From early in his life, Bill Culbert repeatedly tugged at the deeply set anchor tethering him to New Zealand’s shores. Determined to set sail for Europe, he was happily and fatefully the recipient of a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art In London in 1957, where he would not only be exempted from the tediousness of the New Zealand’s provincial art debates, but find context and embrace amidst the flourishing London artworld – and critically he would meet British artist Pip Culbert, with whom he would then go on to establish a new life in the much softer, foreign southern light of Croagnes, France. 

And yet for all his resistance of the intellectual chill of the provincial, it is the work of Bill Culbert’s that I think of as being the most distilled, the most emblematic and ultimately the most poetic account of his and our shared place. 

Avoiding the romanticism and theatre of McCahon & Fomison, the kitsch of Scott and Frizzell and the ‘timely’ illustrations of Robinson and Cotton, Culbert’s sculptures and photographs manage to condense the contradictions and emotional chiaroscuro that existing in the geographical nexus between New Zealand and the rest of the world confers.

In this new exhibition A Bright White Light the gallery will present a major installation of Culbert’s as well as a number of his celebrated collaborations with his Point Chalmers friend Ralph Hotere.

Given the constituency of the gallery, it now perhaps seems obvious that FJ & FJM would ultimately have the honour to represent the Estate of Bill Culbert. Our view has always been to try and diminish the distance between here and there. The risk with such a policy is that one can simply end up nowhere, but our lesson is that which was learned by Bill – that the work must be free to travel, physically, conceptually and philosophically.

Bill Culbert has had more than 100 solo exhibitions at major institutions in New Zealand, England, Europe, the USA and Australia. Recent solo exhibitions include: Time Tables, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney (2018); Central Station, The Return, Andata Ritorno, Geneve (2016); Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dole, France (2015); National Art School, Sydney (2015); and Light levels, Château des Adhémar, Centre d’Art Contemporain, Montélimar, France (2014). In 2013 Culbert was New Zealand’s representative at the 55th Venice Biennale. 

His works are held in collections around the world including the Tate Gallery, London, Serpentine Gallery, London and the Centre Pompidou, Paris.