Artwork Detail

Paramount Winner, 1997 Wallace Art Awards.

Peter Stichbury’s extraordinary group portrait is a cunningly constructed take on the famous illustration of The March Hare’s Tea Party by Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914), from Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Stichbury was still a student at Auckland University’s Elam School of Art when he made the work, and used fellow students Sam Mitchell, Florian Habicht and Nicholas Butler as models. The work evolved from a series of photo shoots in which Stichbury carefully positioned the sitters to achieve his ultimate composition.

Truce is not a slavish imitation of Tenniel’s famous illustration, but a brilliant reconfiguration. Although the positions of the figures have been changed, their attitudes correspond closely to those in Tenniel’s picture: the left-hand figure (Mitchell) corresponds to Alice, the central figure (Habicht) to the mad Hatter, and the right-hand figure (Butler) to the Dormouse. The Alice figure is impatient and demonstrative, the Hatter figure quizzical and querulous, and perhaps a bit confused, while the Dormouse figure is wholly self-absorbed, oblivious to the psychological battle taking place between the other two. In this context the figure that would correspond to the March Hare is conspicuous by his absence. Given the close relationship between the artist and his models, we can perhaps justifiably assume that Stichbury, invisible because he is effectively behind the camera, has cast himself as the March Hare – the convener of this mad tea party. The title, Truce, seems ironic – the attitudes of the characters suggest more conflict than resolution is at play here.

In winning the Paramount Award for 1997, Truce brought Peter Stichbury to national prominence and announced the early maturity of a brilliant talent. Stichbury has gone on to become one of New Zealand’s most accomplished painters of people. His works are not so much portraits as studies of psychological types. Aside from his technical virtuosity in crafting amazingly bold and memorable likenesses, his special ability lies in being able to extract from his individual models nuances of attitude and expression which stand more universally as observations on the infinite shades of human nature.

Catalogue text:
Published on the occasion of the Twenty Wallace Art Awards Paramount Winners Exhibition.
14 February to 22 April 2012 at The Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre and 2 August to 30 September 2012 at the Wallace Gallery Morrinsville.
Acrylic on canvas
1010 x 1390 mm
Not signed or dated
Accession number

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