John Drawbridge - Times Obituary

New Zealand artist John Drawbridge became a well-known figure in the British art world in the 1960s - the Times paid tribute to him at the time of his death.

The New Zealand artist John Drawbridge became a well-known figure in the British art world in the 1960s. He arrived in London to study at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1957 and then spent a year in Paris, where he furthered his printmaking studies. In the early 1960s he enjoyed great exhibiting success in London. In 1961 he was commissioned to paint a giant mural for New Zealand House on Haymarket. He was bold and adventurous in his use of materials, had a marvellous sense of colour and, as a printmaker, he became particularly skilled in mezzotint.

The call of his native country was strong, however, and though many people urged him to stay on in London he returned to New Zealand in 1963 with his English wife, the sculptor and silversmith Tanya Ashken. There his work had a mixed reception. In 1967 the New Zealand Government bought one of his paintings and presented it to Canada to mark that country's centennial, but photos of the abstract canvas, entitled Coastline, Island Bay, aroused a hostile outcry in the Wellington press.

During the 1970s he experimented with a variety of new techniques, combining painted surfaces with optical effects achieved by carrying light down Perspex tubes (as in his Expo '70 mural for the New Zealand pavilion in Osaka, Japan) and painting on metal surfaces. The last technique was used to striking effect in the great Beehive Mural he created in 1979 for New Zealand's new Parliament building.

New Zealand's vigorous contemporary art scene is centred on Auckland, while Drawbridge was a Wellington personality, and a notable feature of his later years was the way in which he was written out of New Zealand art history.

This reached its climax in 2002 when the Auckland Art Gallery declined to show a major retrospective exhibition of his work organised by the Wellington City Art Gallery, claiming that he was unknown in the north.