The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy

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Media Release: November, 2010. 

The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy at City Gallery Wellington.

City Gallery Wellington welcomes the fanciful works of Graham Percy in early 2011, with a new exhibition bringing this expatriate artist’s drawings, designs and book illustrations back to New Zealand for the first time.

The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy (4 February–25 April 2010) is curated by leading art critic, curator, and poet Gregory O’Brien and showcases the charmingly anarchic illustrations of this well-respected but little-known artist.

Graham Percy was born in Stratford, Taranaki in 1938 and went on to study at Elam School of Fine Arts, graduating with a BFA in 1959. In the early 1960s Percy worked as an illustrator for the New Zealand School Journal, a particularly creative and experimental period in the Journal’s history.

In 1964 Percy was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London. This city was to remain his home for the rest of his life, where he built a successful career as an illustrator of children’s books, a typographer and an artist. As well as art-directing the animated feature film Hugo the Hippo (which, since its release in 1973, has become a cult classic), Percy went on to illustrate over 100 children's books, including Gerald Durrell’s Fantastic Flying Journey, and editions of Wind in the Willows, Aesop’s Fables and Arabian Nights.

Graham Percy passed away in 2008 and this exhibition draws on the vast body of drawings and illustrations he left behind, bringing this art to a New Zealand audience for the first time. Though he was based in London for most of his life, Percy remained connected to this country and his work looks back to New Zealand from both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective.

The kiwi is a common character in Percy’s work. A series of drawings which form the core of this exhibition show anthropomorphised kiwis making their way around the world—in Venice in a gondola, dressed in Russian garb, and two Parisian kiwis examining a carved stone kiwi on a gothic building.

The Imaginative Life and Tines of Graham Percy will run alongside an exhibition of photographs by Percy’s wife, the photographer Mari Mahr, in the Hirschfeld Gallery, Mari Mahr: Two Walking (with poems by Gregory O’Brien and Jenny Bornholdt) (4 February–10 April 2011).

This exhibition has been developed in association with the Gus Fisher Gallery, The University of Auckland. It will also be accompanied by a new publication written by Gregory O’Brien and published by Auckland University Press (AUP). This generously illustrated book will be launched alongside the exhibition. For review copies of this book please contact aup@auckland.ac.nz.

The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy

City Gallery Wellington

4 February–25 April 2011