by Gregory O’Brien
I was very eager to review this book as I have been an admirer of Don Binney’s paintings. His work is instantly recognisable, but there is so much more to this man, as I was to discover.
Donald (Don) Hall Binney OBE (1940–2012) was a painter, printmaker, teacher, writer and ornithologist. His love of birds is evident in his artwork and paintings of New Zealand coastal landscapes.
Don Binney: Flight Path is a revealing book documenting Binney’s career. It is more than just his art. It has analysis, a huge amount of personal context and a wonderful sense of storytelling. For most of Binney’s life he wrote stories, poems, articles, and his writing throughout is almost a memoir and adds a real richness to the book. Binney was a philosopher and a really big thinker. It is not a text book, but rather a story of one man’s life.
Binney taught at Elam Fine Arts School, was head of painting for more than twenty years and influenced a large number of New Zealand painters. He began painting at Te Henga; views of Puketotara with native birds often being a focus in his artworks. He used a variety of mediums, including oil, acrylic, charcoal, ink and carbon pencil. Many of his works depict the west coast of Auckland and Northland, containing sea, sky, native birds, still life and occasionally figures.
The large, 2.5 kilo, hardback book with 400 pages is richly illustrated throughout with Binney's paintings, drawings and prints – alongside photographs and keepsakes.
Gregory O’Brien MNZM is a New Zealand poet, painter and editor who was expertly chosen to take on this large project, with the blessing of Binney’s family.
“Don was a hunter-gatherer, a hoarder and a ‘maximalist’ in many things. His letters, journals, novels, reviews and other writings run to millions of words. As well as many thousands of pages written in a tiny, hard-to-decipher script, there was also a huge archive of photographic negatives, prints and all sorts of other stuff. What a grand adventure this turned out to be.” Gregory O’Brien, Sunday Star Times
Don Binney: Flight Path is divided into six parts, an afterword, chronology including images, and a bibliography.
Part 1, Taking Flight, 1940-62, covers Binney’s childhood, school days and the years of study at Elam, followed by teachers’ college and school teaching.
Part 2, Between Bird & Headland, 1963-67, covers the years of Binney’s rise to fame and popularity through a succession of well-received exhibitions at Ikon Gallery, and later at Barry Lett Galleries. It also focuses on his early environmentalism.
Part 3, Offshore, 1968-73, covers the artist’s time in Mexico, Central America and the United Kingdom.
Part 4, Returning Bird, 1974-1985, covers his return home to New Zealand. His time of reflection and potential exhibitions and commissions.
Part 5, Four or Five Ways of Not Being a Painter, 1973-85; covers the difficult years when Binney became a focus of attack on what was derided as ‘regional realism’ by younger artists and critics.
Part 6, Descending Bird, 1986-2012, covers Binney revisiting his earlier bird-and-landscape centred subjects in the last two decades of his life.
Don Binney: Flight Path is remarkable book about a captivating man and artist. Gregory O’Brien perfectly balances the fascinating human story and a comprehensive reference book and that is not easily done.
Auckland University Press should be very proud of the production of this book. The replication of images is superb, along with strong binding and high-quality paper. Making this the perfect Christmas gift and coffee table book.
Author: Gregory O’Brien
Publisher: Auckland University Press