Artist Profile

Tony Fomison

Born 1939, Died 1990

Tony Fomison was born in Christchurch and attended the Canterbury School of Fine Arts from 1956-1960 where he studied sculpture and attended life drawing classes given by Rudi Gopas. From 1964 - 1967 he travelled in Europe and returned to Christchurch. From 1973 he based himself in Auckland.

His artistic career coincided with attitudinal changes in New Zealand as the country began to loosen its ties with Britain and establish an identify as a South Pacific nation. Fomison had a broad knowledge and understanding of Maori and Polynesian culture and art which dated back to 1962 when, as an assistant ethnologist with the Canterbury Museum, he studied rock drawings in Otago and Canterbury.

His development has been highly personal, creating disturbing images that champion the oppressed and deal with the devaluation of non-European cultures. He was also fully versed in the conventions and imagery of European art. In some cases he based paintings on works by Holbein, Mantegna or Bellini. Like the German Expressionists, in his figurative works Fomison distorted or exaggerated the features to convey emotions of fear, horror and pain. His vision is essentially tonal and his textural, rounded forms exploit the effects of light against dark and vice versa. His work is not wholly unconventional as he retains spatial consistency within the compositions and does not abstract the forms. His application of paint is carefully considered with carefully graduated colour tones rather than free gestural brush strokes.

Like McCahon, Fomison deals with issues of life and death, good and evil and the individual's relationship to the land. Like Clairmont, Fomison fulfilled the myth of the neo Expressionist, leading an intense unconventional lifestyle of self-indulgence, drugs and alcohol, almost to the point of self-destruction. He is now regarded as one of New Zealand's most highly regarded artists who, through his art, helped the country redefine and reshape itself to reflect its unique South Pacific identity.

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