Original Oil Painting on Canvas
Peter Jean Caley
|Paper: Coastal News
Date: June 24 1999
Artist shows his talent.
From Tama Iti’s newly opened K Road Art Gallery, to a quiet Whangamata Bach – that’s the story of a
magnificent portrait of Nga Pawa, a high ranking woman of Ngati Maniapoto, and Peter Caley, the artist who
bought her image to life for her descendents.
The portrait of Nga Pawa, who died in the 1930’s, was painted from a battered old photograph.
It featured in the opening of Tama Iti’s new gallery of Maori Art, and is now in Whangamata while Peter
considers its future.
A private buyer is keen to purchase, but Peter hopes to ensure that Nga Pawa and a second portrait, of
Mauria te Tauri Mokena, of Tama te Kapua, painted in the same style, remain within New Zealand and
available to public view.
There is more than one painter in Peter Caley’s family history.
Descended from an Italian seaman who arrived in New Zealand on a whaling ship and married into a South
Island Maori Family, Peter’s father and grandfather were both artists.
But as a school boy in Taranaki, he was discouraged from painting, and told he should concentrate on
getting a real job.
Nonetheless, he made his way to art school in Australia in the late 1970’s, but didn’t like the teaching
methods, and dropped out to become a successful interior designer in Sydney.
He later took private art tuition in Auckland, but then returned to Australia where he made a name for himself
as a wildlife artist.
During this period he produced hundreds of detailed painting of animals in their natural surroundings.
Emus, bushbabies, possums and birds were captured on canvas and board, painted from life in the style
known as traditional realism.
His paintings sold so quickly that he never had enough to even hold an exhibition.
Ten years ago he began to teach art as well as produce it.
It started with request from a local art group for tuition, but soon escalated to an almost full time occupation.
Peter says it is important to him to be able to pass on his skills and give others the chance to fulfill their
“The only difference between my work and a student’s work is time and experience,” he says.
“Anyone who is prepared to make the commitment to painting can develop the skill to be successful at it.”
He particularly enjoys passing on skills in colour mixing, and is able to produce any colour at all from a
Although his Maori portraits have been described as being in the tradition of Goldie and Lindauer, he says
that his technique is different, and it is the affinity and respect he feels for the subjects that brings them to
life under his brushes.
The success of the Nga Pawa portrait has brought other families to him requesting paintings of their own
Since returning to New Zealand last year Peter has been offered teaching work at colleges in Hamilton and
Tauranga, but it was a long family association with Whangamata that made him decide to spend some time
here and offer tuition locally.
He likes to teach a small group, and wants to keep the fee at a level affordable to local artists. He hopes to
find enough pupils to keep him here for the rest of the winter, while he completes work on further portraits.
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