Dark Vocation: Religion in the Life and Work of Two New Zealand Creative Artists - James K. Baxter and Colin McCahon


  • Elizabeth Isichei University of Otago


James K. Baxter and Colin McCahon are generally regarded as New Zealand's greatest poet and painter (to use the word McCahon preferred), respectively. It would not be an exaggeration to say that both were obsessed with religion, and this passionate preoccupation is central to an understanding of their work and life. Baxter was a convert, first to Anglo- Catholicism and later to Rome. McCahon was plunged in the dazzling darkness of doubt, which is quite different from an agnosticism rooted in indifference or ignorance; he never joined a church, but biblical texts and religious motifs dominate his painting to an extraordinary degree. I knew Baxter well, for a time (I left New Zealand in 1962) and met MacCahon once, at a Student Congress. I wrote a poem about it, which is appended to this paper.

Author Biography

Elizabeth Isichei, University of Otago

University of Otago