German artist turns to well-known Māori Kaumatua Rangi McLean for painting

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A portrait of Rangi McLean by German artist Gerd Stritzel. Photo / Instagram

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Gerd Stritzel has contacted well-known Māori elder Rangi McLean about the German artist’s unauthorized use of his tattooed facial image.

Stritzel told the Herald that since receiving the legal threat from McLean’s attorneys in July, he has had several written conversations with McLean.

“I got in touch with Mr. McLean and offered some suggestions on how my art could be used to support the Māori community,” Stritzel said.

“I don’t think there is any copyright infringement here. I have been discussing this with photographers from New Zealand and with a lawyer from Germany over the past few weeks.

“A picture painted with paint on canvas is not a photograph. If photos serve as inspiration, that’s fine, especially since my painting differs from the photo in colour, content and finish.

“Of course, using a photo and copying and pasting it would be copyright infringement.”

German artist Gerd Streichel at Te Papa in Wellington.  Photo / Facebook
German artist Gerd Streichel at Te Papa in Wellington. Photo / Facebook

The copyright notice was served on Stritzel when his portrait of the Tuhoe elder – also chairman of the Manurewa Marae, community board and trusteeship committee – was put up for sale on a popular European website at a price of a few thousand euros. McLean’s original image comes from portraits taken by noted Kiwi photographer Michael Bradley.

Stritzel said he didn’t mean to offend McLean, Māori or Bradley. He traveled to New Zealand in 2019 and feels inspired by the Māori.

“Most people find it flattering and honored to be portrayed,” Stritzel said.

“As an artist, I’m not interested in copying people’s reality. I try to paint the mood, the environment or the cultural impressions. For this I use the art of portrait painting.

“I make my art with positive thoughts.”

“There are clear rules and responsibilities for public figures. You know that as a journalist, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to publish politicians, celebrities, kings in your newspaper.

“This is primarily an ethical issue and I understand Mr McLean here and have asked for his understanding.”

Streichel said he would like to portray more Māori in a positive way.

Manurewa Marae CEO Rangi McLean.  Photo / NZME
Manurewa Marae CEO Rangi McLean. Photo / NZME

“I would like to paint more Māori portraits. These proud faces and the excitingly beautiful New Zealand nature fascinate me. Māoris are welcome to send me their portrait photos to be artistically painted by me. I don’t differentiate here between men and women, young and old. That would be an exciting project,” he said.

“It is important to have a dialogue about cultures and their past. This dialogue should also be reflected in art. Through my picture I became part of this discussion. I wish that power, worship and beauty could also be seen in this picture.”

McLean, who has just returned from two Indigenous conferences in Canada, said he has left the matter to lawyers and the original photographer but hopes for a positive outcome.

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