Photo courtesy of Hawke's Bay Today

BayBuzz was immensely fortunate to have Roy Dunningham, recently deceased, as a frequent contributor over the years keenly observing our local arts scene.

No one was a more ardent champion of our region’s art and artists than Roy, art maven extraordinaire.

Some nine years ago, in Yes, Art Happens South of the Bombay Hills, he objected: “Just thumb through copies of our (NZ’s) two major art periodicals and you will see how art appears to stop happening south of the Bombay Hills and re-appears again around Porirua.”

Clearly that was not his view. He wrote: “I can say after more than 40 years of surveying the local art scene that there are far more artists of interest here than ever before, so we must be doing something right.”

And while he was a champion of our local creators, he was no fan of mediocrity and forthright in his criticism when he felt it deserved. As he said in one review:

“This year’s Creative Hawke’s Bay Invitational at the Hastings City Art Gallery should be the best yet, but it isn’t. The portents were good, the right artists and the right balance of invitations and selection, but the resulting show just lacks the dark edge that sparked last year’s show.”

So when he delivered praise, it counted to the recipients.

Roy was a strong believer in public art, at various times bemoaning what he viewed as its lack here in the Bay.

So he was enthusiastic when Hastings bit the bullet and placed a sculpture at the Havelock North roundabout, to the consternation of some. Roy wrote:

“Paul Dibble’s The Garden in Havelock North joyously celebrates the fecundity which is the essence of the local economy. The apple maybe implying the knowledge and intellect that has developed that economy. The Dibble provoked debate about the siting of sculptures. Some felt that sculpture should only be in open spaces like the Alan Gibbs sculpture park. I disagree. Art isn’t something that should be divorced from everyday life.”

He continued:

“So … do we need public art? Well, I can’t answer for others, but when I see a town with good public art I think this is a town that acknowledges the intelligence and sensibilities of its people and shows belief in its own vitality and identity.”

And he had this view of those who relish art:

“It has been said that the most important ingredient for a well-written letter is the quality of the recipient. This applies equally to the art world and the importance of critical and well-informed viewers cannot be exaggerated. All readers of this article take a bow.”

Amen! And thanks Roy.

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  1. Roy was an amazing man… intelligent, humble, generous and kind. I will be forever grateful to him for the insights he gave me into my own work. His description, likening one of my paintings to a Dennis Glover poem, gave me a wonderful context in which to view my work.

  2. His late wife, Marie Dunningham was also a trailblazer who worked long and hard for social justice, much of it as President of Hastings Grey Power for many years. RIP Roy and Marie, you both will always be remembered as people who made a difference in your community.

  3. May I join others in expressing my affection and admiration for Roy Dunningham. I have had the benefit of his generous feedback and valuable advice as an artist and as one of the BayBuzz contributors (art & culture). His language was always clear and understandable about a subject that is sometimes hard to articulate, but he could in his thoughtful way and I can only envy those young would-be artists who were his students in the art classes he taught at the high school.

  4. Thankyou so much for writing about Hawkes’s Bay’s true Art Treasure, Roy Dunningham. He was a very special soul, who spoke clearly, interestingly and helpfully about many Art exhibitions, enlightening and enriching all. I’m personally deeply grateful, to have known him for many years and to have him visit my studio and give me very clear, honest and encouraging words and support for my emerging art practice. He is much missed.

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