Red and Black; Colin McCahon (1919-87), NZ; 1976; 2002.002


Red and Black

About this object

In 1976 Colin McCahon painted a series of three paintings which are all different entitled The red ones. This is one of those works.

In Red & Black McCahon makes reference to earlier works based on the North Otago landscape. He also refers to his previous Waterfall series with the vertical line running down the painting symbolising water from a rock or light penetrating darkness. Other 1970s paintings in McCahon's Gate series use dark symmetrical forms through which hope of a passage can be seen.

McCahon worked as a prophet through his painting (he regarded himself as 'making signs for people to live by') and his paintings have simple as well as deeper meanings. The main symbolic structure in Red & Black is the Tau cross. Tau is the nineteenth letter of the Ancient Greek alphabet and is associated with the biblical prophet Moses. The sign T was made in blood on doorposts on the eve of Passover by Jewish families to avert evil. Red is the colour of sacrifice and through that, salvation.

McCahon uses the Tau cross in many of his later paintings. This symbol of divine power used by the Israelites in Egypt was later assimilated by the Christian Church to become a crucifix.

McCahon was born in Timaru and this large work is a centerpiece in the Aigantighe’s McCahon Room.


Colin McCahon (1919-87), NZ

Date Made


Medium and Materials

Acrylic on paper


110 x 73cm

Named Collection

Aigantighe Art Gallery Collection

Credit Line

Gift of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Wellington in 2002.

Object Type


Object number



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brett 23 Feb 2009 09:13 AM,UTC

there is about 3 by colin in timaru come check the out m8 :)

Conan 16 Sep 2008 10:09 AM,UTC

I would like to know more about the McCahon Room - how many are ther\e?

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