Theo Schoon

A Biography

Damian Skinner

book cover for Theo Schoon
Sample Pages

Soft cover


The important biography of a significant figure in New Zealand art and culture

Émigré artist Theo Schoon was fascinating, unorthodox, controversial, pioneering and at times reckless. His life intersected with important cultural periods and places, where what it meant to be modern in New Zealand was being debated and articulated in art, literature, music and theatre.

The art he pioneered and promoted – Māori rock drawings, the drawings of a psychiatric patient, Māori moko and kōwhaiwhai, the abstract patterns of geothermal activity in Rotorua – were decisive for many other New Zealand artists, including Gordon Walters. And his example, as an academically trained artist with a good knowledge of modern European art and a commitment to do whatever it took to pursue his artistic projects, was both an inspiring and a cautionary tale.

Schoon’s is a life less well known now than it deserves to be. This superb, highly illustrated biography by one of New Zealand’s best art writers corrects that imbalance and examines Schoon’s claims on the development of art and culture in Aotearoa in the twentieth century.

To read the introduction, click here.

‘Probably the most important art book to be published this year ... filling a long overdue gap in Aotearoa’s art history. ... Skinner has done a marvellous job of piecing together this carefully researched life.’ — Andrew Paul Wood, City Art Depot

‘The biography draws on a huge resource of written and recorded interviews and archival materials. It is a phenomenal piece of work, gone about not only with zeal and forensic precision, but also with an eye constantly on the bigger picture.’ — Greg O’Brien

‘It's an easy book to love, with a large format, soft cover, clean design and generous helping of imagery: delicate drawings, abstract paintings, Māori-rock-art-painting-inspired prints and carvings, along with insightful personal photographs. Plus it’s important. It explores the development of local art and culture via one of the era’s most original characters.’ — Kathryn Webster, Art News New Zealand

‘The best picture book of 2018’ — The Spinoff

This biography is an intelligent and involved examination of him and his times. Beautifully presented, it is an important record.’ — Jessie Neilson, Otago Daily Times

  • CATEGORY: Art, design and architecture, Biography and memoir, History
  • ISBN: 978-0-9951001-7-6
  • PUBLISHER: Massey University Press
  • IMPRINT: Massey University Press
  • PUBLISHED: 12/11/2018
  • PAGE EXTENT: 336
  • FORMAT: Soft cover
Profile image for Damian Skinner

Damian Skinner is an art historian, writer and former museum curator.