Words

Review of Remembering Roy

Remembering Roy - Arts Inc 2021

Framed by a lifetime of art teaching and advising, Roy Dunningham's connection with visual arts in Hawke's Bay has been a long absorbing passion. His welcoming disposition, a clear and eloquent conversational manner all have been a generous and astute influence on many. Roy took art seriously and believed the arts to be integral to our communities. He appreciated a tenacity for composition and its constructs, along with an attitude to work to the best of your ability. Roy’s deep ranging experience made this exhibition an easy choice for the 2021 Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, Arts Inc. Heretaunga feature exhibition.

Roy was head art teacher at Havelock North High School for several decades. He was my art teacher and his impact, along with the other art department teachers Judy Marshall and Annie Melchior, all imparted a wealth of art and design knowledge, and values that remain steadfast today.  My own first recollection of learning from Roy was in the first term of third form. He sent us all outside to learn to look at what was about us and draw.  I recall ‘Mr Dunningham’s’ calm voice, and interest in me, pointing to what he appreciated about my drawing and asking how I might consider extending these aspects of the drawing further.  It was step by step.  Next, we created cardboard prints blocks - off we went, designing, cutting, then printing…  He was cool, it was great fun and specific. Along the way, Roy offered up gems - what paper you use, how you work printing inks, and what a print run and its numbers mean. Learning from him in sixth form held the same loyalty and respect, it was about technique, and it was about how you thought and approached art making. He strung a guitar for us and let us get on.

Many people have reflected how Roy’s mentoring came willingly, he was easily able to connect and through a generosity of time and space he could guide you into your own creative process. Such qualities made him a remarkable teacher whom many attribute their future directions in the creative industries. For me, he was the first teacher I met who demonstrated his own arts practice in front of us, it was inspirational.  Over the years he has been particularly supportive to artists with long practices, people who saw art as important as it was to him,  and who had committed to their life to pursuing a professional arts career often as free-lancers. According to one of the co-curators “Roy’s appeal was across the board, and his approach gave artists confidence in themselves and with what they could do… he was not afraid to give honest and constructive criticism.”

One key quality Roy had was ‘seeing more’. He held an active curiosity, engaging his perceptions aesthetically into everything about him, living a full life. He was just as passionate sojourning the arts as he was to being out in the Kaimanawa Ranges.  Hunting with life-long mates, held a particularly special place for him, as was enjoying his music collection.  His friend David Woods mentions “Roy’s advantage in any situation was that he made everyone welcome, he got on with a huge range of people and we relaxed in his company.”

Roy’s time was often engaged in communicating between artists/their works and viewers. Over the years he was on many selection panels, reviewed artists' work, and was an arts advisor. He hosted a popular U3A group on Contemporary NZ art. Visiting gallery exhibitions regularly, he would speak to the exhibits and link in with gallery staff, many of whom he had professional friendship with. Delicia Sampero recalls a conversation with Roy’s daughter about her parents enjoying ‘…everything that was good of its kind’.  It is fitting that included in the exhibition is Marie Dunningham’s book of poetry ‘The Artist's Wife’.  Several poems are presented for reading, reflecting the partnership between Roy and Marie and as creatives.

With over forty artists represented the exhibition is diverse.  As you enter, we are greeted with Roy and Marie’s private collection; it’s a robust selection of works with the artists often known personally. There are moments of beautiful curation with sections of colour and light. Care has been taken to emphasise the collection; it feels peaceful.  Some selections reflect reciprocal passions for music and the New Zealand bush in works such as with Wellesley Binding’s ‘Three Studies for the Island’ and Charles Bradley’s ‘Coastal Landscape’ who was also a personal friend and often “…enjoyed his (Roy’s) hospitality in his beloved ‘block’ in the foothills of the Ruahines.”  And there are several works by musician and artist Phil Judd whose own musing about Roy mentions weekend photography and drawing excursions.

There is more than one portrait work of Roy in the exhibition. An early Freeman White (15 years old) forecasting perhaps what lay ahead for Freeman, now a regarded portrait and plein air painter. The major portrait of Roy by Delicia Sampero is centred to the gallery landing and visible as you walk in. It’s an emotional work and conveys an approachable man of wisdom and experience. 

Gary Waldrom’s works feature as idiosyncratic, bold smiling works. Works like these broaden the air of the exhibition, heighten the dynamic of individuality in art making and offer a strong sense of being able to stand in your own expression, all qualities that Roy deeply loved. Waldrom’s work is not stand alone, Michael Hawksworth, Matthew Couper, Regan Gentry, and Angela Dudman art works all occupy their own lush and curious artistic geographies, providing us with many thoughtful moments to fall into.  I resonated with Matthew Couper’s comments on what Roy offered him as a teacher;  “What do YOU see in this work?” And that Roy’s “art room was a sanctuary, full of pattern recognition, care and the fluence of music.”

The power of influence a teacher has cannot be underestimated, we all recall our favorites and why. A common theme in the exhibition is the constant acknowledgment of Roy as a teacher who provided a safe space to discover one’s own potential through the arts, his empathy and capacity to guide without judgement. This was rewarded in turn with many people heading off to artistic tertiary studies.  I like designer Fiona Tindall’s comment “Mr Dunningham was my favorite teacher of all time.”  Her work is one of several selected that were made back in the day that Roy taught them.

This exhibition isn’t just about who Roy taught though, contributors such as Ricks Terstappen and Beverly Blogg, represent decades-long, loyal friendships between themselves and Roy.  As this is an eclectic exhibition, Ricks Terstappen’s sculptural work along with that of David Guerin, Tom Lusk and Sharleen Gamble offer visual variety – with form, texture and theme inviting enquiry.

What remains?  The density of works occupying the entire Art’s Inc. Heretaunga building is testimony to the far reach Roy Dunningham had in our Hawke’s Bay arts community.  For every artist who submitted, I can think of many more who for various reasons couldn’t participate, but never the less felt a sense of warm hearted aroha for him and gratitude for his direction with them as creatives. Many of us, like Roy, are driven unrelentingly to draw, turn clay, brush paint, bend metal, click cameras, to talk and write about art. We are bound to aesthetic in our sensitive views, and we rebut any lessening of its significance as a community, it’s intimate and he loved that life could be all this. Respect to Roy and all he offered us.

Thank you to co-curators Delicia Sampero and John Eaden, it’s a huge effort to create cohesion amongst such diversity of work. Between everyone, ‘it was quite an organic process’.  Other contributions include articles by Margaret Cranwell, HBMAG who was a longtime colleague, Toni McKinnon MTG, and Kay Bazzard Bay Buzz. Thanks to Art’s Inc. Heretaunga, Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, staff, the install team; naming a few Pitsch Leiser (HB Arts Festival Director), Marita McCormick-Duncan, Lyn Mackie, Bev Blogg, Rachel Chapman, Chris Gillies, Ricks Terstappen, and Te Rangi Huata who blessed the works to open the exhibition.

Reviewed by Megan Seawright.

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