Steve Braunias names two Massey University Press books best illustrated of 2023


Steve Braunias writes for Newsroom

'The golden age of illustrated New Zealand books is right now. In a land as beautiful and good to look at as Aotearoa, a land that has always inspired carvers and painters and photographers and other visual artists to create some version of its texture, we have every right to expect high-quality, knock-out illustrated books; 2023 gave shape to that expectation with at least two masterpieces (The South Island of New Zealand From the Road, and Tatau: Sāmoan tattoo, New Zealand art, global culture) and a series of other, luscious productions.

Much of the credit has to be laid at the elegant feet of Nicola Legat, publisher at Massey University Press and Te Papa Press, for guiding so many new illustrated books – six of the top 10, as selected below, come from their stable. We live in austere times but each of these six books had an extravagance of colour, of typography, of ideas. Credit, too, to HarperCollins, for the most popular illustrated book of the year by a long stretch, the crowd-pleasing Our Land in Colour. The central idea – the digitial colourising of 200 black and white photos taken over 100 years (1860-1960) – was ingenious; I hold out hopes for a sequel. Long may the golden age continue. Any of the top 10 illustrated books would make beautiful and good to look at Xmas presents; get thee to a bookstore at once.

The South Island of New Zealand From the Road by Robin Morrison (Massey University Press, $75)

The best illustrated book of the year. Quite simply this is a masterpiece – for the second time; it’s the beautifully republished edition of the classic 1981 photographic roadtrip of the South Island. From my review: “Morrison made timeless art when he wandered the South Island with his wife and kids. (There’s a nice afterword by his son Jake Morrison.) You can see the changing of the seasons – rain clouds above a red van parked in a field in Mihiwaka, long shadows in Waimate, golden leaves fallen in a heap in front of two goats in Cardrona. You can see a Robin Morrison moment all over the place every time you pass through the South Island’s lonely acres. What a beautiful book.”

Rewi by Jade Kake & Jeremy Hansen (Massey University Press, $75)

Very nearly the best illustrated book of the year. A tribute to the late architect Rewi Thompson (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Raukawa), told in 456 pages with plans, drawings, sketches and photos. There are a lot of contributing writers and some of them number among the greatest bores in modern New Zealand culture but you come for the looks, the visuals – there’s a lot of pink! Pink pages, pink typography (the typesetter is publishing legend Katrina Duncan). Jeremy Hansen describes Thompson’s famous house in Kohimarama as “mysteriously aloof” and the book draws ever closer to his genius.'

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