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Fairburn Rocks

March 4, 2017 @ 2:00 pm - March 22, 2017 @ 3:00 pm

Fairburn Rocks is an exhibition of rare rock drawing panels hand-blocked onto fabric by the Devonport poet and artist A.R.D. Fairburn in the 1950s. It will be held at Depot Artspace in Devonport from 4-22 March 2017, to mark the 60th anniversary of Fairburn’s premature death in March 1957.

The exhibition will also look at the Devonport creative community of the 1940s and ’50s, some of them good friends of Fairburn, including writers and husband and wife Antony Alpers and Sarah Campion, Shakespeare scholar and drama enthusiast Professor Sydney Musgrove and musician Frank Gurr. Greg Smith of the website Lost Property will provide an architectural component to this picture of the mid-twentieth century Devonport, when New Zealand vernacular architecture was undergoing a radical change.

In 1947, Fairburn was sent tracings of prehistoric art on the walls of South island caves and shelters recorded by the Dutch-Indonesian artist and photographer Theo Schoon. Schoon had been overwhelmed by their ‘beauty, purity and baffling originality’ and enlisted Fairburn’s help in trying to have them protected. With Schoon’s blessing, in the late 1940s and early 1950s Fairburn hand-made lino blocks based on the tracings and hand-blocked cotton fabric panels with the designs, each arrangement being unique.

Fairburn’s rock drawing panels drew considerable interest. Many of them were sold in the United Nations Gift Shop in New York. In 1948, Fairburn got to know Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh when they visited Auckland. Fairburn gave them some of his rock drawing prints and Vivien wrote to him, ‘The scarves are simply beautiful and I shall enjoy wearing them.’

In 1954 Fairburn sent a dozen full curtain lengths of rock drawing fabric to his good friend John Male, then Secretary to the U.N. Commission for Human Rights, and today recognised as New Zealand’s major war poet. The curtains hung in John’s Connecticut and Mahurangi houses for a total of 50 years, until he died in 2003. Male had come back to New Zealand in 1964, where he co-founded the New Zealand Peace Foundation.

Remnants of those 60-year-old curtains have survived and are in good condition. These have been framed and put behind conservation glass to form this exhibition. They are artefacts with an interesting history and also beautiful creations in their own right. They are the last examples of A.R.D. Fairburn’s rock drawing works.

The Fairburn Rocks panels are for sale, and one panel has been kindly gifted to the Depot Artspace.

There is a prize draw with either a family of 4 pass to Driving Creek Railway or 2 tickets to Henry V at the Pop Up Globe. Enter the draw to win at the exhibition.


Opening Saturday 4 March, 2 – 3:30pm

Saturday 4 March to Wednesday 22 March 2017

Main Gallery


March 4, 2017 @ 2:00 pm
March 22, 2017 @ 3:00 pm
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