Speaker by Various Artists


Marcus King: A cocktail of art and industry

by Peter Alsop

How many artists, anywhere, have mastered Impressionism, large-scale documentary murals and the sharp edge of graphic design in the form of commercial posters? Such was the achievement of Marcus King, a relative unknown – but, paradoxically, probably the most viewed artist New Zealand has ever had.


Town and Country Landscape, c.1950; Oil on board, 117x1833cm; Te Papa Tongarewa, 1989-0013-4

King is best known today for his striking vintage travel posters. Among his best: a flying skier, a Maori chief  and numerous arresting scenes of an idyllic pastoral paradise. These posters place him as New Zealand’s premier poster artist of the period – he was employed by the Tourist Department from 1935-1961 – and an important pioneer in New Zealand graphic design.


Winter Sports at Tongariro National Park, c.1960; Screen print, 77x51cm; Alexander Turnbull Library; Eph-D-TOURISM-1960-01

Maori Chief, c.1948; Screen print, 100x60cm; Private collection

South Westland, c.1955; Screen print, 100x60cm; Private collection

Considered more deeply, however, King’s other contributions to New Zealand are equally if not more important.

In 1938, King painted one of New Zealand’s most recognisable artworks, The Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. For over 75 years, it has been widely reproduced, including on multiple book covers and a wide range of websites (including New Zealand’s official encyclopedia). While King is often overlooked as the artist, the painting is arguably the defining image of New Zealand’s most important historical event.

The painting – along with a companion work depicting the arrival of Maori in New Zealand  – was commissioned for the 1939/40 New York World’s Fair, an event that attracted 8 million people into New Zealand’s pavilion. The Fair had a futuristic intent and theme – ‘a world of tomorrow’ – with New Zealand looking back 100 years to show how quickly it had caught up to the world.


The Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, 1938; Oil on canvas, 121x180cm; Alexander Turnbull Library, G-821-2

The Arrival / The Landing of the Maoris, 1938; Oil on canvas, 121x180cm; Private collection

King later painted a second and bigger Treaty-signing mural in 1952 – that painting went to London for exhibition but its whereabouts are unknown (a re-creation by Dick Frizzell in 2014 does, however, help fill the gap). King’s Treaty works and his other well-researched paintings of Maori culture form an important series of mid-century works documenting New Zealand’s cultural heritage. For King, it was a lifelong interest, shaped by a childhood memory of stumbling across an old Maori pa.

King at work on his 1952 Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi

Dick Frizzell in his studio, 2014, with his re-creation of King’s 1952 painting.

While New York was a highlight of King’s career, he had international exposure long before. From 1924, King was a respected artist for New Zealand’s pavilions at international exhibitions; the go-to trade events and gigantic advertisements of the day (as odd as those events now seem in today’s advertising environment). New Zealand had much to gain from bolstering its tourism and trade, both as participant and periodic host.

King, alongside Nugent Welch, had a prominent role at the 1924 Empire Exhibition in London; an event that also drew eight million people into New Zealand’s pavilion. Among King’s works were large paintings of cityscapes and milestone historic events, particularly the ‘four phases of colonial life’ – the coming of Tasman in 1642, the arrival of Cook in 1776, the Pioneers of 1840, and the migrants of 1924 arriving in Wellington Harbour in ‘the splendid liners of today’.

In 1925, for Dunedin’s New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, King painted a 10 metre mural depicting New Zealand’s industrial evolution. He also played important roles at world events in Toronto, Glasgow and San Francisco. Time and time again, King was asked to brand the country as an alluring tourism utopia and productive agricultural and industrial paradise. It was a significant presence for New Zealand art on the world stage – but his name was a well-kept secret.


New Zealand Pavilion, Empire Exhibition, 1924; Archives New Zealand, R14982228.

Alongside his paid government work, King was on his own mission. At the other end of the arts spectrum, King excelled in Impressionist painting from about 1920, learning his craft from Swedish-born painter Edward Fristrom. In 1926, King was singled out for his Impressionist paintings in a breakthrough show of New Zealand art in Sydney. Come 1932, it gained attention in London, commended alongside Charles Goldie.

King would go on to produce an extensive body of Impressionist and Modernist landscape work, mostly in and around Wellington’s bays and hills . It is one of New Zealand’s richest artistic records of a local environment.

Community-minded, he was also a pioneer advocate for professionalising and popularising New Zealand art, including as a founding Vice President in 1924 of the National Art Association; a progressive organisation that celebrated art in its widest meaning and encouraged New Zealanders to become ‘lovers of art’.


The Bathers, 1928; Oil on canvas, 37x47cm; The Dowse Art Museum

While King reflected in his retirement that his mentor Fristrom was ‘born to paint’, in all reality King took that obsession, across both fine and commercial art, to a wider and deeper level.

His 26 year stint at the Tourist Department, and retirement at age 70, reveal more than a hint of the passion he held for design, painting and publicity. Even despite a prodigious output, King would note in retirement: ‘I have wasted so much valuable time, which I could have spent painting. Whatever I’m doing, painting is never far from my thoughts.’ With regard to his ‘miles’ of murals and historical reconstruction works, he’d lament ‘I would like to have done a lot more’.

What is interesting looking back on King’s life is how closely it tracked the development of design and publicity in New Zealand. Key events occurred at crucial times in his personal and professional development, from observing the growth of railways advertising as a young art-inspired kid, to becoming a foundation member of the Quoin Club as an artistically-ambitious young man; from living and breathing the Art Deco movement, to the development of silkscreen printing in New Zealand as a vehicle to take King’s most arresting designs to the world.

Even his start in the Tourist Department reflected the maturing of his art as the Department’s tourist drive was, post-Depression, moving up a gear. King, it seems, was always in the right place at the right time. Even at the end, King’s career would gracefully close just ahead of mainstream colour photography and television—exciting new media but the arch-enemies of silkscreened posters and paint.

Given all this, would be reasonable to assume that King’s story was well known. Yet, until now, his art and life have remained a mystery – in part a result of the art world’s fascination for the new. Now is the hour for Marcus King, and for reconsidering his distinct fusion of art, design and advertising, and his significant contribution to New Zealand commerce and culture.


Peter Alsop is, along with Warren Feeney, the author of a major new book on Marcus King's work and career.

Marcus King: Painting New Zealand for the World is published by Potton & Burton (hardcover, 360 pages), is available from all leading bookstores (RRP $79.95).

You can watch the documentary Graphic Wonderland (15 mins) on early New Zealand commercial art, including historic footage of Marcus King and reflections on King from former colleague and boss Alan Collins. 


King painting a Maori village scene, c.1950; Private collection.


The beginning of the end of the Drug War

by Jackson Wood

In 1971 Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs. But it wasn’t until a man named William Bennett became the first ever ‘Drug Czar’, that the conflict took off. Bennett, with his policies driven by fear and moral conservatism, turned America’s law enforcement apparatus into a machine for chewing up human — mainly Black and Latin — lives.

The Drug Policy Alliance’s Executive Director Ethan Nadelman, reminded us of this in his moving address to the plenary session of the Reform Conference in Washington DC. Nadelman, who has been at the forefront of drug policy reform for ages, has helped evolve the reform movement from the “nascent fringe to one with power”.

With that power comes legitimacy. This was shown by one senator and two members of congress speaking at the conference.

US Senator Cory Booker kicked things off by saying that the War on Drugs was an “enormous waste of human potential”.

Booker dropped solid facts about the generational impact of the US’s current approach. Two point seven million American children with parents in jail. Ten million children who have parents with a criminal record. The lack of reintegration programmes to get people back into society when they get out. Black folk four times more likely than white people to be arrested for dealing. Latino twice as likely as whites. This is despite some evidence showing that white people are pretty much equally represented as dealers.

“Drug policy reflects the worst of who we are,” he said.

Think about that. Because the issues of race, incarceration rates, and the massive scale of human loss are key to understanding the War on Drugs.

As if appealing to New Zealand’s Minister who has responsibility for drug issues, Booker summed up by saying that reforming drug policy was common sense. Communities need to demand action on these issues. The reason why there has been small change is because of the movement, that’s what needs to grow. Leaders will follow.

Picking up on this point, Congressman Earl Blumenauer said that as this movement grew, so did bipartisan support. Rep Blumenauer has been involved in the reform movement since 1973. He pointed out the fact that one of the major crops the founding fathers grew — hemp — was now illegal to grow. “That’s goofy,” he concluded. 

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, from New York's 8th District, bought a little bit of Brooklyn to the house. He called the War on Drugs a regressive and reckless crusade. Picking up on Booker’s theme of the disproportionate incarceration rates of people of colour, he said “in 2015 we’ve wasted time, energy, resources, ruined countless lives”.

What can we do to make a more perfect union? The answer was simple: end the War on Drugs. This is something that Jeffries can claim a little bit of responsibility for. As part of the judiciary committee, he helped to  retrospectively roll back the differences in mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine and powder. Cos, you know, there is no pharmacological difference between crack and powder. At one point the sentence for crack was 100 times heavier than powder. Why? I think you know the answer.

We then moved from lawmakers to people affected by the shitty laws. 

When Kemba Smith started college she met a guy. Fell in love. Turns out he was a drug dealer. He was  physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive toward Smith. But, like so many women, she was too afraid to leave. The police had been building a case against them. Knowing Smith was his girlfriend, they arrested her even though she had nothing to do with the drugs. At 23 and pregnant, she was sentenced to 24.5 years in prison under mandatory minimums. The enormity of it hit her when her leg was shackled to her bed within 5 minutes of giving birth.

She is only able to  talk to us today — her sentence was supposed to be up in 2016 — because President Clinton granted her clemency due to a high profile media campaign about her unfair — but all too ordinary — plight.

Close to tears, Smith talked about what she compared to survivor guilt. She listed the names of just the black women she knew who were still in jail for similar offences. It was too long and just some of the tens of thousands.

So if being sentenced to 24.5 years wasn’t bad enough, the next speaker was sentenced to life … plus more than 100 years. 

Jason Hernandez was sent to jail in 1998 for selling crack. He was 21 years old and had a seven month old baby. 

Hernandez was one of the first eight people to be pardoned by President Obama, and the first Latino. For that he says he loves Obama like a father, but that he has a message for him: 

“It’s a miracle to be up here. He was supposed to die in prison. Woke up every day, went to sleep every day thinking he was going to die in prison…

“Hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, was tell my friends I was going home. At the back of my mind, I knew, that the percentage chance was high they would die right there in their cells.

“I love you like a father for giving me my life back, I know you’re not responsible for War On Drugs, but with all respect, Mr President, you need to do more.”

“Their blood will be on your hands if, and when, they die in prison.”

And Hernadez knows this all too well. He saw sons come to join their fathers, not just in the same prison, but the same cell.

Which brings us back to Nadelman’s point about generational change.

Harking back to the McCarthy era of American politics, Nadelman said that even though the most terrible things were happening, the public stood by. We all went along. 

The real start of the drug war, kicked off by Bennett in the 80s and 90s, was “McCarthyism on steroids”.

“Everybody went along,” Nadelman said. “Whites, Blacks, there was a great global consensus. We needed a global war on drugs no matter the costs or consequences.”

And that’s what we got in the last decades of the last century. We saw how venal government could be, and how driven by fear and political self-interest. But with a generational shift, we’re starting to see change.

Nadelman’s energetic delivery and fast pace made it hard to keep up with him. As he bounced across topics he started having an existential crisis. 

What happens if (and when) we win, he asked. Cautioning the audience to not be afraid of victory and not to lose sight of the common vision of a world where we have sensible policies that fit our communities around drugs. 

And to do that, Nadelman says, we must hold people accountable. Something that can happen now that the movement has power. And in this case power means working with people like law enforcement on the issues where there is agreement – but still hounding them to hell on issues like asset forfeiture. [Something I’m going to write another post about soon].

And sometimes you need to learn to love William Bennett. Because, the War on Drugs was, and is, driven by fear.

“We need to transcend the fear. Parents are more now afraid of what the drug war will do than the drugs will do.

“But until we understand and embrace the fears that underlie the War on Drugs, we cannot ultimately win.”

I, for one, would love to see Nadelman hug Bennett.

Jackson Wood is at the Reform Conference on a scholarship from the the Drug Policy Alliance. He was also supported by 41 amazing pledgers who helped him get to DC.


A hazy, intriguing crystal ball

by Rob Salmond

We’re closing in on the end of the first full year of the electoral term. So how are things shaping up for 2017?

Let’s start with the current polls. Taking an average of the last 6, they show the left-bloc (Labour, Greens) polling around 43%, up around 7% since last year’s election, or up 6% if you call Internet/Mana “left bloc.” The right bloc (National, Conservatives, ACT, UF) scores an average of around 49%, down  little more than 3% from 2014. Centrist parties (NZF, Maori Party) are on around 8%, down a couple from 2014.

That’s a pretty good year of recovery for the left, but of course it isn’t yet enough. If the next election were held right now, you’d very likely see another National-led government.

But the next election isn’t being held right now. It isn’t for nearly two years. So the big question isn’t so much“where do we sit right now,” but whether we’ll see the broad trend of voters drifting from right to left continue through to 2017.

The online prediction market iPredict suggests it will.

Bearing in mind all the caveats about shallow markets and online prediction, iPredict’s vote share markets suggest a really interesting picture post-2017.

The charts above show the probability that iPredict investors give to parties achieving various vote shares. The vote share they think a party is 50% likely to achieve (that is, equally like to achieve it and not achieve it) is the closest we have to the market’s best guess today about the 2017 election.

On that basis, here’s where the market thinks we’re most likely to land after the next election:

  • National: 42%

  • Labour: 36%

  • Greens: 11%

  • NZF: 7%

  • Others: 4% between all of them.

That result represents a continuation of current trends. It suggests the left picking up another 5% over the next 22 months, and the right losing another 5% or so.

 As the comic (credit: xkcd) shows, there are all sorts of potential problems with simply assuming current trends will run into the future, but nonetheless the punters at iPredict are picking it as the most likely outcome.

Should the election come out that way, New Zealand First would have an interesting decision to make. Winston would have to weigh up the fact that more people voted for a change in PM than voted for the current one, and the fact he really dislikes Key, against the fact he’d get more power as #2 to National than as #3 to Labour and the Greens.

He would face the choice between again being a larger part of thwarting plurarity preference for a change in direction, and again propping up a decaying government, or being a smaller part of a vibrant, new direction for New Zealand.

iPredict seems to think Winston will choose National more than he’ll choose Labour in that situation. They give National a 58% chance of remaining in power, despite suggesting the right will most likely lose to the left by a substantial margin. They think that for Winston peters, more-power-for-me trumps giving-effect-to-the-collective-will.

Of course, Peters’ ability to choose for New Zealand depends on Labour and the Greens not getting to about 49% - at that point they’re probably home as a two-way coalition, or at least able to govern with UF or the Maori Party rather than Winston. The iPredict most likely scenario isn’t far short of that.

On the flip side, for the left to rise above a combined 42% - let alone touch 49% -  it will need both Labour and the Greens to perform well, remain disciplined, and capture the imagination of ever more of the population over the next two years. But as this last year has shown, they’re up for the fight.

Prediction: Cliffhanger.


Hall of Memories

by Grant Robertson

 The for sale sign is up at Sammy’s Cabaret in Dunedin.  It’s a steal at $240,000.  You couldn’t buy Sammy’s shed for that in Auckland.  From what I remember growing up in Dunedin it was never really ‘Sammy’s’ as such.  The venue on the site of the old His Majesty’s Theatre was actually owned by the late Eddie Chin, who owned most of that part of town at one time or another.  Sammy is his son.

Whatever, Eddie ran it is a nightclub, when that word really meant something.  In the mid 1980s with pubs closing at 11pm a nightclub license meant hours of after closing time fun.

My first experience was at an after ball party for one of Dunedin’s integrated girls schools.  Looking every bit the sixteen years of age we were, we made it past the distracted bouncer and set up shop drinking god knows what, but most probably Joseph Khutze or Rheineck or Miami Wine Cooler which were perpetually on special.

As if by appointment, the Police arrived not long after.  We decided to make a quick but quiet exit.   That was until one member of our party managed to entangle themselves in the red tablecloths that used to grace the tables and dragged it and the assembled bottles and glasses onto the floor.  The then mandatory $40 underage drinking fine quickly followed.

But the real heyday of Sammys (the Cabaret tag was ditched somewhere along the line) was when the focus turned to live music.  I returned not long after the Ball to see the Jesus and Mary Chain.  It was the middle of my school exams, but I wasn’t  going to miss my own little bit of live shoe gazing.   They were loud. Very loud.  We all took a step backwards.  Jim Reid said thanks, once, and didn’t utter another word.  I loved them and wore a trench coat and distracted look for the next year or two in tribute.

Many, many gigs followed.  The Flying Nun 10th anniversary one stands out.   I think I almost cried when The Clean played 'Tally Ho'.  I had never heard it live, and never thought I would.  My friend Jane grabbed me during the song and shoved me into the middle, my glasses went one way I went the other.  I didn’t care.  Later on Shayne Carter and Peter Jeffries played 'Randolph’s Going Home'.  It was raw.  Sorrow, anger and hurt seared through every chord and every word.   I definitely cried then.

Later that year saw one of a handful of abortive attempts to go to Sammy’s gigs.  Our flat got a bit over-excited about the release party for The Verlaines Juvenilia compilation.   I vaguely remember leaving our flat, possibly entered the premises, definitely  introduced myself to the gutter on Crawford St outside – and certainly never heard a bar of music.   There were accidents and incidents over the years.  I still feel bad about collapsing after a bout of enthusiastic dancing one night and sitting on Toby Mann’s hand and, I think, breaking his finger.  Sorry Toby.

There were disappointments.  I saw Billy Bragg there a couple of times.   On his Sexuality tour I was so excited I went and saw him in Christchurch and then followed him back to Dunedin a couple of days later.  He made the same jokes at exactly the same point both nights.  Reality 1, Grant, 0.  Pavement played in 1993.  My friend John wrote a song called 'Pavement Are So Boring' about that night.  He was right.

And there were moments of sheer madness and joy.   The anarchic Too Many Daves (managed by the mysterious Ronald D Ponce) played there with the 3Ds and the Verlaines.   The two adult bands could not agree who would play last, so they decided to let the Daves do it.  It happened to be a night when David Mitchell was at his frenetic best.  All hair and kinetic energy he blew the venue apart.

It was a big ask for the Daves, who were, how to put it, a bit shit to follow on from such greats.   Somehow it had been decided that a certain friend of the band and now Law Professor at Otago University would sing a song.   He came on and launched into an excruciating, and barely discernible version of 'You Are My Sunshine'.  Remarkably, the crowd loved it, the Daves played superbly, and I convinced a couple of first years that the Daves were American, and “very alternative.”

Other nights the place was half empty- but some magic could happen.  Bands like Funhouse, My Deviant Daughter, Munky Kramp all had moments where they sounded like the next big thing. Well, at least to my by now highly biased ears.  Kid Eternity arrived all cartoon punk and full of fun.  One night they renamed their song 'Evil Bill and Evil Ted' to be 'Evil Phil and Evil Grant' for me and my friend and we felt like we had made it in the world.

After I left Dunedin I went back to Sammy’s for various gigs over the years  and I know that it has had an on or off existence as a music venue.  But it was still a decent venue, and the quality of beer had improved.   I wish I had a spare $240,000 to keep my memories alive.  Alas I don’t. I have no idea if whoever buys it will want to keep the gigs going.  I hope so.  But to Eddie and his family, thanks for chance to hear the best sounds of my life.

“Someone's selling all your heroes
And it seems such a shame”

Lost In Space, Luna


An Orwellian Alice in Wonderland

by Rob Salmond

This week John Key attempted to engineer a farce in our parliament, to obscure his own weakness in standing up to Australia’s new, shabby deportation policy.

Aided – whether deliberately or not – by a confusing and inconsistent set of rulings from Speaker David Carter, the result is that New Zealand is yet again an international laughing stock. I can hear John Oliver warming up right now …

The part that will disappoint Key the most is that his dead cat gambit didn’t entirely work.

The gambit works if people both start talking about your outrageous remark, and also stop talking about the issue that forced you to throw the dead cat in the first place.

Certainly people talked about Key’s offensive remark, as they should. People who say offensive, derogatory things should be called out on it.

But Key didn’t achieve his second goal. From revelations that Key was wrong about what kind of offenders on Christmas Island, to the breaking of ranks by the Maori Party and Peter Dunne, people are still talking about Christmas Island, its New Zealand detainees, and Australia’s cruel new policy.

People are also still talking about Key’s weakness in criticising Australia’s policy, and his inability to get it changed. That’s actually quite a big risk for Key – among international leaders, he looks like the guy people are happy to hang out with, but not listen to.

Did Key’s friendship with Stephen Harper get us a TPPA concession on dairy? Nope. And now his friendship with Malcolm Turnbull seems to have got us nothing regarding these detainees.

Not only did the gambit fail to distract people, it came with collateral damage to National, too.

One of the issues with the dead cat strategy, and a reason Crosby almost certainly preaches caution before deploying it, it that it makes quite a mess. Key’s made two messes this week.

The first mess is Key’s status with middle-class women, many of whom swapped from voting for Helen Clark to supporting him, and are central to his ongoing success. Many women, all too often due to previous personal trauma, also react vehemently to any suggestion that rape is being used as plaything in a Parliamentary parlour game, or that their position on Australia’s policy has anything at all to do with their support for rapists. As Rob Hosking (paywall) has pointed out, that damage will take some effort to undo.

The second mess that Key and Carter face is having to explain their many contradictory or illogical comments. Toby Manhire has a starting selection.

We can analyse the logic or illogic of Key’s and Carter’s statements all we like, and it is a fun sport, but the point of the exercise from National’s perspective wasn’t to be logical, but to be distracting.

National’s goal was to stage an Orwellian Alice in Wonderland, right in the middle of our parliament.

Certainly they failed to be logical, and certainly they failed to effectively stand up for the interests of New Zealanders – here at home and on the Island. But they also failed to distract New Zealand from those important issues around justice and community safety. That’s why they failed.

Will this be kept alive when parliament resumes next week? My guess would be no, because John Key’s not in Wellington next week. The next time Key faces the House is 1 December, by which time we’ll have probably moved to other matters.

The one caveat to that comes from the UK. A 51-year old British citizen, who moved to Australia 50 years ago, is being deported back to Britain under the new rules. His crime involves a scrub fire.

It will be very interesting to see whether David Cameron displays the same weakness in accepting this policy. For Britain, this new policy is history in reverse, and I expect they won’t take kindly to it. If Britain applies pressure, it would place new, embarrassing acid on John Key to explain his lack of a backbone.