Tony Fomison’s “NO!”

- Murray Horton

I have no more “relationship” with the Christchurch Art Gallery than any other Christchurch ratepayer and occasional visitor. So, I was surprised (to put it very mildly) to be invited by the Gallery to write a piece for its Bulletin on a work in its collection to which “I feel a connection”. But, upon reflection, it didn’t take me long to select the artist and painting. A slightly edited version of this was published in the June 2017 Bulletin. It appeared under my CAFCA by-line because not only was Tony a valued personal friend, he was a CAFCINZ/CAFCA member for years – my obituary of him is in Watchdog 63, April 1990,

“I’ve chosen ‘No’ because it’s probably Tony’s best-known painting (it’s the one that the Gallery chose to upsize onto an inner city wall) and because it’s emblematic of his art, which was confrontational and not user friendly. In a long 1970s’ profile I wrote of him he said, of his middle class patrons: ‘I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about them. They’re the swine I rely on to buy my paintings. I hope these paintings fester on their walls and they have to take them down and put them behind the piano. I hope the paintings get up and chase them round the house’. He treasured an early review of his paintings which described them as ‘indistinct portraits of malformed negroes pictured at midnight’”.

“And I chose it because it reminds me of Tony, who was a good friend for years (precisely because we lived in different worlds). For a brief period, I was a near neighbour at his Linwood family home and I kept in touch with his mother for decades. I knew Tony the artist – I had some fun with him and his partners in crime, Phil Clairmont and Allen Maddox (all three of them dead long before their time; Tony only made it to 50). I attended one of the painful Auckland sessions whereby Tony got his full body traditional Samoan tattoo, turning himself into a living Pacific artwork (the tattooist described the process to me as feeling like ‘a hot iron up the arse’)”.

“I’ve kept the letters he wrote me, in his unique spidery hand and they form the most vivid record of the ‘life of the artist’. My favourite is his description of the events which led to him being stripped of the residency at the Rita Angus Cottage in Wellington in the 80s. It was accompanied by a newspaper clipping headed “Man Hit With Machete” (guess who). And I was there at the end - Llew Summers and I were among the pallbearers at his extraordinary three-day long Auckland funeral”.

“Mainly, I knew Tony the political man (up until his 1990 death he was a member of the organisation that I have fronted for many decades). The man who got his ribs broken in a 1981 Springbok Tour protest in Auckland. The man who came on a 1970s’ Christchurch protest against US bases with a homemade placard reading: ‘Gay Liberation Front supports this march – so look out, us camps say ‘No’ to US camps’. Tony brought his own unique style to everything he did. ‘I decided my best way to protest was through my painting’”.

“I chose ‘No!’ because it symbolises so much of what Tony rejected in art, politics and life. He was a one off and he expressed that with his art. And I end with a plea to the Gallery – Tony Fomison was a major New Zealand artist who came from Christchurch. The Christchurch Art Gallery needs to have more of his work”.


While I’m on the subject of late CAFCA members who made a major contribution to the cultural life of the city and the country, I must mention Marion Steven (who was known to us simply as MK Steven, gender unknown, for most of the years that she was on our mailing list). In 2017 the University of Canterbury moved two departments – Music and Classics -  back into its old central city Town Site campus, which is now the Arts Centre. This is the first time that the University has been back on that site since 1974 (which was my last year there).

Among the treasures moved back into town from Ilam by Classics is the Logie Collection, which has been renamed the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities. Here is a quote from my obituary of Marion Steven in Watchdog 92, (December 1999, “Her particular passion was Greek art, particularly pottery. In 1950, she married James Logie, the University's Registrar - they became known for their dinner parties for visiting academics and their appearances at the University Ball. He was the love of her life, but he tragically died of cancer, after only six years of marriage. They didn't have children, and she didn't remarry”.

“His death left her a wealthy woman and she set up a memorial collection of Greek vases, the world class Logie Collection, which remains in the Classics Department to this day, is used in hands on teaching and is open to the public. She personally funded and participated in archaeological digs in Cyprus, being particularly delighted by a Taranaki newspaper headline that read: ‘Taranaki Woman To Evacuate In Cyprus’”. She was a fascinating person, and the collection of antiquities is well worth a good long visit. Both Tony Fomison and Marion Steven go to show that CAFCA truly is a broad church.


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