New York based New Zealand artist Max Gimblett at his exhibition held at Page Blackie Gallery.

Internationally renowned New Zealand painter Max Gimblett credits his wife as his greatest supporter, and his leading critic. 

Gimblett is in the country to open a series of exhibitions around the country and also give lectures.

Born in Auckland in 1935 and based in New York since 1972, Gimblett is back in New Zealand accompanied by his wife of almost 55 years, academic Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. 

When Gimblett first met his future wife in 1964, he was in Toronto working as an apprentice in ceramics to Canadian ceramicist and glass artist Roman Bartkiw.

"Barbara's mother came in and approached me with a pot she had made and asked me to give her a critique," Gimblett says. "I said to her that I couldn't. It was up to the master.

"She went home and said to Barbara, 'there is a very eager and interesting and nice Australian [sic] guy with a big red beard at the pot shop called Max Gimblett'."

They eventually met at the annual Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. 

"I went up to the stand to look at this very beautiful woman and she put a bowl down close to my face of hot molten enamel and said 'you're Max Gimblett'."

[Max Gimblett's The River exhibition installation at the Nadene Milne Gallery]

Courtesy of the Nadene Milne Gallery

Max Gimblett's The River exhibition installation at the Nadene Milne Gallery

Gimblett says Barbara talked for about 20 minutes about how she was never going to get married at their first meeting.

"I proposed to her that we have our first date and I took her to a Unitarian Church service on a Sunday morning.Sometime later I asked her to marry me and she said no.

"We were going to live in two separate apartments like Simone de Beauvoir and John Paul Sartre.

"I approached her again and said something like I wanted to marry her to ensure her freedom. She said yes and we got married in a Reform Jewish synagogue."

There were six people present at the wedding and the Rabi asked Gimblett if he was willing to covert. "I said yes. I was willing to do anything and we were married."

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett says when she met Gimblett she thought he was the most unique human being on the planet.

"He was such an unusual, exceptional, special person.

"I was smitten - but Max didn't simply say he would ensure my freedom. Rather, he said that each of us would be for the other person.

"That has been one of the secrets to our long marriage. We are both very deeply vested in the success of the other person. I take enormous pride, enormous joy in Max being fulfilled as a person, and as an artist in his success."

Their relationship gives Gimblett unlimited access to his leading critic.

"Barbara knows much about my work and talks about it with me. She has always been of the opinion that my drawing is the key and I have done a lot of drawing."

And how did Gimblett become a painter? "One afternoon as I sat at home, I did a self-portrait looking in a mirror. It was somewhat Cezanne-ish somewhat van Gogh but mainly me.

"Barbara came home from university and looked at it and said 'you are a painter', and I said 'yes I am'. The next day I went to the paint shop. I bought some paints and canvas and did my first painting."

Their relationship has also involved a considerable amount of solitude.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has been Professor of Performance Studies at New York University since 1981(and distinguished University Professor since 2002). She is internationally recognised for her unique contribution to Jewish studies, and is currently chief curator and advisor to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

"Barbara was in Warsaw for eight years (2008 – 2017), and I was in New York and we saw each other twice a year for about three weeks. Other than that, we lived alone from each other and we both thoroughly enjoyed our solitude and got a lot of work done."

Gimblett has been coming to New Zealand every year, but this is Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's first trip here in 12 years.

"For Max it is a homecoming, but the main reason for our visit is the awarding of an honorary doctorate from AUT (Auckland University of Technology), which is a great honour and we have organised the visit around that ceremony."

"The joy, the pride that Max and I take in the other person's success and the ways in which we try to make it possible for the other person to realise their greatest dreams and wishes - Max has done that for me consistently. That is the absolute key to our success in being able to fulfil ourselves as people and as professionals in our field."

Max Gimblett, Asia & the Pacific, Nadene Milne Gallery
10 Bath Street, Christchurch
February 28 to March 15

Max Gimblett, Creation, Page Blackie Gallery
42 Victoria Street, Wellington
March 7 to 30 

Sumi ink workshops with Max Gimblett
AUT City Campus
March 16 11am – 4pm