Gregory O’Brien

On warming seas & burning buildings

2023/24, acrylic on canvas, 1500 x 1200 mm $8800

In advance of a storm I & II

2023, acrylic on board, 700 x 500 mm each $2500 each

“For the past five years I have rode my bicycle, usually a few times a week, from Hataitai, around Evans Bay, to Point Halswell and then back. During much of that time, the old military buildings, dilapidated jetties and shoreside warehouses at Shelly Bay offered the very best of company. Sometimes, along the way, I would stop and make drawings of the jetties. The zig-zag warehouse roofs also became motifs in various paintings.

Early in 2023, when the demise of these maritime and architectural features appeared imminent, I took a camera and photographed the Shelly Bay structures. This was only a few weeks before the warehouses were destroyed by arson. I remember being struck by how securely fenced off the buildings were. You would need to have been highly organised and well equipped to burn this place down. I also recall, while I was photographing the buildings from the seaside footpath, how a workman on an adjacent site started aggressively shouting at me. From what I could make out, he was telling me not to take photographs.  At that point, I remounted my bicycle and headed off, wondering what law I could conceivably have been breaking.  A short time later, the buildings were set alight.

This series of paintings is a memorial to Shelly Bay as it was, to the vexed, soulful beauty of the buildings. While the spectre of global warming makes us aware, on planetary terms, how much we have to lose, Shelly Bay is a reminder of what we have lost already: the jagged rhythms, stately profiles and character of those irreplaceable structures.”

Gregory O’Brien, June 2024