Friday 13 November 2015

Peter McLeavey, 1936 - 2015

I wrote this for The Dowse's blog this morning and thought I would share it here to.

It was with great sadness that we heard this morning of the death of Peter McLeavey: champion of artists, charismatic denizen of Cuba Street, man of style, and guide for countless people into the riches of New Zealand's contemporary art.

Peter has always been key figure in my art world. I bought my first work from him in 2000, the year I moved to Wellington for university. A Jacqueline Fraser work on paper, it represented a pretty significant investment for me at the time. Once a month I would walk up those iconic white stairs and hand over my cheque for $100, and every month Peter would say to me 'Are you sure you can afford this? Because if you need it more, I can wait.' I accumulated a pile of his distinctive invoices, handwritten in green ink on thin paper: at the time, I felt like being the recipient of a sample of Peter McLeavey's handwriting was as awe-inspiring as being able to take home a work by an artist who would represent us at the Venice Biennale.

Peter for me was a link into the fabled and (by the time I got here) already-distant emergence of New Zealand contemporary art: it never failed to strike me that in his small rooms he had built the careers of artists like McCahon, Walters and Woollaston, that his belief in the vital importance of this country's art was a driving force in the creation of the art world in which I was tentatively finding my footing.

Peter made me - a person who still felt like a kid off a dairy farm - feel like I could belong in this world. As I grew up, I came to admire his even-handed generosity to every person who walked into his gallery. Everyone visitor to Peter McLeavey Gallery warranted the same respectful treatment, and everyone who showed an interest would be drawn into a conversation. Sometimes you heard the stories more than once - but it was hard to tire of the tale of the afternoon in a Waitara high school (just round the corner from where I grew up) when Peter McLeavey first fell in love with the power of art.  And I know my own Peter story is hardly unique, and thousands of people will be sharing theirs at this time.

One of the team observed to me this morning that Peter led a brave life, and that it was so good to know that the stories from that life, and the role he played in the development of our contemporary culture, have been captured and celebrated before his death. Jan Bieringa and Luit Bieringa produced the documentary 'The Man in the Hat', with cinematographer Leon Narbey - that documentary is available to watch on the NZonScreen site. Jill Trevelyan's award-winning biography Peter McLeavey: The life and times of a New Zealand art dealer, published by Te Papa Press, captured Peter's charisma and charm, but also the challenges of his life. And recently Robert Leonard curated a small exhibition for City Gallery Wellington McLeavey Sat Here, which looked at how artists were involved in and responded to the living legacy of the pioneering art dealer.

Peter's death will evoke great sadness in the many circles of people who knew and loved him, but also gratitude and admiration for a life lived to the hilt. The team at The Dowse and I send all our love and support to the McLeavey family.

Aroha nui,

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