• Judy Millar

The return of lockdown is timely for artist Judy Millar whose exhibition at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi features paintings created during our last national lockdown - a period of creative freedom.

It is the first time Millar, one of Aotearoa’s most internationally acclaimed artists, has exhibited in a New Zealand public gallery in more than 15 years with her last exhibition in 2005. Millar, who has represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale, has lived between Auckland’s west coast and Berlin, Germany since 2005.

Millar was in New Zealand when the country went into lockdown in March last year and says it inspired a hugely creative period, which included creating two series in her new exhibition, Action Movie.

Action Movie features three mural-size abstract paintings in hot reds and pinks and seven portrait-format paintings in colder hues evoking the night-time. The ‘hot’ ones started with the idea of making a sequence of painterly gestures as a framed ‘comic strip’. The ‘cool’ ones are hung in a line suggesting frames in a length of movie film.

“For me lockdown really worked creatively. I just took myself away and it gave me the space to totally give myself up to painting,” she says.

The exhibition provides a terrific insight into both how Millar works - what is motivating her with these series and the references to other artists inspiring her, says Director Art and Heritage Elizabeth Caldwell.

Her portrait format paintings explore crepuscular time. Millar has always been fascinated by darkness and was able to focus on translating this onto canvas during lockdown where she had time to spend studying the night sky. “Dawn is hard to grasp, it’s always becoming something else. “I like to be really alone [when I paint] ... it’s quite concentrated. I don’t have music on. I’m very focussed on what’s happening in front of me and very aware of what’s going on right before my eyes.”

Action Movie presents Millar’s paintings in conversation with two films inspired by abstract expressionism. These ‘painted’ films are by Len Lye [All Souls Carnival] and Stan Brakhage [The Dante Quartet].

Millar’s paintings are placed in conversation with these films to prompt viewers to consider the way her work toggles between painting and performance, presence and absence, material and ideal, the spontaneous and the considered.

Millar says this exhibition is a great opportunity to engage with New Zealand audiences who offer a varied and deep perspective on her work. “We have so much richness here, as a country we’re opening up to that and it’s an incredibly exciting thing to witness.”

Opening Hours

  • Monday - Sunday, 10am - 5pm


  • Civic Square, 101 Wakefield Street
  • Pōneke Wellington, 6140