Turner, Dennis
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Born in 1924 in Whanganui, Dennis Knight Turner (d. 2010) was one of the first European artists to incorporate Maori and Oceanic motifs, for which he is recognised as one of New Zealand’s pioneering modernists. He was dismayed that local art in the 1940s and 1950s seemed very old-fashioned in its imitation of English regionalism. Along with his fellow artists Theo Schoon and Gordon Walters (famous for his Koru series), Turner was fascinated by the power and simple lines of Maori rock art and Oceanic art forms, and used these as a starting point for a new kind of distinctively Pacific modernism.

Primarily recognised as a pioneer abstractionist, Turner defined the New Zealand landscape in abstract forms, developing a new art of multicultural influences – art that spoke of the social and industrial rights of ordinary people in an easily accessible style.

Dennis Knight Turner was also known for his portraits in the 1940s and 1950s, and paintings of shearers and woolshed workers. Determined to make a living by his art practice without having to teach art, he worked at times as a commercial artist – including illustrating the School Journal and notably being prosecuted for painting a mural on a Sunday in breach of labour laws.

Ultimately he was dismayed New Zealand could not yet support full-time career artists, and left in 1964 for the UK. There, he continued his practice of visiting museums wherever he travelled, and making drawings of the Oceanic and Pacific art forms, inspiring new interpretations in his work.

Although Dennis Knight Turner was regarded in the 1950s as one of Auckland’s most important artists, he came in and out of public favour over the years, a situation common to many artists who spent much of their career overseas, not exhibiting in New Zealand. However, recent articles and books now firmly acknowledge his significance in our art history.
Pen and wash on paper
hxw: 264mm x 171mm (sight)
490 x 388mm (frame)
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