Tony Fomison (1939 - 1990) remains one of New Zealand’s most influential artists, widely acknowledged for his expressive paintings and prints, and his influence on contemporary Māori and Pacific art in New Zealand.
Fomison attended the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts (1956-1960) in Christchurch, where he was taught by the expatriate Lithuanian artist Rudi Gopas. Gopas was a powerful influence on a generation of artists and brought both a Modernist and European romantic sensibility to post war New Zealand art. In the early 1960s Fomison worked for the New Zealand National Historic Places Trust documenting Māori rock art in South Canterbury. His later painting style of thin oil glazes on coarse hessian was vaguely reminiscent of the textured surfaces of rock walls and seemed a deliberate allusion, but it was possibly influenced by some of the techniques taught by Gopas. Fomison has frequently been associated with New Zealand expressionist artists Philip Clairmont and Allen Maddox, similarly embracing the notion of the ‘artist-as-outsider.’ However, unlike these expressionist painters, his work is more engaged with Māori mythology and the landscape as a metaphor for the ‘past, present and future.’ Equally, Fomison's admiration for artists such as Goya, Blake and Fuseli reveals a greater curiosity in the nature of the psyche.
Fomison had an interest in cinematic narrative and this blended with a deep affection for Polynesian culture, especially Māori and Samoan. He referenced many myths and legends and then combined his own distinctive style from drawings and magazine photographs. His paintings – often surreal or humorous in ambience - often have a soft light that rakes across their human or landscape forms to be abruptly truncated by ominously shaped shadows that allude to the lighting in Expressionist film. Fomison was a vital influence on contemporary Pacific art and artists such as Fatu Feu’u, John Pule and Shane Cotton. His work is in all major New Zealand public collections. In 1994 New Zealand writer Ian Wedde curated a major survey, Tony Fomison: What Shall We Tell Them for the City Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand, this was accompanied by a monograph by the same name.