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Simon Kaan - Whakamaramataka

Simon Kaan - Whakamaramataka

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  • Sun 8 Nov ’09, 9:00am – 5:00pm
  • Mon 9 Nov ’09, 9:00am – 5:00pm
  • Tue 10 Nov ’09, 9:00am – 5:00pm
  • Wed 11 Nov ’09, 9:00am – 5:00pm
  • Thu 12 Nov ’09, 9:00am – 5:00pm
  • View all sessions


Woollaston Estates, 243 Old Coach Road, Mahana, Upper Moutere


All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Free Admission



Simon Kaan’s paintings have a certain stillness and quiet, transcendental quality. They evoke contemplation and thoughtfulness. They are not about the angst of questioning our human existence. Nor do they invite us to agonise over where we came from or what we are about, something an Anselm Kiefer or Francis Bacon painting will invite us to do. Rather, these are paintings that instil a sense of peace and a level of certainty about our sense of place and the world we inhabit. The allure of Kaan’s paintings, if you allow them to, is their ability to still your thoughts and bring you into the quietness of the moment.

Of dual Maori (Ngai Tahu ) and Chinese descent, Kaan’s clearly draws heavily from both identities. His oeuvre has developed with a unique and distinctive appreciation of Chinese philosophy and aesthetics along with qualitative references to fundamental Maori concepts including Io, Rangi, Papa, whenua and moana. Both cultural influences are evident in Kaan’s style, his techniques, his appreciation of his subject matter and the way he imbues his own experiences and sense of place in his paintings. And the artist is a keen surfer - need we say more? Kaan’s appreciation of the elements, the sea and sky, as well as the headlands and the various objects he employs to occupy his landscapes are those of a sensitive and seasoned aficionado. These paintings capture a real appreciation of being immersed and wholly engaged with the elements they portray.

The Chinese aesthetics in these paintings are clearly distinguishable by the heavy calligraphic qualities, the simple use of line, the minimalist presentation, and the artist’s use of negative space. The ambiguous spaces and fragmented surfaces reflect the influence of minimalism and abstraction and capture the other-worldliness and ethereal qualities of the elements, air and water. The simple bold lines that Kaan employs to convey these elements are central to much of his painting. With the imagery, including the moon or the waka, there is no mistaking Kaan’s appreciation of the strokes of the calligrapher’s hand. Kaan has recently introduced the moon – mārama, representing knowledge or insight. The title of this exhibition whakamāramataka means to bring or convey understanding or enlightenment.

The artist has been increasingly working with a technique of carving into the surface of the painting similar to engraving or dry point etching. Here the distinction to carve rather than inscribe is important. Similar to the practice of ta moko, Kaan carves into the skin, the skin of the paint; the paint as skin. The lines impart life into the surface of the painting, to the moon, a rainbow or a moth. More recently the artist has been using this practice to add contours, texture and movement to the land in the foreground or the segments of distant landforms. Kaan does this with a minimalist’s eye and a lightness of touch, appreciating less is more.

The moth or butterfly which represents the unconscious or transcendence of the soul and is symbolic of the transformation of existence in many cultures including Chinese was used by Kaan in his earlier practice . Articulating mortality and life cycles the moth represents transformation, rejuvenation and continuation, and portrays the connection between the spirit world and that of the here and now. By employing a symbolic representation of this human endeavour or objectification Kaan can engage his audience, including them as a presence in his painting rather than as the mere onlooker or observer.

Kaan’s trajectory achieves a unique and subtle discourse between the landscaped backgrounds of his paintings and objects and symbols that float or drift within them. Put simply - they draw you in. These are paintings that evoke a spirit inside ourselves which we have felt before and struggle to keep buried. When asked we find this ‘stir’ difficult to explain but eventually, and in our own way, we are compelled to respond. We are the moth, searching for understanding.

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