First Coat
Tom Kreisler


Tom Kreisler
First Coat
Production date:
Accession No:
2270 x 1302mm
Acrylic and dyes on canvas

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. Purchased from the Taranaki Savings Bank Purchase Fund 1969-70.

Tom Kreisler’s work does not fit neatly into the canon of New Zealand art. Characterised by their wit, lightness and looseness, Kreisler’s paintings dance away from attempts to pin them down. Kreisler himself was also something of an outsider in his adopted home of New Plymouth. Born in Buenos Aires, the son of European Jewish refugees, Kreisler moved to New Zealand at the age of 13. English was his third language after German and Spanish, and this multilingualism made him highly attuned to humorous or illuminating linguistic cracks and discrepancies.

Kreisler had at his disposal a large battery of truly dreadful puns which surface in his paintings. First Coat is, literally, a coat of paint, and if we are to believe the artist, it is the first in his series of ‘Coat’ paintings. Paint is applied in coats onto walls: paintings and coats are hung on walls. Paintings have undercoats: this one also has an overcoat. If the ‘first coat’ of the painting’s title refers to its pale pink background, perhaps the large, greenish overcoat is a red herring? This kind of wordplay appealed to Kreisler. It reveals some of the shadow meanings inside language, and the fact that words and pictures are not as cut-and-dried as they may appear.

The solitary, pegged-up overcoat in First Coat recalls the popular song ‘Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home’. The song’s opening line — “free and easy, that’s my style” — and its tone of careless bravado tinged with melancholy mesh with Kreisler’s casual, yet slightly wistful painting. The human figure is noticeably absent in this painting and the coat slumps under the weight of this absence. Lightly painted with easy economy, First Coat nevertheless gives the impression of being, like its title, a compact package of ambiguity and innuendo.