16 March 2012

Dean Buchanan

Dean Buchanan- early stage of painting (Photo: Chas Tanner)
 At the New Zealand Alpine Club Unwin Lodge at the Hermitage, Chas Tanner, the lodge manager, informed us that an ‘Artist in Residence’ was present. Indeed the next morning we were greeted outside our bedroom window by the sight of this energetic busy man frenetically taking down one canvas and nailing up another. His open-air studio was the back of a building where a large sheet of ply had been nailed up to provide an easel. Other benches had been nailed in place to provide space for oil tubes and brushes. Although a cold morning, the sandflies were in force and voracious as I approached to ask if he minded my presence. These seemed not to bother him as he set about sketching his initial design onto the canvas – and at great speed – talking all the time. My presence and conversation seemed not to interfere in the slightest in his creative process; a commentary on the depth of my conversation, perhaps.

We soon established a rapport and, seemingly, empathy for one another’s ideas. The words flew. And the stories. It seemed as if all the imagery came from some evolving process lodged behind his eyes. I’ve since heard that he does plan his work but never directly from a landscape or a photograph.  There are sketchbooks but these are just a step towards the final explosion of effort. The whole final composition is performed at great pace – and the ongoing conversation seemed to only facilitate his creative process.

As his sketch lines develop I could discern different elements appearing – an overall composition – the height and depth of his subject matter – the strata of the mountains – the fracturing and shattering of rock and ice – colour comes later and with it a certain darkness and a limited palette. Here is an artist who has well and truly found his voice; one whose work you can easily identify, in much the same way that you can say – ‘this is a Nigel Brown’ or ‘this is a McCahon’. Bob Harvey has written a book about Dean’s work. Its title is well chosen: “Wild Beast”.

If I had to choose one word to describe Dean Buchanan, it would be ENERGY. The energy with which he attacks his work, his bush tramps, his cycle training and mountain climbing, his conversations, his art - everything.  That morning at Unwin Lodge the vicious sandflies were well and truly out of their depth.

Near Finished - View from Nun's Veil (Photo: Chas Tanner)

For someone nigh on 60 he is remarkable – at an age when many of us are thinking of slowing down he seems to be speeding up. He recently climbed Cook and Mts Aspiring and Madelaine. No sign that his passion for doing things is burning him up either.  Great advertisement for giving up the booze! 

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