Dunningham: An artist of his time
Roy Dunningham, the well-known arts advocate, who passed away in April this year, had a lifetime involvement in the visual arts during which he taught, mentored, and supported many artists in Hawke’s Bay and beyond. A community of established and emerging artists, curators and teachers have come together to express their respect, admiration and gratitude for Roy Dunningham and fondly acknowledge the part he played in the development of their own arts practice. Presented by ArtsInc Heretaunga and the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, the aptly named exhibition, “Remembering Roy”, is curated by artists Delicia Sampero and John Eaden, with support from Gary Waldrom and Ricks Terstappen. It is testimony to Dunningham’s vast knowledge, passion and commitment to the arts and his ability to share and inspire appreciation and insight, and helping his audiences to see more in themselves and others through communicating about art. With a few selected works from his own art collection complementing many works by well-known Hawke’s Bay and New Zealand artists, who each pay tribute through their art and in their own words to his influence in honing their voice, this exhibition celebrates Roy Dunningham, his enthusiasm and kindness as critic, advocate, teacher, mentor, and friend. Born in 1937, he first developed his love of art in secondary school where he was taught by New Zealand ceramics pioneer and painter Yvonne Rust who was a product of the Clarence Beeby and Gordon Tovey programme, and she had a profound impact on him, influencing his philosophy of art practice in those formative years. He went on to study at Ilam School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury where among his contemporaries were painters Quentin Macfarlane, Pat Hanly, Bill Culbert and Hamish Keith, saying that he “emerged from art school with a high ideal that art could make towns better places to live in”. After art school, Dunningham studied to become a teacher, eventually moving to Hawke’s Bay to be closer to his parents. Teacher education was defining for Dunningham. He was an exemplary educator who considered the practice philosophically through ideals and values that were set in place early in the piece. He often talked about the “Tovey Generation”, referencing the teachings of Gordon Tovey and the work of artists such as Hawke’s Bay local Sandy Adsett and the late Paratene Matchitt, who transformed art and craft education in New Zealand schools in the 1950s and 60s. Tovey saw the arts as pivotal to education and saw creative expression as uniquely capable of transcending cultural boundaries and fundamental to society fulfilling its potential. Dunningham taught in local high schools where he was regarded as one of the younger generation of more progressive teachers, providing a safe haven for students in contrast with the strict culture typical of secondary school education at the time. Among his students were Split Enz musician Phill Judd and artists Sam Trubridge, Regan Gentry, Freeman White, Matthew Couper and Delicia Sampero, all of whom have works included in the exhibition at the Hastings Community Arts Centre starting today until October 30 as part of the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival visual arts programme. Artists taught by Dunningham credit him for opening new worlds to them and setting them on their career path. Outside the classroom, he inspired and mentored artists as a friend, writer, and art collector championing emerging and established talent in Hawke’s Bay. He had a wealth of knowledge that he shared with arts audiences through several channels. He could speak to all kinds of artworks from those of students, to the works of the “big guns” as he called them. He seemed able to make the ideas accessible, democratising the highfalutin’. As an advocate for the arts Dunningham had a long track record and when he talked people listened. He educated politicians and bureaucrats, setting people right on civic issues, face to face or through articles published in the media. The genius of Dunningham was that he understood the whole ecology of the visual arts world. He was active in so many roles as viewer, collector, secondary school teacher, art reviewer and as an advisory board member at MTG and Hastings City Art Gallery. He is well documented for his genuine love of art, especially work that was “of its time”, work that says something of the place and time it is made in.