Words I wrote a few years ago about some McCahon drawings


The drawings Colin McCahon made during the Necessary Protection series are covered with inscriptions. Most commonly: Light falls through a dark landscape. There are others e.g. We are looking down to the Far North where my home really is (from one called Oaia sits and nibbles the sea); which drawing is really a map in which a stick figure sits on a headland with the loop of the tail of the y in my curling around his bent head. Another one ( [Moby dick is (was) a volcano] ) has a big black arrow at the top right of the drawing with the word Sydney beside it. This drawing logs, left to right, a series of geological features of Muriwai, thus: Mainland / The Cliffs of Fall / Rocks full of holes for birds to nest in / Sea wild & deep. Oaia, the island, and Moby Dick, the whale, are in this imaginary identified. Another has the title, and the words prominently inscribed, McLeavey Sat Here; Peter, Colin’s agent, is sitting, like the stick figure mentioned above, on what is elsewhere called Mainland. Yet another drawing, the most primitive of all, has the words Freedom Freedom / understand / necessary protection curving down the picture plane into the gap that is called, after the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins, the cliffs of fall. The care of small birds is another inscription, or subtitle, on some of the later works. Many have rosaries in them: necklaces of beads looping down from the sky. Others have jet planes flying off . . . to some place else: Jump! They are what Tony Green called symbolic clusters. You are free to wander amongst their possible meanings for as long as you want. After a while you start to wonder about the way landscape forms translate into letters of the alphabet. How stratigraphy becomes calligraphy: mostly I and T but in these works especially I. Even here we are not secure: the figure / ground ambiguity reverses the compositions so that the negative spaces morph in to square eyes looking back at you like the lenses of those spectacles they issue when you go to see a 3D movie. In the end the base of the monad drops away, the I becomes a T, only the Tau of the Cross remains: freedom freedom understand necessary protection care of small birds where home really is



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