John Weeks (1888-1965) Figure composition I c.1950 oil on board 40 x 50cm Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection

John Weeks was central to introducing modernist art to New Zealand, particularly through promoting the principles of cubism during his long teaching and painting career. Weeks taught at the Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland from the 1930s to 1950s, and inspired his students with his teaching of modernist movements, including Colin McCahon.

Weeks had a background in sign-writing and maintained that good design was the basis of great art. As a painter, he was primarily concerned with coupling abstraction and figuration. The title of this painting Figure composition I, suggests its importance lay in the integration of the figure into the pictorial structure.

The forms and colours of the women’s bodies recall aspects of European modernism (Cubism, Fauvism) while paying homage to the classical tradition. The solidity of the forms and breadth of brushwork were innovative in New Zealand at the time; indicative of the delayed transmission and reinterpretation of modernism to this country.