A key figure in mid-20th century New Zealand art, Wellington artist Melvin Day produced some of the most intellectually astute paintings in New Zealand art history. A Modernist Perspective explores Day’s art practice over seven decades and begins with some of Day's earliest surviving works, dating back to his teenage years in the 1930s while a part-time student at Elam School of Fine Art. Paintings central to each successive decade follow and the exhibition concludes with large modernist landscapes of Fiordland, painted just a few years before his death in 2016.
Born in Hamilton in 1923, Day was a radical painter, particularly in his youth, but also a great believer in tradition. In recent years, his early Cubist-inclined paintings have reinstated him – alongside John Weeks, and Louise Henderson – as an important figure in mid-20th century New Zealand art. Day's early explorations of cubism in the 1950s laid the foundations for modernist abstractions of the 70s and underpin the monumental faceted landscapes of the 80s, for which he became best known.
In late 2015, Melvin Day, then in his 92nd year, decided he would like to leave a significant group of his paintings to Waikato Museum as a legacy to Hamilton, the city of his birth. Sadly, he died in January 2016 before his wish could be realised but later that year, the executors of the late artist’s estate followed his intent and gifted Waikato Museum 60 works spanning nearly 80 years of Day’s painting practice.
Melvin Day: A Modernist Perspective is the first Wellington showing of this significant collection of works and is an iteration of the 2019 Waikato Museum exhibition of the same name, curated by Pātaka's Mark Hutchins-Pond. The show presents the most extensive selection of Day’s paintings ever to be exhibited at one time with the majority of works drawn from the Day gift to Waikato Museum’s collection, supplemented by loans from major public institutions and private lenders.