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Dennis K Turner

Dennis Knight Turner (1924-2011) was born in Wanganui. Along with Theo Schoon and Gordon Walters with whom he once shared a Wellington studio space, he was one of the first European artists to incorporate Maori motifs into his practise. For Turner it began with early childhood observations - “Where I travelled outside Wanganui, I would usually go to a museum before going anywhere else, and always I drew little drawings of the tiki and other things.” (Waikato Times, 1st April, 1993)

In 1958, Turner exhibited a series of works based on Oceanic art forms described as “…the most sophisticated blending of modernist and Oceanic influences achieved here to that point.” (Rob Taylor, “Tiki - The Return of Dennis Knight Turner”, “Art NZ”, no 67, Winter 1993, p62) After a largely ignored exhibition of Tiki/Moko portrait landscapes at Uptown Gallery, Turner left New Zealand for England in 1964 discouraged by the lack of support his art had received in this country. His interest in Oceanic art forms did not end however with extensive research being carried out at both the Museum of Natural History and the British Museum.

In 1992 he returned briefly to take up an artist’s residency at Tylee Cottage, sponsored by Sarjeant Gallery in Wanganui. The result was an exhibition titled 'Turner’s Tiki' - a culmination of his interests and the works begun in the late fifties. At the same time Dick Frizzell exhibited his controversial series of 'Tiki' works at Gow Langsford Gallery (Auckland). Interestingly, Turner’s images were viewed as less contentious than Frizzell’s, being viewed as derived more from a design aesthetic rather than as cultural appropriation.

Apart from oceanic motifs, Turner’s images have also drawn on other aspects of New Zealand culture depicting everything from sheep shearing and gum digging to native bush and other aspects of rural life. Group exhibitions which have included his work include '100 Oceanic Motifs Pilgrim Press Show', Wakefield St, Auckland (1958) and 'Art and Organised Labour', City Gallery, Wellington (1990) as well as a solo exhibition 'Here, There, Here', Sarjeant Galllery, Wanganui (1993).

Source: John Leech Gallery

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Past events by Dennis K Turner