River Flat, 1979
River Flat, 1979
Although River Flat lacks the locational markers in the title common to most of Bensemann’s titled landscapes, it is undoubtedly a Takaka Valley painting as the distinctive hill forms recur in several other works, including the two entitled East Takaka: 1969 and 1979.* The central ‘hog back’ ridge in particular is so distinctive it is readily recognisable. A number of features render this particular painting unique, however. The first is the striking variety of colour in the hill forms: yellow-brown, yellow-green and blue green. Generally speaking, Bensemann opts for a single dominant colour in his hill landscapes. The second is the presence of the hay-shed in the right foreground. Normally, like Colin McCahon (and unlike, say, Doris Lusk), Bensemann strips his landscapes of most signs of the human. There are exceptions, such as the road in Untitled (East Road, Takaka) discussed above, or the miniscule houses visible in Burning Hills, Takaka (1973) or Morning, Takaka (1977),** but this substantial shed with its rusted corrugated iron roof and the hay spilling out its door is most unusual (though note the presence of a barn in Canterbury Landscape, 1944). The third unusual feature is the presence of kahikatea (white pine) on the river flat; I know of no other painting in which these trees are depicted. Also visible are a few of the totara trees which are common in Bensemann’s Takaka paintings, such as the East Takaka paintings mentioned earlier. River Flat, first exhibited in Bensemann’s 1979 exhibition at Brooke Gifford Gallery is a beautifully composed and well-integrated painting, its variable colour and homely hay-shed making it somewhat less formidable and monumental than the more typical renditions of Takaka scenes that so richly characterise the latter part of his distinguished career.
* See Otto, Landscapes, pp. 55, 91, 93
** See Simpson, Fantastica, pp. 151, 165