Van Gogh Poems by John Caselberg

Colin McCahon, Artist

This is one of the prints in our collection. It was made in New Zealand in 1957.
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Object Detail

About the Work
John Caselberg's 'Van Gogh' sequence of poems appeared in The Sound of Morning (Pegasus, 1954).

For an artist for whom image and text are so important to his practice it is unsurprising that McCahon created work responding to the poet John Caselberg who was himself engaging with the art and life of an artist. Channelling the angst of van Gogh these lithographs incorporate evocative poems, written from the perspective of van Gogh, within a monochrome landscape. The images have all the urgency and mood of van Gogh’s own work, rendered in a uniquely McCahon-esque way which envelopes the poems with a sense of van Gogh’s impending doom.
- extended label text from 'After You', 2013

John Caselberg was born in Wakefield and educated at Nelson College and Otago University, where he studied science after abandoning medicine. In Dunedin he met James K Baxter and Charles Brasch, editor of Landfall, which later published several of his idiosyncratic stories. Through Baxter he met Colin McCahon in 1948 and became one of the controversial artist's inner circle. Their friendship flourished after Caselberg returned from travel in Europe in 1949-50. He attended Training College in Christchurch in 1952-53 (he became a teacher of the deaf).

He and McCahon jointly produced a little magazine, Issue (1952), and collaborated on an artistic manifesto, On the Nature of Art, which remained unpublished until 2001. Issue ceased publication when McCahon moved to Auckland in 1953. In 1955, Caselberg moved to Wood Bay on the Manukau Harbour, close to McCahon's house in French Bay.

Caselberg's first book of poems The Sound of the Morning (Pegasus, 1954) included a sequence called "Van Gogh", which McCahon used as the basis of a series of lithographs in 1957, initiating the most active phase of their collaboration, which included two of McCahon's largest works, both comprising 16 panels - The Wake (1958), incorporating Caselberg's poetic lament for the death of his beloved great dane, Thor, and The Second Gate Series (1962), an abstract statement about the threat of nuclear warfare, for which Caselberg, at McCahon's request ("I will need words"), supplied a powerful text drawn from the Old Testament.
Extract from 'Go through the gates, a tribute to NZ writer John Caselberg' by Peter Simpson, published in NZ Listener 25 June, 2004
356 x 252mm each
lithograph on paper
Five loose pages that form an artists book. Pages include frontispiece, title page with 3 bands of landscape with a sun each, a page with three verses - the first starts 'Wild the hedgerows..., page of verse four which starts 'Six years I have wrestled... the page has dark foliage over it, the last page is labelled five, has a landscape with rain clouds at the top and the verse begins 'Seven dumb beasts of burden...
Credit Line
Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui. Gift of Toss Woollaston, 1986. Image reproduced courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust
Collection Type
Permanent collection
Acquisition Date
06 Jan 1986



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