I've been working for the last 6 weekends on a new canvas measuring 600 mm wide by 1000 mm wide, a kind of landscape portrait of an old ruined truck. I have a weakness for decaying objects (perhaps because I'm one myself). I'm intrigued by the effects time has on all our material cultural icons.
The idea for this painting began on the 26th of October 2006, the day that Julie and I took Julie's brother Nigel and his sweetheart Katherine (visiting us from their home in Los Angeles) to the north Hokianga village of Kohukohu for lunch at the now defunct Waterline Cafe.
We started the day slowly as Nigel was in pain, his skeleton racked with the symptoms of Multiple Myloma.
Katherine too is a victim of a serious car accident which permanently damaged her spine, a professional dancer, Katherine can now only walk very slowly unassisted.
|Julie, Nigel and Katherine on the Rawene Ferry photo by Harmen|
We took the vehicular ferry from Rawene, across the harbour taking photos of each other with our new cameras as we enjoyed the crossing. The day was overcast and cool with an opalescent sky, very good conditions for photography.
|Nigel Holton at the Waterline photo by Julie|
|Julie, Harmen, Katherine and Nigel photo by Harmen|
After a leisurely brunch where Nigel broke all his strict dietary rules, we took a walk along the waterfront where I introduced Nigel to the quirky, ramshackle harbour front buildings of Kohukohu township. There out over the low tide shoreline were the rusted remains of an old 1938 International Harvester truck.
|1938 International Harvester Truck Kohukohu Photo by Nigel|
We took a number of images of that truck from a variety of angles, talking together of our mutual desire to create a painting of this old ruin, perched on its sun bleached piles, all that remained of an old mechanical workshop long abandoned.
Julie and I were keen to share our enthusiasm for the west coast beach of Mitimiti 45 minutes drive west along the scenic northern Hokianga harbour shoreline.
The little red rental car, driven by Nigel at uncomfortable speed, winding through the gorge past Pangaru, was ringing with antique piano music, (Chopin I believe) a recording made in the 1930's. Nigel, a gifted multi instrumentalist, composer and arranger, knew immediately that the piano had been recorded a long time ago, "dry" he called it. I remarked that Chopin was one of those famous decomposing composers. Nigel thought the title suited him too!
|The rental at Mitimti photo by Nigel|
We arrived at the beach at 5.30pm. I directed Nigel to drive out on to the hard sand of the beach little realizing that he had no sense of what sand could be driven on and what could not. He ran the car into a drift of dry sand and there we all were; stranded!
With some digging and pushing we steered the car onto firmer sand and surveyed the scene. The beach at Mitimti stretches for for many miles to the north and only a few southward where it sweeps eastward forming the northern head and entrance to the Hokianga Harbour.
|Mitimiti North photo by Nigel|
Inhaling the fresh ocean air, we photographed each other, a pair of oyster catchers and we surveyed the wild sea scape. Nigel related to the oyster catcher, particularly because of their migratory life cycle. He had been struggling with how he might live in two worlds, that of his home in Los Angeles and the chosen home of his family in New Zealand. He saw the oyster catcher as a symbolic totem animal, the way that they flew from Alaska to New Zealand, returning once again to Alaska each year.
|Nigel Holton photo by Harmen|
|Harmen, Katherine, Julie and Terrier photo by Nigel|
|Oyster catchers Photo by Harmen|
The Tasman Sea, never still, licks at the coastline as the local Maori name "Mitimiti" suggests. Nigel insisted on going body surfing, none of us were keen, he had brought his wet suit along in the event that an opportunity presented itself.
|"Don't Worry I do this all the time!" Photo by Harmen|
|Julie and Nigel's last moment together photo by Harmen|
I did not like the idea at all, the sea though not running high, was cold at that time of year. There were Portuguese men of war strewn along the length of the beach and there was a strong rip which I pointed out to Nigel. " Youre trying to put me off aren't you?" he said to me with a condescending smile. " Don't worry I do this all the time."
|Julie and Nigel at Mitimiti. Photo by Harmen|
Concerned that he had overestimated his ability to handle the surf in his condition I told him; "Don't go out of your depth and stay to the right of that rip, if you get into trouble I will not be able to help you, I have a severed shoulder tendon, I could not swim to save myself, let alone you as well!"
|Last image of Nigel Holton photo by Harmen|
From my rocky vantage point at the waters edge I watched him wade, swim, catch a wave, swim, wave, then vanish from sight under a set of larger waves.
His head re-emerged hundreds of meters to the left and much further out to sea in the center of the rip. My mouth went completely dry.
I turned to see what the girls were doing, Julie was sitting on the beach concentrating on removing a few foreign flecks from a white wool sweater that she had bought in the village, Katherine was sitting on the sand writing post cards to her friends and family, a black and white Jack Russell Terrier was trying to attract their attention, both under some kind of oblivious spell.
Trying not to reveal my concern I ran to a higher vantage point in the dunes to see if I could spot Nigel in the surf now so very far off shore. Was that his head I saw briefly in the white wash between sets?
"Time for me to die!" I thought to myself as I rushed back to the car, desperately searching for a floatation device of some sort.
I snapped open the boot, frantically unscrewed the spare wheel from its compartment, tore off my clothes, whipped my leather belt from my trousers, threaded it through the slot in the steel rim and ran with the heavy wheel into the water.
Julie and Katherine both began to realize what I was doing. Julie ran with me to the waters edge and continued running, fully clothed, into the deeper water whilst screaming Nigel's name. The cold water took our breath away. My first thoughts then were for Julie's safety. I reached out to her, took her hand and tried to reassure her, persuading her to return to the beach from the surging shore break.
The sound of a small engine broke the horror spell, we rushed back to intercept some local children riding up the beach on a quad bike. We stammered out our story and they sped away, then they were back with Father, Uncle, Grandfather, Mums, brothers and sisters, a tractor, rope, a surf board.
"Jake" said the old man. "Harmen" I said, both of us staring intently at the surf, he dressed in bush shirt, jeans and an oilskin, me in my underpants, shivering.
We scanned the rip, there! Nigel was seen momentarily rolling over in the trough of two waves, quite close. I made to go in, Jake said NO! "The Taniwha has got him".
Nigel disappeared again.
"Where will you swim, where will you look?" said Jake looking at me with genuine compassion in his kind face, gesturing out to sea"...there or over there maybe?"
The wheel I still clutched suddenly dropped to the sand, belt buckle broken!
St Johns ambulance, rescue helicopter thundering down to settle on the sand, emergency response crew asking questions, helicopter ascending and banking away steep and fast up the shoreline (too fast and too high I noted), Coastguard vessel patrolling beyond the surf line, astounded and disorientated by the crowd, the speed and scale of the response to our unfolding tragedy.
I get dressed, I assess the situation, I ask the ambulance staff to take care of Julie and Katherine, distraught. Local women surround them, wrap them in blankets, soothing, reassuring words.
I decide to search the beach north, in the opposite direction to the rescue teams. "The tide has turned, it's getting dark and I cannot leave here with out him tonight." I pray in earnest to Tangaroa (the sea god of the Polynesians), "Give me back my brother" I hiss the words between chattering teeth, my mouth so dry I can hardly move my tongue.
I beg Nigel for a sign in the gathering dark; in that moment, as if in answer to my plea for help, the two Oyster Catchers we had photographed earlier fly past my head screeching at me. I follow them at a run over the mussel covered rocks of low tide. They alight, barely visible in the gloom on a point of rock a hundred meters away.
There they stand looking down where the sea is surging into a long narrow cleft in the rocks, dragging at bull kelp in long sweeping tendrils back and forth and there is Nigel face down, his long, beautiful silver hair swirling with the kelp, floating in on the incoming wave.
I hiss a relieved thanks and lunge down the slippery crevice and into the water, seizing the yielding rubber collar of his wet suit before he can slip back away from me, out to sea again.
I lurch to the rock wall and pull with all my strength at his lifeless form.
I cannot get him clear of the water and I am out of sight of the other searchers in the deepening darkness. I whistle as loudly as I can and finally catch the attention of Jake. He and his friends run to my assistance, easily handling him from the water and on to a white sheet spread for him on the rocks.
Now everything is surreal. It's fully dark now, there are car headlights, the helicopter's thud fades into the distance, all is quiet but for the sobbing.
Maori speak in low tones in their own tongue. Jake asks me; "How did you find his body like that in the dark?" I answer numbly, unable to take my eyes off Nigel's body, "I followed the birds, they showed me."
Jake and his male companions stand around Nigel's lifeless body and bow their heads. They mutter prayers, turn to me and say "this one's a Rangitira (a prince or chief). We'll take him to the Marae!" in a commanding voice.
The people gently lift Nigel into a waiting vehicle tray and slowly convey him to the Marae Whare Nui (Maori communal long house), sheltered from the wind, nestled in the dunes.
His body is carried through the lynch gate, up the path to the open doors of the meeting house. He is lowered on to a bed at the end of the room. We are ushered in to the Marae to where Nigel is laid. Julie and Katherine were comforted by the local Maori Women who spread blankets around them, rubbing and caressing their frozen feet to give them warmth.
A rush of wings and a jet blue/black Starling flutters into the room through the open doors and alights on a beam above Nigel's head. Jake looks up at the bird then over to his people, they exchange glances. Jake asks me about Nigel's life.
He listens carefully, thinks for a moment, furrows his brow and then offers us a place where Nigel can be buried among his people. This is an unbelievable honour and I cannot hold back the tears.
Much more can be said about that day and those that followed. A Tapu was imposed by the Maori Elder on the seafront for a respectful period of two weeks when no one is allowed to take food on or from the beach. We went back after Nigels funeral and experienced the truth of a Maori Tapu lifting attended by our friends Doug and Rosemary Horman and Mohi Tito.
|Flowers picked from Nigel's Waima garden for the Tapu Lifting arranged by Dorothy Foot and Julie Holton|
|The model Waka I built for Nigel's spirit to sail to Hawaiiki.|
|The rocky cleft where I found Nigel's body. photo by Harmen|
|Nigel's Memorial Shrine Los Angeles CA photo by Julie|
This painting has been simmering away in me ever since. Only now can I bring myself to write this story.
The painting features a line of text seemingly cut with a blade into the surface of the beam in the lower foreground. It reads; RIP NIGEL '06 HARMEN '12 TARAKA MIMITI, MITI AITUA, MITIMITI.
The Maori language is evocative, earthy and visceral, in much the same way the decaying truck is earthy and visceral too!
Translated from the Maori language:
Taraka mimiti; Decomposing truck.
Miti aitua; Dry mouth.
Mitimiti; lick lick or, exterminated, swallowed up.
NIGEL HOLTON - Musician, Visual Artist and Film Composer.
Nigel Holton, 54, died on October 26th, 2006, in an accidental ocean drowning while visiting relatives in New Zealand. Nominated for an IFP "Spirit" award in 1992 for Kiss Me a Killer, he scored over 30 feature films, 40 documentaries and numerous short films, and released 2 albums as a contemporary instrumental artist. Born in Canterbury, England on July 7, 1952, he was a naturalized U.S. citizen and resided in Newbury Park, CA.
Nigel Holton was best known for his visionary orchestral film scores that elegantly blended western classical composition with the spiritually inspired music and song of indigenous cultures from around the world. He was also a talented landscape painter. Recognizing a kindred spirit, the Maori people of New Zealand conducted a rare funeral ceremony for him in their ancient tradition.
He is survived by his son Nicholas, his partner Katherine Mastellos and his parents Daphne & Eric, sister Julie and brother David in New Zealand, as well as many close friends and colleagues locally and around the world.
|My portrait of Nigel Holton coloured pencil on watercolour paper|
Harmen August 2012.
I'll publish a good digital image as it comes available, I'll have Doug Horman digitize it and run a limited edition of prints.
beautifully poignant, magical, and of course incredibly tragic.
and the words are synopsized perfectly by the fabulously lush painting.
amazing work Harmen...you must feel very relieved.
Thank you for sending this. I always wanted to know....
Much Much Love, Your Diane"
I just read your tribute to Nigel, and the traumas you all went thru, I must say I groaned when you said "did you read?''' I thought f@#k, I don't want to read that stuff, then I read it and was reminded not only of all the terrible stuff you all went thru, but what an eloquent and spiritual bastard you are, and how much I do love to be around you, and as the old fellow says what a f#*@%?n good painter you are!!!"
"Harmen, this story is so beautiful, as was Nigel. I cried reading it. Thank you for writing it and sharing it. Lothar Delgado."
"Read it twice in the silence of our home, a lump in my throat and time to reflect. You told me this story when I stayed with you last year but to read it at my own pace has made it visual to me. x painting is amazing. Well done Harmen - I hope completing the picture and posting the blog helps you move forward and not forget but be free of some of the pain surrounding the events of that day. xx"
"Aroha ehoa!!!" Rawiri Moetara
" Artist, musician and writer..." Robyn Dombroski
"Fantastic I have some photos of the same truck taken a few years a part. I just read the article with the painting bought tears to my eyes. Would love to buy a print when you get them done. Lots of love Louis. I am glad I had the opportunity to meet Nigel and Kathy" Louis Puzzleman
" Fantastic, Harmen! Knew you were a talented musician but who knew you were a talented artist as well. Loved the blog and love the painting."
"Thank you Harmen, for sharing the story of this terrible day again with us. I cry again in missing Nigel, beautiful soul. How awesome that the Maori recognized his Great Spirit. His music lives on, played today during my yoga class."
"I've never heard of Nigel Holton before, but he sounds a thoroughly nice guy and multi-skilled and multi-talented. I am very sorry that you had a bad experience of losing your good friend so tragicly and suddenly. It would have been a major shock I hope you are not missing him too much. I listened to some of his music on Youtube which was very nice."
I read with great sadness about the drowning of Nigel. It is hard to find the right words, if there are any, to express my sorrow for your loss and the loss to Nigel's family and friends. Please tell Julie I'm thinking of her.
That is a fine painting of the old truck. This is nothing compared to the truck but some members of the community where the museum is got permission to excavate an area where a water system was going through. Long ago the area had been a dump. Many interesting bottles and pieces of old glass were pulled from that site and are now on exhibit in the museum.
Walt has been a big help as has a gentleman (Didier) in Spain. Information from Didier, a Disney historian, has helped me write a chapter about Holling's short but interesting work with Walt Disney.
I send my love and prayers for you and family," Joan Hoffman.
" What a sad, beautiful story - it gives the painting so much more
depth, thank you for this, arohanui." Janine McVeagh.
"Reading about Nigel I was so moved by it all I ceased to be in comment mode.
I'm so glad someone has immortalised that truck in an artwork - I remember it in 1970 when I first came up North. I'm still sooo pissed off that i**** moved it! Really like your painting. Your realism painting skills have gone up many notches since I last saw your work." Dimitri Edmonds.
"Thank you so much for sending this link. Very beautiful. Harmen the painting
is absolutely amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Helen & Grant Ritchie
"It was such a poignant story and although I knew most of what had actually happened, extremely moving to hear it again - maybe it was healing to write it? Your ART is SO skillful Harmen, look forward to seeing it at Village Arts, so well done on all counts!!" Anne McKay.
"I just re-read this - I'd LOVE one of those limited edition prints you mentioned Uncle Harmen. Just amazing. What an awesome story." Karen Hielkema.
" Wonderful. On a personal note it reminds me of my childhood territory -- patches of forest between one main road and lots of country roads, with logging trails, and in the woods, an occasional old vehicle driven out there and left, with trees growing through them, peppered with bullet holes.
Sometimes you are in the woods enjoying the autumn which revises all the scenes and you see the gleam of chrome -- some ancient bumber or hood ornament poking out of the leaves. Most of the cars seem to have been from the 1950s but then again, a few old beasts like this one can be found.
In my uncle's yard when I was a kid 45 years ago he had an old dump truck with a cab like this one. I would go in there and play (it was long parked for storage and later disposal), and I can still recall the smell of the cracked leather seats, the swirl of dust in the sunlight, and the feel of the stick-shift and its polished black knob and I clunked it through its gears! Art is surely successful when it is so evocative of these good things." Wade Tarzia
"I have been meaning to respond to you regarding your story about Nigel. You may have previously told me of his death but I certainly can’t recall any detail or drama. I found your tale extremely emotional to read and resisted the urge to scroll to the bottom to see the outcome. By the time he was entering the water I was thinking oh nooo don’t do it and could somehow experience your rising panic and sense of foreboding. My heart was pounding and I was transfixed. By the time I finished I was very tearful. Gentle, but gut-wrenching stuff my friend. Love" Mitch Hutchings
"Oh Harmen, I'm so very sorry to hear of the passing of your brother in law in such tragic circumstances. It's a fantastic piece of work and speaks very strongly of not just northland but of how your prayer was answered and how much you cared for your brother in law. Arohanui x" Jennifer Hill.
"The art work dedicated to Nigel is a great tribute to his memory. You can be very proud of what you have realised from your time together and the inspiration that is now a great tribute, and work of art. The story is a remarkable one on so many deep levels and should always be with the painting.. where ever it goes. love to you both" Ron Hielkema
"Dear Julie and Harmen
I have read and re-read your account of that day on MIti Miti. I know it was all too real, however, there is a surreal element to the whole thing. I think about Nigel most days and I miss him more than just about anyone and more than I can say. I remember at the Memorial in Pasadena Harmen you were probably the first person I met there. I remember you holding me in a tight embrace and I was shaking with grief, I guess at that moment I fully realised that Nigel had really gone..
All I can say is thank you and thank you for posting those photos and pictures. I am sending you this piece of music that I wrote and recorded with Nigel. Katherine is over here at the moment. She is in Cornwall. We have exchanged Emails, it is quite likely that I will see her during her trip. I know we all miss Nigel terribly I guess we will always feel this, the only consolation is the love we feel for him and that is very much alive in us and will continue to be...
Love to you both" Jim Gallagher
"Harmen, you capture the painting and the tragic event in an amazing way.... you obviously have special skills in painting and writing. I imagine this has been very hard for you to write and I hope it has helped you in your life's journey. Arohanui," Cathy Beazley
From The Northern Advocate
From the 1950s until 2008, one of the best-known sights on the waterfront at Kohukohu, in the North Hokianga, was an old truck perched on a jetty over the harbour.
It was originally housed in a garage but, as the years ticked by, the building slowly fell to pieces, leaving the truck exposed to the elements. By the 2000s, all that was left was a skeletal cab and chassis barely clinging to a sagging jetty.
Its removal four years ago sparked anger and celebration in roughly equal measure.
Now the old truck is about to get a new life as the subject of an exhibition at Village Arts in Kohukohu in May 2013.
The gallery's trustees are already collecting artwork and memorabilia relating to the truck.
Trustee Marg Morrow said the show would be about people's memories of the truck and what it meant to them.
Anyone could contribute in any art form, including poetry, writing, painting, photos, songs or stories. She expects lots of contributions.
Everyone in Kohukohu had an opinion on the truck, and they were all wildly different, she said.
"One person thought it was an eyesore that should have gone years ago. Another said it represented everything they loved about this place, the way things are allowed to fall into ruins."
Some visitors came to Kohukohu just to see the old truck, including a German man who returned every five years to photograph it.
"He was devastated when it was gone," she said."
For more information drop in to Village Arts or phone (09) 405 5827.