Hamish Keith – Random House - $44.99
This is a huge, rambling and entertaining story by and about one of the towering and influential figures on the NZ art scene over the past 40 years, Hamish Keith.
It is also a most handsome production, superbly designed, inside and out, I note the design was done by his son Gideon Keith, a well-respected graphic designer with a number of book designs to his credit, and a real feature are the Dick Frizzell illustrations created especially for the book which open each of the 17 chapters. Frizzell also provided the portrait of the author that adorns the cover.
And the book is rich with photographs of friends and colleagues.
Hamish Keith was born, grew up and educated in Christchurch and the first third of the book is set entirely in that city. These are the years during and following World War Two and the book makes for an interesting commentary on life and social codes in Canterbury during that time. He went to Shirley Primary School, Shirley Intermediate, and then Christchurch Boys High before shifting to Christ’s College for his school certificate year.
While studying English & History in the sixth form at the latter school his talent for art was recognized and he started going to the university art school over the road to do his preliminary examination for the university’s Diploma of Fine Arts.
It was from his English master’s comment on his report that he got the title for this autobiography – “gets by on native wit unsupported by hard work”. His History master said “more concentration on the concrete and less on the abstract needed here”. He was bright but coasted through his secondary education without a lot of application.
On then to the Canterbury College School of Fine Arts at the University of New Zealand where some of his fellow students included John Coley, Pat Hanly, Quentin MacFarlane and Bill Culbert.
After graduating he then did his compulsory military training at Burnham and Waiouru camps before moving to Auckland in January 1958 as student assistant at the Auckland Art Gallery.
Thus began his long and distinguished career in the arts world.
A career that is still going strong 50 years later.
During this time he has been an art history teacher, a designer and newspaper columnist, art gallery director, unsuccessful political candidate, tv critic, President of Actor’s Equity, was six years Chairman of the QE11 Arts Council, he has authored and co-authored 10 or 11 books, he has written plays, tv and movie scripts, was involved from the very beginning in the fabulously successful Te Maori Exhibition, , worked for the Readers Digest, was on the board of the National Art Gallery, he has been a restaurant critic and columnist for Metro, the Sunday Star Times and the Listener.
Most recently he wrote and presented the major television series The Big Picture. A book by the same name was published to coincide with the TV series.
He has a great deal to say in his new book about Auckland’s consistent destruction of its building heritage and about the city’s lost or vandalized public artworks.
Hamish Keith is a renaissance man, and without any authority at all I am going to appoint him the “artistic conscience of the city of Auckland”. I am sure Mayor John Banks will approve.
While this is a book for artists and art lovers, for art students, art teachers and administrators it is very much more than that.
It is a book for those who enjoy well written autobiography, it is indeed a book for all interested in life in New Zealand from the 1940’s to the present day.
Hamish Keith has a lively and enquiring mind, he is articulate and has a sharp wit, all of which will be clear to those who read this most absorbing book.