Fomison Remembered,” Art New Zealand, no. 59, Winter 1991.
Wedde, Ian, Fomison: What Shall We Tell Them? (Wellington: City Gallery Wellington, 1994).