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This article was originally published as:

Morris, R. (2011). The interior landscape: Metaphors for faith and belief in the religious paintings of Colin McCahon. Colloquium: The Australian and New Zealand Theological Review, 43(1), 71-81.

ISSN: 0588-3237


For artist Colin McCahon, the dynamic interplay of light and form he witnessed in the New Zealand landscape provided inspiration for the development of a pictorial language the artist has used to communicate the dynamics of his own Christian experience. Through an abstract visual vocabulary of shape, tone, and line which he largely distilled from the natural environment, and painted words and passages taken from the Bible, McCahon presents the viewer with paintings which chronicle his experiences of Christian faith and belief. What is fascinating about his work is that it seems to project such profound content through such minimal means. Virtually relying upon a black and white palette, McCahon is able to communicate with a profound delicacy potent biblical themes that Christians grapple with in life. Avoiding the trappings of the sensuous and the outwardly beautiful, McCahon’s paintings manifest an austere aesthetic of colour and form, and a sobriety of content, giving them what could be described as an ‘interior’ beauty of ‘means’. Such treatment reinforces the perception that the works are ‘stripped’ bare of anything superfluous, and are indebted to a genuine transparency on the part of the artist. This paper will investigate how McCahon’s attachment to the New Zealand landscape helped him to articulate a personal 'voice' in his religious works of the 1970s, which at first appear to be primarily indebted to the Bible.


First place of publication was Colloquium.