Family Ties
Dunedin Public Art Gallery (Rear Window)
Early May to 11 June 2007
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Family Ties installation
2005 - 6
oil on canvas, linen and feathers, pencil on paper
Night view (courtesy of Ben Cauchi)
Detail of Birth of Couper
Oil on feathers mounted on black velvet
670mm x 480mm (framed)
side view


This grouping of four paintings and five drawings relate to my family and the notion of six degrees of separation.

I have been looking at the Charlemagne principle (that anyone of European descent is related to King Charlemagne) since 2003 when I started my Whiteworld series of drawings. This idea was spawned from a Bill Hicks skit, commenting on the particular American audience as lacking opposable thumbs and their family tree being a stump. My ideas took off from there.

The paintings and drawings themselves reference a Renaissance altarpiece. The row of drawings along the base (Phil Spector, Christopher Lee, Charlemagne, Ian Fleming, Joey Ramone) act as the predella, showing the lineage of Charlemagne.

Centered directly above the drawings is the centerpiece painting on feathers fabricating the birth of the Couper family tree and coat of arms, adapted from a medieval-esque Birth of Eve.

Flanking the feathers are two portraits. On the left is my great-uncle on my mother’s side, Edward Windley who was a Wanganui freemason who worked in the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. On the right is William Moloney who was my great-uncle on my father’s side. William was an archeologist, soldier and important conduit of Ngati Kahungunu history in Hawkes Bay. He researched female moko in the Wairoa region and helped with land surveying and documentation of Maori Pa sites.

At the apex is a triple portrait of my father and mother (Rex and Marline Couper) either side of Christ (from a Fra Angelico tempera panel held in the Courtauld Institute, London.)

©copyright Matthew Couper 2004-2010