German artist who stole Rangi McLean’s tā moko image reaches out to Māori leader in peace

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German artist Gerd Stritzel with the painting in question of Māori leader Rangi McLean in the background. Photo / Facebook

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The German artist who used Rangi McLean’s image and changed his tā moko face is hoping to talk with the well-known Māori leader about the unauthorised image use.

Gerd Stritzel was served with a “cease and desist” legal threat after his painting – based on a photograph of McLean – was put up for auction.

Yesterday, Stritzel told the Herald that he is waiting for a reply from McLean, saying: “Thank you for your message and interest in this issue.

“I am in contact with Mr Rangi McLean. As soon I get a replay, we can chat or talk.”

In 2015, McLean, the Manurewa Marae chairman, posed as part of a wider group of 22 Māori for well-known and highly respected New Zealand photographer Michael Bradley.

That portfolio – The Puaki Exhibition – portrayed the participants with their tā moko. Bradley then used digital technology to show what they looked like without their facial tattoos. The exhibition highlighted the suppression of tikanga (Māori culture) and Te Ao Māori (the unique Māori worldview) during New Zealand’s colonial period and its subsequent reclamation.

But McLean’s image from the photo shoot was changed by Stritzel and put on a website auction page with a price tag of thousands of euros.

“I got a bloody shock when my mate sent the image to me. I got a bigger shock when I saw how much the German artist was asking for it,” McLean told the Herald.

That image has now been withdrawn from the Etsy website, but still appears available from Stritzel’s own website.

German artist Gerd Stritzel's painting of Rangi McLean. Photo / Supplied
German artist Gerd Stritzel’s painting of Rangi McLean. Photo / Supplied

Stritzel also took to Facebook to tell of his inspiration of capturing faces as part of his portfolio and his trip to Aoteroa.

“In 2019 I went on a road trip through New Zealand with my wife. We were great full to visit this wonderful and mystical country. Among other things, we visited various museums and cultural centers.

“We had Māori explain part of their culture to us and of course we had one or two encounters with Māori. Whether it was in the museum or in the supermarket, it was always inspiring.

“I am fascinated by these proud and respectful people and their culture. Unfortunately, our time was limited to learn more.

“I travel the world and meet the cultures and their people with open arms. Later, when I’m back in my studio, I’ll process my impressions of what I’ve experienced. My passion is to paint people and cultures.

“I found the contrast between tradition and modernity fascinating. Tattooed faces with baseball caps or suits are opposites and yet one for me.

“My inspiration comes from people that I either meet in person or through small, fleeting encounters on the sidelines. Pictures in the museum, maybe a billboard or a person in the cafe across the street, they all find their way to me. As a painter, I do what I do best. I paint pictures.”

Stritzel has until Thursday to withdraw the painting from sale.

McLean is in Vancouver at a Indigenous conference.