Born: Wellington, 27th December 1930. Died: Wellington, 24th July 2005.
Attempt to constrain John Drawbridge's art into one or two art historical categories one will quickly discover it is not achievable. This is one possible reason why many art historians have detoured around Drawbridge. His approach to life was inquisitive and exploratory in nature and his art was no different. Through one path of investigation he wished to challenge ones levels of perception (visual or otherwise) taking part in movements like Op Art, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism, while simultaneously he would delve into art history either to pay homage to or to glean information from masters like Rembrandt and Piero Della Francesca or from more recent ground breakers like Malevich or Matisse. He often posed the question what would the conversation be if Johannes Vermeer was to meet with Kazimir Malevich?
He was keen on connecting the dots, not just between great art and artists but within the human experience as a whole. He saw himself as a valid component in the international story of art, not just as a pillar within the New Zealand scene. "He refers to Malevich as easily as he does to the Island Bay scene outside his window. His art is, in this sense, a bold proposition or assertion about cultural identity and heritage, as comfortable offshore as it is at home."2 "John Drawbridge's explorations and revisions of the Western canon acknowledge New Zealand's position as the rag and bone shop at the end of the world, a locus where all sorts of images and ideas finish up, and where they can be reassembled, integrated, orchestrated. Drawbridge believes that being based in the Antipodes allows an artist to 'stand back from the sources' to keep a critical distance. 'I feel, too, that in living here, I have been able to retain the freedoms, and hopefully avoid the stereotypes, of being an artist.'3 While such an approach could be considered a form of provincialism, it has arguably given rise to some of this country's most remarkable art, whether you are thinking of McCahon's revisions of Titian and Bellini, or Woolaston's recasting of Cezanne, or Dick Frizzell's mischievous cross-referencing of imported and local icons. If the scientific space of Piero (Della Francesca) was fuelled by a thirst for certainty not only in pictorial matters but in spatial ones as well, then Drawbridge's paintings are more concerned with the balancing of certainty with uncertainty, rationality with irrationality, of that which is known with that which is hidden."4
In 1957 Drawbridge was awarded a National Art Gallery Travelling Scholarship to study at London's Central School of Arts and Crafts (graduating in 1960 with a Diploma with Distinction). After marrying silversmith and sculptor Tanya Ashken, also in 1960, they went to Paris for one year, benefiting from an additional 4
th year to the Travelling Scholarship. This good fortune gave him the freedom to focus on painting with some time given to printmaking, this time at S. W. Hayter and Johnny Friedlander ateliers. After successful shows in early 1960s London, most notably at the Redfern Gallery in 1963, Drawbridge and Ashken returned to New Zealand.
John Drawbridge's homecoming was truly a "brain gain" for NZ as he not only taught for thirty years at Wellington Polytechnic's School of Design but also created some of this county's most spectacular public art works, notably the 42 meter long 4.8 meter high Beehive Mural (Banquet Hall, Parliament) and the 9 meter long 4 meter high Expo '70 mural for the NZ Pavilion in Osaka, Japan (housed for many years in the foyer of the National Library, now installed at Auckland University, School of Engineering).
2009 Inducted to the Massey University Hall of Fame
2006 Recipient of an NZ Arts Foundation grant (selected by Denis and Verna Adam: beneficiary of the Award for Patronage). Awarded posthumously.
2002 Honorary Doctorate (Literature) from Massey University
1989 Governor General's Art Award, NZAFA
1982 QEII Arts Council Fellowship
1978 Awarded M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire)
1971 QEII Arts Council Scholarship
1968 Major Prize, X
th International Exhibition, Bianco e Nero, Lugano, Switzerland
1960 Elected Associate Member of the Royal Society of Painter-etchers & Engravers, London
1957 New Zealand National Art Gallery Travelling Scholarship
SELECTED EXHIBITIONS (International)
2002 The 12
th Space International Print Biennale, Seoul, South Korea
1994, 1997, 2000 Triennale of Small Prints, Chamalieres, France
1988, 1997, 2000 US Print Consortium, Members Travelling Exhibition, U.S.A.
1993 International Print Exhibition, Maastricht, Netherlands
1990, 1994, 1996 The Inoue Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
1988 The Lumley Cazalet Gallery, London, England
1986 New York Art Expo, U.S.A.
1980 International Print Exhibition, Buenos Aires, Argentina
1978 International Print Exhibition, Cracow, Poland
1976, 1977 X
th International Biennale of Prints, Tokyo, Japan
nd International Triennale of Prints, New Delhi, India
1970, 1972 II
nd and III rd British International Print Biennales, England
1968, 1970, 1978 1
st, 2nd and 6th International Exhibitions of Drawings, Yugoslavia
1968 – 1972 New Zealand Print Council Travelling Exhibitions
th International Exhibition, Bianco e Nero, Lugano, Switzerland
1968 Smithsonian Institute, Washington, U.S.A.
1967, 1969 7
th and 8th Print Internationals, Yugoslavia
1966 Brandeis University, Unesco Exhibition, U.S.A.
1960 The London Group, London, England
1960 – 1986 The Royal Society of Painter/Printmakers, London, England
1963 The Commonwealth Institute Gallery, London, England
1963 – 1963 The Redfern Gallery, London, England
1960 The Whitechapel Gallery, London, England
1960 The Royal Academy, London, England
1959 – 1970 The Piccadilly Gallery, London, England
1958 – 1962 The Leicester Gallery, London, England
SELECTED EXHIBITIONS (New Zealand)
2005 Judith Anderson Gallery, Hawkes Bay 2001 - 2005 Williams Gallery, Petone
2001 - 2005 Tinakori Gallery, Wellington 2001 Wellington City Gallery
1994 - 1999 The Lane Gallery, Auckland 1987 - 1994 Portfolio Gallery, Auckland
1993 Marilyn Savill Gallery 1981 - 1993 Brooker Gallery, Wellington
1969 - 1971 Elva Bett Gallery, Wellington 1968 - 1981 New Vision Gallery, Auckland
1955 Architecture Centre Gallery, Wellington
1949 Helen Hitchings Gallery, Wellington
1991 Carpet Design for British High Commission, Wellington
1989 – 1991 Stained Glass Windows for Home of Compassion Chapel, Wellington
1986 Mural for the National Library of New Zealand, Wellington
1985 Mural for CML Building, Wellington - since destroyed
1984 Mural for the School of Architecture Library, Auckland University, Auckland
1973 – 1976 Mural for the Beehive, New Zealand Parliament, Wellington
1972 Mural for Shaw Savill Ltd, Wellington
1970 Mural for IBM, Wellington
1970 Mural for New Zealand Pavilion, Expo '70, Osaka, Japan
1963 Mural for New Zealand House, London, England
1962 Mural for Leicestershire Education Committee, England
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England
British Museum, London, England
Cincinnati Museum, Cincinnati, U.S.A.
San Francisco Museum, San Francisco, U.S.A.
Museo Lugano, Lugano, Switzerland
Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, Wellington
Wellington City Council, Wellington
Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland
Christchurch Public Art Gallery, Christchurch
Waikato Art Museum, Hamilton
Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North
Wairarapa Arts Foundation, Masterton
Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin
Leicestershire Education Committee, England
Department of Foreign Affairs, Wellington and Internationally
Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington
Massey University, Wellington and Palmerston North
1 Cameron Drawbridge. From personal discussions with John Drawbridge
2 Damian Skinner John Drawbridge Ron Sang Publications, Auckland 2008. p. 21
3 John Drawbridge 'I feel at home with my work being here, in Godwits Return, ed. Margaret Clark, Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 1992. p. 53 quoted in Wide Open Interior, Mallinson Rendel, 2001, p. 24
4 Greg O'Brien Wide Open Interior, Mallinson Rendel, 2001, p. 24