Are there not twelve hours of daylight; Colin McCahon; 1970; C1994/1/144


Are there not twelve hours of daylight

About this object

To a question from his bewildered disciples about why he wanted to go back to Judea, where he was almost stoned to death, Jesus answered with another question and followed it with a cryptic assertion about walking in the light of the world. This paradoxical text forms the subject of McCahon's painting; it comes from the story of Lazarus as recorded in the Gospel of St John. The artist had been prompted to reread the Lazarus story and other passages in the New Testament, which touched on anguished questions of death, resurrection, faith and doubt, when his wife gave him a copy of the New English Bible as a gift. McCahon found the recent translation brought the stark immediacy of these passages to life. Freshness and immediacy of communication was something which had held the artist spellbound even as a young boy, when he recalled watching a signwriter laying down gold-leaf letters on a shop window in Dunedin. In numerous works after this McCahon's own paint-laden brush set down words as scripted light, as disputational voice, prophetic declamation, lament, song and haunted recitation. McCahon's written paintings somehow fuse the wonder of angelic utterance with the simple language of a roadside chalkboard, advertising kumara for sale. (from The Guide, 2001)


Colin McCahon

Maker Role


Date Made


Medium and Materials

acrylic on canvas


2070 x 2600mm

Subject and Association Description

Christianity, religious art, text, handwriting, belief & doubt, faith

Credit Line

Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

Object Type


Object number



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