Northern Hotel, oil on canvas on board, 1984. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Oamaru artist Colin Wheeler’s legacy is gaining greater national recognition.

The late Wheeler was a prolific painter of New Zealand landscapes and local townscapes. Just a few weeks before he died in 2012 at age 93, he was still out sketching in the town.

A selection of his street scenes is on display in the Forrester Gallery from tomorrow as the first step in boosting awareness of his importance.

Art critic and historian Warren Feeney has curated the exhibition, taking 12 works from the collection Wheeler gave to the gallery in 1986.

“New Zealand art sustained an obsession with defining the unique characteristics of the land and its people from the 1930s to 1980s,” Mr Feeney said.

“Wheeler’s regionalist paintings of Oamaru are among the finest from this period. Walk through the town today and Wheeler’s art announces its presence at almost every street corner.

“Yet, his paintings were influenced by international art movements as much as they were by his experience of Oamaru.”

Forrester Gallery director Jane Macknight said Mr Feeney’s work was “part of a process of exploring the legacy of Colin Wheeler for Oamaru”.

“Wheeler was very well known and loved here, having lived in and painted images of Waitaki for more than 50 years. But despite his tremendous output and talent, he is not recognised more widely across New Zealand,” Ms Macknight said.

“We want the rest of the country to find out what a marvellous artist he was and also to foster a greater appreciation of our wonderful built heritage.”

Wheeler, who was a boarder at Waitaki Boys’ High School, returned to teach art there for 18 years. He was granted leave of absence to study in London, then in 1967 was asked by publishers A.H. and A.W. Reed to compile, illustrate and write Historic Sheep Stations of the South Island

He left Waitaki Boys’ to produce another book on South Island sheep stations, followed by North Island stations. A fourth volume, Historic Sheep Stations of New Zealand, was compiled from the first three.

Wheeler also painted giant murals for several commissions, designed a stained glass window for St Luke’s Church, and helped establish the Forrester Gallery. Its first exhibition, in 1983, comprised his paintings of Oamaru.

He received a Queen’s Service Medal for his services to the arts in 1987.

Mr Feeney will give a talk about Wheeler at the gallery at 5.30pm on June 13.

The exhibition runs until July 23.

Another exhibition showing at the Forrester Gallery from tomorrow until July 23 is Trish Shirley: Mirror Worlds. The local artist and steampunk enthusiast presents a series of portraits of fellow steampunks.

Mirror Worlds is the culmination of decades of messing around with a wide variety of media, including oils, watercolours, acrylics and papier mache,” Shirley said.

“This exhibition is designed to get your imagination buzzing, and is a compilation of fantasy ideas and images encompassing steampunk themes, fantasy creatures, and objects from the natural world. There are also some Gothic/Victorian/Romantic influences, with images posed in decorative arches or brackets.”

Old BNZ Building, oil on canvas on board, 1984. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
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