Robin Scholes: Things I Love

By July 31, 2017News

She didn’t know it at the time but, when 19-year-old Robin Scholes found herself living in the midst of Auckland’s transformative 1960s’ contemporary art scene, the makings of a great collecting career were already under way.

Robin Scholes at home with Robert Ellis’ ‘Rakaumangamanga’.
Lot 45 (hanging)

Through her career in the film industry, Robin Scholes has made a significant contribution to the arts in New Zealand. Her status as an acclaimed film maker was cemented with the 1994 release of the iconic film Once Were Warriors, which she produced. Since that time, Robin has continued to build on this success and produce a rich and prolific body of film and documentary work. As one of our most successful storytellers, she has given voice to our nation’s narratives, creating what are, in her own words, “New Zealand stories influenced by my personal experience.” Her work has included a number of documentaries which cast an incisive eye over our art scene, examining the work of some of our leading prominent modern artists, such as Colin McCahon and Toss Woollaston.

The lesser-known side of Robin’s role as cultural arbiter in New Zealand relates to the visual art world. As an academic studying Art History at The University of Auckland, she secured a postgraduate scholarship at The University of Edinburgh. As a lover of art, she has been collecting since the earliest time of her exposure to art: those days when she was purchasing works on a student’s budget and propping paintings up along the walls of her flat. The genius of this young collector was that, despite fiscal limitations, a critical eye and discerning taste nonetheless led her to acquire works by some of the most important modernist artists. The first purchases she ever made included a drawing by Gretchen Albrecht and two works by Colin McCahon – one of which is the important early Annunciation drawing being offered as part of this sale.

From The Robin Scholes Collection, Colin McCahon ‘ Annunciation’

The adolescent rite of passage of leaving home and going flatting seems to have taken on something of an extraordinary quality in Robin’s case. Barry Lett was her flatmate and they were living in the space above his newly opened dealer gallery – Auckland’s first. It was through this that Robin found herself accidentally, though quite fortuitously, viewing life and art through the lens of a watershed moment in our nation’s art history. She remembers: “at that period in time, there were no dealer galleries. A lot of the artists would meet together; Hamish Keith was a part of that as well. They would meet in each other’s houses and talk about the need for a dealer gallery. Barry Lett was the person who actually took the bull by the horns.”

Robin married Jeff Scholes and her father-in-law, Eric Scholes, had a gallery in Rotorua. This was another way in which she became exposed to the richness of New Zealand contemporary art, and was able to meet and know personally many artists, including Colin McCahon, Greer Twiss, Don Binney and Pat Hanly.

Over the years, Robin has maintained a deeply personal and intuitive relationship with art. She and her late husband Ivano Bargiacchi collected in partnership with each other, acquiring works through the secondary market and “delighting in finding things we could buy”. They would frequently attend auctions, and the curation and arrangement of their collection was central to their sense of place: “our art was what made us feel at home.”

From The Robin Scholes Collection. Pat Hanly, ‘Self’, Lot 4.

According to Robin, great art is about what Colin McCahon called ‘a leap of faith’, where the artist attempts to bridge the gap between their work and the viewer’s understanding of it. Sometimes the message is scarmbled. She remembers an exhibition of McCahon’s waterfall series in Icon Gallery in Lorne Street. They sold well but instead of being jubliant, McCahon was afterwards despondent. He felt that the buyer had seen the work only as a pretty landscape and failed to look deeper and see how the spiritual light of the white waterfall shone through the darkness. “Colin was always expressing so well that leap of faith: where you try your best to communicate something. It’s like standing on a cliff edge.”

Finally, there is opportunity to reflect on The Robin Scholes Collection through the concrete metaphor of Pat Hanly’s sublime painting, Self. In Robin’s own words: “It expresses to me that we are all made of stardust; we are all molecules of the same thing. On a practical and emotional note, there is a connection between humans and the landscape. This painting expresses the unity of things and matter.”

Robin feels that it is time to part with the collection, even though, it will mean saying goodbye to some very old friends.

RACHEL KLEINSMAN