The arts guys

PORTRAITS OF THE ARTISTS AS YOUNG MEN: Gisborne artist Daryl File (left) passed away on Sunday. Under teacher Norman Maclean, File, John Walsh and Richard Rogers were Gisborne Boys’ High’s “arts guys”. Picture supplied

In 1970s New Zealand, few people confidently aspired to becoming full-time artists. But Gisborne Boys’ High teacher Norman Maclean provided a rarified atmosphere for John Walsh, Richard (Buck) Rogers and Daryl File.

Inspired by their teachers Norman Maclean and Graeme Mudge, the three students were the “arts guys” of that year, says Walsh. Each of them followed their vocation. A dedicated artist who supported his passion with relief teaching, File died on Sunday.

The two surviving arts guys recall File’s life as an artist.

“What Daryl had was not so much a style but an artistic vision, says Walsh.

“The way he saw the world was his art. He had a unique and crazy view of the world. He saw everything through different coloured glasses. He was a breath of fresh air.”

He made strange assemblages.

“He might begin with a plastic pony, put a doll’s head on it and add to it with clay.

“He played with the human condition.”

In his early, post-graduate years, playing with the human condition involved mask making. Masks are universal, he once said. When a person puts on a mask they are inclined to take on that character.

He developed his skill in pen and line portraiture. A large work in which File’s Robert Crumb-like line takes the portraits of local identities to the edge of caricature but File nails each character.

In the 1980s, he, Walsh and Rogers were part of the Flying Moas collective of contemporary local artists.

“The whole thing was a great rumble from party to party,” Walsh told the Guide last year.

“We’d have a show, we’d have a party. We were keen to enjoy what we were up to.”

Despite their different painting styles File and Walsh continued through later years to collaborate on many artworks.

“We’d get together, have a few drinks and make art together.”

Possibly surprising to a lot of people, File was also athletic. He was very quick, says Walsh.

“But he never took it up. He was his worst enemy in many ways. He was an arty rock star.

“I’m sad to lose my mate. I’ve rubbed up against a lot of people in the art world. Daryl has always remained a point of inspiration.”

When File graduated from Elam, senior tutor and contemporary artist Colin McCahon opened his first exhibition and presented him to the world.

The world might have been waiting but File chose to return to his coastal hometown and for a long time lived close to the beach.

“His heart was always here,” says Rogers, who discussed with File and Walsh some months ago the idea of an exhibtion of their work. That show is scheduled for March.

“Daryl loved Wainui Beach and he’d always lived close to the sea. That’s been part of his work forever.”

The sea featured in the abstract paintings he exhibited in his Napier show, Flow, last year. Plant form-inspired works, in which spontaneous line was a significant feature, were part of the show.

“I’ve always loved gestural drawing,” he said at the time.

“It comes from the shoulder. With an excess of technique we have lost the ability to draw spontaneously.”

Among mixed-media pieces in the show were three-dimensional works such as the “heavy pets”, creatures File described as somewhere between the sprite and bunyip and fertile imagination. Assembled portraits created from spoons, mousetraps, a rat trap and house-painter’s paint-gummed brush also made an apprearance.

In January, File painted a mural on the side of Pharmacy 51. The work is a composite design but distinctively East Coast. Bordering on abstraction are the rock or fish-like forms beneath the surface of the sea or half-submerged in it. Their forms — recognisable in the outline of the surfboard — is one File was drawn to and often used in his paintings.

“I love that shape,” File said shortly before an exhibition of his work opened in Napier last year.

“It’s an iconic form and a lovely shape to work with. I love the whole art of shaping boards — the creative process and the smell of fibreglass resin.”

The motif often appeared in the sharp-ended eyes of his painted figures and cut-outs.

“He had other tangents — based on characters,” says Rogers.

“In an interview for a show next year he said ‘you don’t need a big crowd scene to see the oddities in all of us’.”

Along with his passion for art File was known for his sociability and humour, as might be seen in the odd figures he created from found objects.

“You have to have an outlet for your wit,” he once said.

“That’s an important thing. I’m not held down by any one style.”

  • A celebration of Daryl File’s life will be held at Evans Chapel, Ormond Road, tomorrow at 1pm.

In 1970s New Zealand, few people confidently aspired to becoming full-time artists. But Gisborne Boys’ High teacher Norman Maclean provided a rarified atmosphere for John Walsh, Richard (Buck) Rogers and Daryl File.

Inspired by their teachers Norman Maclean and Graeme Mudge, the three students were the “arts guys” of that year, says Walsh. Each of them followed their vocation. A dedicated artist who supported his passion with relief teaching, File died on Sunday.

The two surviving arts guys recall File’s life as an artist.

“What Daryl had was not so much a style but an artistic vision, says Walsh.

“The way he saw the world was his art. He had a unique and crazy view of the world. He saw everything through different coloured glasses. He was a breath of fresh air.”

He made strange assemblages.

“He might begin with a plastic pony, put a doll’s head on it and add to it with clay.

“He played with the human condition.”

In his early, post-graduate years, playing with the human condition involved mask making. Masks are universal, he once said. When a person puts on a mask they are inclined to take on that character.

He developed his skill in pen and line portraiture. A large work in which File’s Robert Crumb-like line takes the portraits of local identities to the edge of caricature but File nails each character.

In the 1980s, he, Walsh and Rogers were part of the Flying Moas collective of contemporary local artists.

“The whole thing was a great rumble from party to party,” Walsh told the Guide last year.

“We’d have a show, we’d have a party. We were keen to enjoy what we were up to.”

Despite their different painting styles File and Walsh continued through later years to collaborate on many artworks.

“We’d get together, have a few drinks and make art together.”

Possibly surprising to a lot of people, File was also athletic. He was very quick, says Walsh.

“But he never took it up. He was his worst enemy in many ways. He was an arty rock star.

“I’m sad to lose my mate. I’ve rubbed up against a lot of people in the art world. Daryl has always remained a point of inspiration.”

When File graduated from Elam, senior tutor and contemporary artist Colin McCahon opened his first exhibition and presented him to the world.

The world might have been waiting but File chose to return to his coastal hometown and for a long time lived close to the beach.

“His heart was always here,” says Rogers, who discussed with File and Walsh some months ago the idea of an exhibtion of their work. That show is scheduled for March.

“Daryl loved Wainui Beach and he’d always lived close to the sea. That’s been part of his work forever.”

The sea featured in the abstract paintings he exhibited in his Napier show, Flow, last year. Plant form-inspired works, in which spontaneous line was a significant feature, were part of the show.

“I’ve always loved gestural drawing,” he said at the time.

“It comes from the shoulder. With an excess of technique we have lost the ability to draw spontaneously.”

Among mixed-media pieces in the show were three-dimensional works such as the “heavy pets”, creatures File described as somewhere between the sprite and bunyip and fertile imagination. Assembled portraits created from spoons, mousetraps, a rat trap and house-painter’s paint-gummed brush also made an apprearance.

In January, File painted a mural on the side of Pharmacy 51. The work is a composite design but distinctively East Coast. Bordering on abstraction are the rock or fish-like forms beneath the surface of the sea or half-submerged in it. Their forms — recognisable in the outline of the surfboard — is one File was drawn to and often used in his paintings.

“I love that shape,” File said shortly before an exhibition of his work opened in Napier last year.

“It’s an iconic form and a lovely shape to work with. I love the whole art of shaping boards — the creative process and the smell of fibreglass resin.”

The motif often appeared in the sharp-ended eyes of his painted figures and cut-outs.

“He had other tangents — based on characters,” says Rogers.

“In an interview for a show next year he said ‘you don’t need a big crowd scene to see the oddities in all of us’.”

Along with his passion for art File was known for his sociability and humour, as might be seen in the odd figures he created from found objects.

“You have to have an outlet for your wit,” he once said.

“That’s an important thing. I’m not held down by any one style.”

  • A celebration of Daryl File’s life will be held at Evans Chapel, Ormond Road, tomorrow at 1pm.
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