Although contemporary New Zealand art was largely preoccupied with the landscape and questions of national identity in the 1950s, Garth Tapper’s portraits represent an equally discerning observation on the subject of national character.

Tapper studied at the University of Auckland, New Zealand (Elam) School of Fine Arts (1945-1951), and was appointed lecturer in painting there, following his graduation. He visited Europe (1952-1953), studying at the Slade School of Art and returned to teach fulltime at Elam from 1960 to 1977. 

Although Tapper completed official portraits of New Zealand statesmen and personalities, his paintings of ordinary working people reveal the influence of the Slade’s academic discipline of life drawing. His psychological studies and genre images invite comparison with New Zealand's late 20th century regionalist artists: Trevor Moffitt (Christchurch) and Robin White (Dunedin) and their works from the 1970s. 

Although represented in a touring exhibition of contemporary art to the then Soviet Union in 1957, Tapper’s oeuvre remains deserving of greater recognition. This is part due to the eclipse of humanist representation in contemporary art by international a Post-War formalism extolled locally by artists such as Milan Mrkusich, promoted by academics in the arts and a consequence of an increasing cultural alignment with the USA by New Zealand and Australia from the 1960s onwards.

Tapper is represented in the collections of the Auckland Art Gallery and the Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa, as well as many regional public collections in New Zealand.     

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