Fomison Tony

From Archaeopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Tony Fomison 1939-1990

Fomison had an early interest in archaeology but it was his later vocation as an artist that brought him fame. His archaeological interests commenced as a schoolboy in Christchurch. Fomison was for a short period on the staff of the Canterbury Museum. South Island rock art was a particular interest but he had a general interest in the archaeology of Canterbury. He later researched North Island rock art, but no publications seem to have resulted from that. His detailed involvement in archaeology ended in 1963.

Fomison prepared a substantial paper on the styles and interpretation of rock art but it was not published in his lifetime. Thanks to the editorial attention of Roger Fyfe it has now been published [1].

His formal training was in art, commenced to assist with archaeology. He achieved a diploma in sculpture at Ilam and commenced painting in 1961. He travelled to Europe in 1963 returning only in 1967 and painted relatively little in that time. For a time he lived in a Parisian street gang and was a pavement artist. His paintings are mostly dated from his return and his later residence in Auckland.

Polynesian and Maori themes come through in some of his art, as well as his interest in art of the renaissance. One critic observed a linkage from his research on cave art: “Caves appear in later paintings transformed sometimes into mazes, or birth canals or graves.” (Eggleton 2007:154).

Many of his works are monochrome, but some derived from landscape are in colours and forms that show a deep familiarity with New Zealand.

"I came from the South Island and the South Island I must mention! Yes your mountains still pile up in my thoughts! Your shorelines still run around the edges of the same. Big canoe of Maui, my little paddle will always be at your side." (1979 catalogue introduction)

Other cultures are the source of much of his art but it is in no way derivative, finding a new view and often one that is dark and mysterious. A long way from archaeology, but his interest in historic Maori culture can be seen as the start of his journey.

Fomison is now regarded as one of the most outstanding - if singular - New Zealand artists of the 20th century. Always an outsider it is ironic that his works are now collectable commodities of the arts establishment.

Obituary: 1990 Archaeology in New Zealand 33(2):58-59. This has a bibliography which includes some "grey literature" reports.


  1. Fomison A and R Fyfe 2013 Maori Rock Art in North Otago and South Canterbury: A Guide to the Interpretation of its Styles and Subject Matter. Records of the Canterbury Museum 27:47-95. Online

Eggleton, D 2007 Towards Aotearoa, A Short history of 20th Century New Zealand Art. Reed Auckland.

On line resources about Fomison and his art:


1959 Site survey of the Kaikoura Peninsula. New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter 3(1):4-15.

1959 The Canterbury survey. New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter 3(1):16.

1960 Report on the site survey. New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter 4(1):14.

1962 An exploratory survey of Maori rock-shelter art in South Canterbury. New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter 5(2):116-124.

1963 Excavations at South Bay Kaikoura - site S49/43. New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter 6(2):100-102; New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter 6(3):160.

1969 A note on birds and "birdmen" drawings in South Island rock art. New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter 12(3):138-140. (Appendix in Trotter, Michael and Beverley McCulloch, Recent rock shelter investigations in North Otago).

1980 Maori Rock Carvings of Taranaki Friends of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery Newsletter 15. Reprinted in Wedde I, (Ed) 1994 Fomison, What Shall We Tell Them? City Gallery Wellington, pp 179-81.

1982 review of Trotter and McCulloch, Prehistoric Rock Art of New Zealand Journal of the Polynesian Society 91:166-168.

1987 Theo Schoon and the retouching of rock art. New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter 30(3):158-160.