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Slow download

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

Michael Greaves is a painter and Senior Lecturer in Painting at Dunedin School of Art. Here he talks inspiration, currency, and what success looks like.

Who are / were your biggest influences?

Always Philip Guston. But just at the end of my undergrad, books like Vitamin P were being published which collectively legitimated much of what my friends and myself were doing at the time, so in an international context most influential would probably be TALR and Amy Sillman. These painters are among the few that I have constantly looked at and thought about over time.

What were you like at 15?

I had a mad interest in foreign film, often hiring four or five VHS tapes on a Friday, and spending the weekend being transported to other worlds.

How do you measure success as a teacher?

I teach at both under graduate and post graduate level at the Dunedin School of Art at Otago Polytechnic, so I measure success differently at each level. One commonality however is when my students transition from worrying about what grade they might get to talking about how their practice is developing and supporting them in a sustainable way, both procedurally and in content. I see this as success. Understanding the connections between life and making is important to anything they might do post art school. This shift, for me, highlights how thinking in this way translates in to every aspect of life and breeds a confidence to be able to succeed or learn at anything they decide to do. Making things is such a multifaceted process, it is more than the art.

What does a typical day look like?

To be honest I don’t have a typical day. If I am taking a class these usually start at nine and it will be in studio with students for the rest of the day. This is the most rewarding part of the job, being able to discuss, critique and co-construct learning. After work I will exercise, spend some time looking, thinking and making in my own studio, and then relax with family over food or music.

The biggest problem facing Arts Education today is…

Currency. I had a conversation with my colleague Graham Fletcher in the office about this question recently and we both came upon the idea of currency. When I was studying it was actual works, or books - a slow download of art to encounter, stuff which had been through some kind of process of becoming or emerging, and had been critiqued. I still like to do this today.

Now it is the web and Instagram, platforms of content upload that are immediate, like a blink. This is not a denial of these methods of dissemination, it just means that more work is needed to be done to locate the work in the context of now and how it might add to or change the conversation in the medium today.

What’s your favourite show you’ve seen recently?

Recently I saw Albert Oehlen at the Serpentine in London. A retrospective of sorts, spanning the years 1980 to the present. The exhibition collectively presented Oehlen’s interest in John Graham, the American Modernist figurative painter and centred on appropriating the work Tramonto Spaventoso (‘Terrifying Sunset’) (1940 – 49). Having always observed Oehlen from afar, as is the usual living in New Zealand, it was a treasure to see the surfaces and scale of the works in situ.

What’s your advice for someone who would like to learn more about art?

Be curious and ask questions, listen to and look at as many artists as possible, form your own opinions and share them with others. From here you will find that incrementally you will learn the language that is art, a language which might have seemed somewhat foreign initially.

Who is your favourite New Zealand artist?

I’d have to say in the New Zealand context it would be Colin McCahon, the Gate series particularly. I could look at these paintings all day. The way he has managed space, for me, is the most interesting. For me, he is a painter that has a practice that is so entwined with his life, an integrity, and this plays out in all of what he made and did. There is a wonderful work of his in Dunedin that is a 'go to' for me. This is a large panel work born out of a series of waterfall drawings from the 50’s I think, a work made for Mary De Beer. If you are in Dunedin it is a must see.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen this week?

I re-watched the Philip Guston documentary A Life Lived. Guston has a way of describing things that are at once both able to be grasped and fleeting, in the sense that they open up new possibility. Even now some 40 years after filming, they still hold water.


  • Michael Greaves, Diagram for a painting, 2018, acrylic, private collection

  • Michael Greaves, Your Disco Needs You, 2018, acrylic, private collection

  • Frances Hodgkins, Red Jug, 1931, oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

  • Colin McCahon, Gate 15, Gate series,1961, enamel paint on hardboard, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

First published ArtZone #83


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