Shane Cotton

Shane Cotton was born in Upper Hutt in 1964 of Ngati Rangi, Ngati Hine and Te Uri Taniwha descent. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Canterbury in 1988.

He is one of New Zealand's best-known contemporary painters. The intersection of his own Ngapuhi and Pakeha (New Zealand European) heritage is a running theme in his work. His paintings blend imagery and iconography from traditional and contemporary sources to reflect on contemporary experience.
Cotton's early paintings were abstract; however, during the 1990s, he shifted to a representational style, influenced by the Maori figurative traditions that had emerged in New Zealand in the late nineteenth century. He has continued to use symbols and images that refer to significant events and issues in New Zealand's history, such as those related to land ownership and the preservation of Maori culture, often addressing them in an oblique fashion, combining popular culture, references to art history, and the traditional stories of New Zealand to create ambiguous pictorial and political constructions. His paintings simultaneously suggest European Old Masters and traditional Maori art but he does not offer to mediate between the two spheres, representing both as equivalences. In this way, Cotton's work steers clear of institutionalised bicultural didactics, instead taking up a position of speculative contemporary aesthetic investigation.
Cotton's earlier works were lighter and gentler, painted in light and warm tones. His more recent series, however, with dark backgrounds and calculated placement of images, suggest a darker divinatory system with an obscured and ominous forecast. In these works, the iconography appears devoid of context; symbols and pictorial representations float in black space or dark voids of blue. The pictorial architecture in these works is unstable – perhaps a reflection on current times.
By drawing on borrowed imagery to produce ambivalent narratives, Cotton produces contemporary echoes of the colonial aesthetics of early New Zealand art, which mixes traditional Maori arts with European influences. Through combinations of borrowed imagery from the West, Maori text, images of native New Zealand birds, target icons and upoko tuhituhi (decorated human heads), Cotton excavates periods of change and upheaval that have led to the present. Using bold, flat colours, often with a dark palette, his paintings provoke the viewer to make connections, looking from one image to another and considering the deep layers of history and iconography that inform contemporary experience in New Zealand.. Shane has exhibited consistently with Hamish McKay Gallery since the inception of the gallery in 1993. He lives and works in Palmerston North.
Biennale of Sydney

Shane was included in the 17th Biennale of Sydney in 2010.

Previous exhibitions
Shane Cotton - New Painting