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Open book . . . Artist Peter Cleverley is the subject of a new book. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

When the artist becomes the art.

Kakanui artist Peter Cleverley is going to be the subject of a new book.

Having written many books during his time as a University of Otago professor, Alistair Fox is writing his first book about an artist and the first book written about Cleverley.

The two met through RDS Gallery director Hilary Radner and had known each other for only a year but are now good friends.

The professor emeritus asked Cleverley if he could start recording some of their conversations and from the recordings, he transcribed a short essay for Cleverley’s exhibition at RDS Gallery last year.

“I thought ‘Oh this is really interesting. Was he standing in my studio while I was talking to myself?’,” Cleverley said.

Fox then interviewed Cleverley, his 96-year-old mother, his wife and some of his friends.

The book would not be a chronological description of Cleverley’s work, nor Fox’s thoughts or interpretation of artistic concepts.

Because Cleverley had travelled widely, had not wavered in his work and had a focus on the human condition, Fox felt there was always something there as a “nucleus” or starting point.

“Throughout my life and career, my paintings are not just lounge-room wallpaper. They are loaded with political things,” Cleverley said.

“I don’t really see that until I look at the images myself.”

Cleverley did not actively show or talk about his work with other people, nor was he “prolific”, and his paintings were sold through dealers and galleries.

He did not like revealing too much about his paintings and preferred to surprise people with his work.

Cleverley would provide a small description of a piece and help document his paintings, but Fox was the driver of the project.

“I feel privileged that it’s being done.”

Although “scared sless” by the idea of a book being written about him, Cleverley thought it would be nice to have something that could be used as a research resource.

Now, Fox was in the process of putting chapters together, and he had collected rough photographs of 75 to 100 pieces of Cleverley’s work that were spread across private, public and Cleverley’s own personal collections.

Fox would soon apply for a Creative New Zealand grant to hire professional photographers to document Cleverley’s work, some of which was behind glass and required special skills to photograph.

The pair plan to launch the book in 2023 at the Forrester Gallery during an exhibition of Cleverley’s work.