In 2015, one hundred years since the birth of Douglas Lilburn, I have responded musically to an aspect of Lilburn’s life that inspires and intrigues me greatly: his complex friendship with a fellow pioneer of New Zealand’s artistic landscape, the iconic painter Rita Angus.
It is relatively recently that Angus’s letters to Lilburn have become available, and they provide a highly personal insight into the fascinating life and mind of an artist who is my role model for many reasons – her life-long devotion to her art; her curiosity, sensitivity, emotional intensity, and staunch feminist and pacifist ideologies.
This piece is my personal response to selections from her expressive and sincere letters that bring to light the significant impact they had on each other’s personal and artistic lives. The title ‘Unfinished Portrait’ refers to what would have been her second portrait of Lilburn, this time in oils, that she hoped would express her “long and deep devotion to Gordon (Lilburn)”. Eight years after beginning on the project she abandoned it as it didn’t fulfill her expectations, and cut up the canvas to reuse.”
‘Unfinished Portrait’ is dedicated to my dear friends of the Mimosa Ensemble who commissioned me to write this piece for their 2015 Chamber Music New Zealand Regional Encompass Tour: Hugh Roberts (flute), Thomas Hutchinson (oboe), Todd Gibson-Cornish (bassoon), and Somi Kim (piano).