Artist stays true to calling

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Changing times and changing technology prompted Bannockburn artist Maurice Middleditch to switch from writing signs to painting scenes in Central Otago.

When the computer age began to dawn in the late 1980s, Mr Middleditch saw the writing on the wall.

“I was a signwriter, and when computer controlled plotters first put in an appearance in October ’86 I thought ‘This isn’t really for me – I just like to do it by hand’,”Mr Middleditch said.

As signwriting work dried up he turned his hand to large-scale painted murals at the Canterbury Museum and at the Antarctic visitors centre near Christchurch Airport.

“I painted one that was about 30 metres long – we put the sky in with a big airbrush sprayer with about a two-foot wide fan.

“I’ve never seen 10 litres of paint disappear so fast in my life.”

The mural wrapped around three walls. The ceiling was painted navy blue, which was then graduated with airbrushing, Mr Middleditch said.

“We went lighter and lighter with this big airbrush sprayer to put the sky in.

They wanted the nearby mountains all disappearing away off into 60, 80 or 100 kilometres away round the three walls,” Mr Middleditch said.

However, even murals were transformed by printing methods, making handmade painted murals obsolete, when large-scale printing could be used, he said.

“Really, you can’t compete against that technology with a pair of hands,” Mr Middleditch said.

He had always painted as a sideline, and after moving to Bannockburn with his wife in 1999, he concentrated on painting watercolours, with the landscapes of Central Otago as his inspiration.

Shadow seeker . . . Artist Maurice Middleditch seeks early morning and late afternoons and evenings for dramatic displays on the landscape. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON

Mr Middleditch photographed his scenes then painted them afterwards, he said.

“The purists are dead against this sort of thing – “You must paint from life”– plein air painting (painting outdoors).

“Some people take that view, but I don’t,” Mr Middleditch said.

“Some people think you put every leaf on every tree and every bump and every lump. You might as well just put a colour photo on the wall,” he said.

“What I’m doing is painting a simplified version of what I see.”

“I’m greatly taken by the low light, early morning and then again late afternoon or early evening.”

“You can go through the Lindis in the low light – it’s stunning.

“Through the Mackenzie country, around our part of the world here, up in Skippers Canyon or in Macetown.

“You can get such dramatic lighting, four o’clock on a winter afternoon – “Wow, look at that lighting, it’s stunning, fabulous” – take a photograph of it, freeze it in a 125th of a second.”

He was not alone by being struck by the Central Otago light, Mr Middleditch said.

“Look at Grahame Sydney’s paintings. They are all done in low light,” he said.

Mr Middleditch was a quick painter and was modest about his accomplishments.

“I’m a bit of a lone wolf, I just work on my own. I scratch around at home, always have done.”

Watercolours by Mr Middleditch are now on display at Central Stories Museum until April 29, and he would also be featuring at the Wanaka Arts Society Easter Festival.