'TranzAlpine Journey'

Oil painting on linen by Grant McSherry. 1410 mm x 800 mm.

TranzAlpine train painting by Grant McSherry

The TranzAlpine train ride is rated as one of the world’s top six train journeys. As far as trains and drivers are concerned, it is apparently the toughest in New Zealand, especially in heavy winter snow and rain. At up to 15 cars, the TranzAlpine is Toll NZ’s longest passenger train. The trip begins on the Canterbury Plains, traverses gorges & river valleys, through 16 tunnels, over five viaducts and down to rainforest before arriving at Greymouth on the West Coast. All this takes approximately 224 kilometres.

The original, 'TranzAlpine Journey' by Grant McSherry is a large size oil painting, finished in a hand crafted, black lacquer shadow frame with negative space.The original, 'TranzAlpine Journey' is a large size oil painting, finished in a hand crafted, black lacquer shadow frame with negative space.

The service celebrated twenty years of traversing the Southern Alps on November 22, 2007. When it began in 1987, passenger numbers were around 25,000 a year and by the 2006 / 07 year they were up to 200,000.

I based the oil painting ‘TranzAlpine Journey’ on a section of the TranzAlpine rail route near Lake Sarah, very close to where ‘Strolling the TranzAlpine’ originated. Painting the TranzAlpine train was not my objective the day I went into the mountains to photograph a train…

Circa 1967TranzAlpine railway near Lake Sarah

My family lived in a flat in Huntly that backed onto the railway lines until I was four years old. I remember running out to watch the great locomotives and relishing in the sound, smells & smoke as each passed by. Every steam engine seemed to be an individual. I also remember waiting with anticipation to watch the first railcar on this line make an appearance… and the disappointment at what I saw and heard or more to the point what I didn’t see and hear. The new railcar was the first big fizzle that I can remember. This was the end of an era.

September 2004

While flicking through the paper, I learned that a very grand looking steam train was scheduled to run from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass, along some of the TranzAlpine route. With the imagery of ‘Strolling the TranzAlpine’ in mind (which at that point was also still an idea rather than a painting) I thought it would be great to revisit the area and try to capture some of the things about stream trains that I used to love as a kid. My brother-in-law Alan joined me on the excursion.

We left just before the train was due to depart Christchurch to give us an opportunity to find the right spot & set up for taking photos. We found a small hill on a section of track near Lake Sarah, very close to where ‘Strolling the TranzAlpine’ is set, wandered up and down the tracks for a while, and then settled in to wait.

It was really cold. A biting alpine wind persistently ate away at us and neither was appropriately dressed for a long time out in the icy chill. We took some practice shots as a coal train passed by. Having figured out how the signal system worked we watched as the lights turned from orange to red…Yes! The steam engine was finally on its way!

The train that eventually rounded the bend was no steam engine… it was the TranzAlpine diesel. We snapped shots and waved as the open car full of sightseers went by, and received plenty of waves in return.

After the TranzAlpine train passed we settled in again to wait for the steam locomotive, and the cold was biting more every minute. Finally, we could take no more and decided to head home. Where was the train? The TV news that night showed it stopping off here and there along the way for people to take photos of their own…Fair enough I guess.

On looking at my TranzAlpine photos that evening, I immediately saw the potential for a painting that could represent contemporary New Zealand and therefore many of the values that drive my art. In fact, the imagery of the TranzAlpine train winding through the Southern Alps was an exciting new challenge. It looked like fun. The idea immediately made my material queue. However, it wasn’t until December 2006 having just completed ‘Mountain with Tractor’, my third Mt Taranaki work, that I began work on ‘TranzAlpine Journey’. Having thoroughly enjoyed painting the tractor in its environment, I felt this TranzAlpine imagery gave me the opportunity to take a further step in the same direction. I worked on the painting in the time I could create between my day job and the landscaping work that needed to be done having just built a home. ‘TranzAlpine Journey’ was finally completed in March 2008.

Original painting 'TranzAlpine Journey': Oil on linen
Original painting size:1410mm x 800mm. Available for purchase NZD $12,500 plus packaging & freight if applicable.