CLOUDS 5, 1975

Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 November 2007

Colin McCahon

(1919 - 1987, New Zealand)
CLOUDS 5, 1975

synthetic polymer paint on paper on board

109.0 x 72.0 cm

signed with initials, dated and inscribed lower centre: CLOUDS/ C.McC. DECEMBER ‘75
numbered lower right: 5.

$300,000 - $400,000
Sold for $360,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 3 - 29 November 2007, Melbourne

Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington
Private collection, Wellington
Private collection, Sydney


Colin McCahon: A Question of Faith, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 30 August - 10 November2002, and travelling to City Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand; Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Auckland, New Zealand; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia and Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia during the period December 2002- January 2004.


Bloem, M. and Browne, M., Colin McCahon: A Question of Faith, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, The Netherlands & Craig Potton Publishing, New Zealand, 2002, pp. 131 (illus.) & 225
This work is listed in The Colin McCahon Database and Image Library ( asNo. 000961

Catalogue text

Throughout 1975-1976, Colin McCahon maintained a steady output of deeply considered paintings. In several series from this period, McCahon continued his use of the 1-14 numerical motif - acknowledging yet again the numerical symbology of the Stations of the Cross, while at the same time extrapolating events in his everyday life into powerful images of universal relevance.

The dramatic view from the cliff-top near his Muriwai studio inspired McCahon to produce the series of paintings known as Clouds - the first group of these new works on Steinbach paper. Although predominantly black and white, several of the paintings, including the present Clouds 5, are enlivened by touches of sepia.

Conceived of as viewed from a point on the cliffs high above Maori Bay, looking westward across the Tasman Sea towards from whence comes the prevailing weather, the approaching clouds pass above the viewer as stages and events in an individual's life. In each painting the cloud forms float in an ambiguous space, depicted frontally and with no real sense of perspective nor any indications of landscape which might provide a reference point for the viewer. Some are heavy, tumultuous, and carrying the threat of dark times, others light and ethereal, dissipating in the sun. The whole motif gives a visual representation of the cycle of life and death.

Emphasising this idea, in all but two of the Clouds paintings, McCahon has inscribed the numbers of the Stations of the Cross, alternating across the series between Arabic and Roman numerals as he had done in the earlier Teaching Aids images. However unlike in other paintings of the series, where the numerical sequence starts at the top left of the image, continues down the left hand side, across the bottom and back up the right hand side, in a progression that recalls the traditional Way of the Cross path within churches, in Clouds 5 the 1-14 are organised more haphazardly, reflecting the random and unpredictable nature of human existence and experience.

In the two series of Rocks in the Sky paintings which followed Clouds, McCahon developed the predominant motif further. The genesis for this new direction lay in a comment by McCahon's grandson, made upon viewing approaching dark storm clouds while visiting the beach at Muriwai with his grandparents Colin and Anne, and mother Victoria. McCahon was most taken with his grandson's description of the black clouds as 'rocks in the sky', immediately sensing its usefulness as a visual metaphor for the stumbling blocks and impediments that occur in each individual's life. In Clouds 5 the number 8 occupies just such a 'rock'.

Two other paintings from the Clouds series (nos. 1 and 2) are in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and are currently touring in the Colin McCahon: Focus Exhibition, most recently seen at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston and the Dell Gallery, Queensland College of Art, Brisbane.