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Pop-art painter inspired by lively NZ music scene

Flagstaff Team

World class… Split Enz took Kiwi creativity to London. Now Tim Finn (third from left in this cropped image) calls Devonport home.

The New Zealand-music heyday of last century has inspired North Shore painter Christian Nicolson’s latest exhibition. Among leading New Zealand bands referenced in his works are Blam Blam Blam and the Screaming Meemees, which respectively featured foundation members who jammed together while at Westlake Boys High School and Rosmini College.

The exhibition, called Ready to Roll, owes its name to the influential television music show which ran from 1975 to 2001. While Nicolson was too young to truly tune in during early days, he says many of its featured artists made the “Kiwi music I grew up with”.

Names such as Split Enz, Hello Sailor, Shona Laing, Dave Dobbyn – and those from the Flying Nun label seen mostly on Radio with Pictures – all resonate in his pop-art influenced portraits and screen- printed imagery. Works include mashed- up collages of characters. One entitled “Sweetwaters”, with Chris Knox in the festival foreground and the Meemees in the middle. “They’re pretty stylish I must say, pretty much the coolest band we produced in that era,” Nicolson reckons.

Come together… A cross-section of entertainers at Sweetwaters from Chris Knox (front) to the Screeming Meemees (centre) and visiting Australian singer Peter Garrett (left)
Shore sighted… Blam Blam Blam’s breakthrough hit, “There is No Depression in New Zealand”, recalls an era of angst on the airwaves

He says he is a nostalgic person, with a lot of his work based on childhood. “Being in love with music and being a muso myself I thought it was good to bring out our music heroes.”

As well as the 20 paintings he has on show at Art by the Sea gallery in Takapuna are sculptures of Tim Finn, Che Fu, Bic Runga, Dobbyn and Knox. He even invited some of his musical heroes along to a busy opening of the exhibition last weekend. Former Mockers frontman Andrew Fagan had a very rock’n’roll excuse: he was on tour. The still resident North Shore brigade of Blams in Mark Bell and Tim Mahon have been asked to drop by when they are free, and so too Jordan Luck.

Nicholson fondly remembers playing at the Masonic in Devonport with his band, Goon. They still occasionally gets together, but the hotel’s shell now houses apartments. It sits just across the road from the original Art by the Sea building, with the gallery business having recently relocated to Takapuna. Nicolson is chuffed to have been asked by owner Mike Geers to be the artist for its opening exhibition in the new premises. He hopes his music tribute show will remind people that New Zealand music, as seen on Ready to Roll, was as good as that from anywhere.

Ready to Roll by Christian Nicholson is on until 27 April at Art by the Sea gallery, 162 Hurstmere Rd, Takapuna.

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