Towards a Promised Land: On the Life and Art of Colin McCahon


Gordon H. Brown

*No longer in print.

‘Drawn both from his keen observation and from private conversations with McCahon, Brown’s reflections shed a warm light both on the work and the person; a nuanced human portrait of the artist struggling to communicate his powerful vision in paint.’ – Lara Strongman, NZ Herald


‘Once the painter was making signs and symbols for people to live by’, Colin McCahon wrote, ‘now he makes things to hang on walls at exhibitions.’ Filling his paintings with kauri and cliffs, the candle and the cross, McCahon sought to develop signs and symbols for our modern world.

In Towards a Promised Land, leading McCahon scholar Gordon H. Brown presents viewers with new insight into the meanings of Colin McCahon’s paintings. Tracing McCahon’s life and work, from his student days at King Edward Technical College in Dunedin, through learning from Toss Woollaston, and on to his adult life working at the Auckland Art Gallery and at Elam School of Fine Art, Brown analyses key aspects of the paintings: the role of the Bible, the idea of the promised land, the use of words and numbers. And Brown gives us fresh insight into McCahon the man, leading us into McCahon’s various studios, his involvement with the theatre and his life at home.

A trusted friend of Colin McCahon from 1952 until the artist’s death in 1987, Gordon Brown draws on that personal relationship and on many years writing, thinking and talking about the meanings of McCahon’s paintings to offer a vivid new portrait of our most distinguished artist.


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Gordon H. Brown is an artist and freelance writer on a wide variety of New Zealand art topics. He has a Diploma in Fine Arts from Canterbury School of Art and between 1960 and 1977, he worked in various significant libraries and art galleries. The author of the classic Colin McCahon: Artist and An Introduction to New Zealand Painting 1839–1967, he was awarded the OBE in 1980 for services to Art History and has a Victoria University of Wellington lecture series named after him.


March 2010, 248 x 200 mm, 216 pages, colour illustrations
Hardback, ISBN 9781869404529, $79.99