Vietnam: An Artists Impression

Vietnam: An Artists Impression includes the artwork of Maurice Conly and Alan Oliver who were sent to Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 respectively as official artists for the New Zealand Army. There is also artwork by John Gillies and Matt Gauldie, which is kindly on loan from Army General Staff. To complement the artwork, there is also weaponry and artefacts from both the New Zealanders and Vietcong on display.

Vietnam: An Artists Impression will exhibit in the Thornton Gallery at the National Army Museum Te Mata Toa.


Maurice Conly

Robert ‘Maurice’ Conly joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) in 1941 to train as a pilot but a freak accident left him unfit for active service. He turned to his other love, painting, and soon after was appointed as the RNZAF Official War Artist.

Over the next 50 years, Maurice Conly had the opportunity to travel wherever the RNZAF was serving; from Fiji and the Solomon Islands, to South East Asia.

In 1969, at the age of 49, he travelled to Vietnam, not for the RNZAF, but to cover the actions of the New Zealand Army. The Army had approached the Air Force to “loan” Conly to be their artist, as they did not have their own “official” artist at the time.

He accepted the opportunity and soon found himself in the thick of the action, based at the isolated, hot, and dusty Fire Support Bases that occupied the front-line. He commented in later years that he was intrigued to see that the US Official Artists never personally ventured to the front-line, but relied on photographs to reproduce the battlegrounds “as they saw it”. Maurice Conly was promoted to Temporary Squadron Leader and spent one month in South Vietnam sketching and drawing the New Zealanders carrying out their duties.

In later years, he recorded the RNZAF’s involvement in Antarctica and London and extended his skills to designing New Zealand stamps and coins.

It is only a sample of his work that we have on display in our exhibition Vietnam: An Artists Impression, with the majority of his art hanging at Army General Staff, in various camps and bases throughout New Zealand, and at the Air Force Museum in Christchurch.

Alan Oliver

Maurice Conly, on “loan” to the New Zealand Army from the Air Force, had returned home from his stint in Vietnam. The Army decided they wanted to continue with having an artist covering the war in Vietnam and began looking to appoint a new artist.

In 1970, as the Vietnam War progressed, Alan David Cameron Oliver, an artist working in School Publications in Wellington was asked by artist Bill Sutton (who had a connection with the Army during WWII and post-war period) if he wanted to work for Defence and, more specifically, the New Zealand Army, as their “official” artist.

He agreed to the proposal and enlisted in the Regular Forces, Service Number 30935. He was given the rank of Major (Artist on Temporary Commission) and soon began a six week Tour of Duty as a War Artist recording New Zealand’s Military Operations in South East Asia (Thailand and Vietnam).

Whilst in South East Asia, based at Nui Dat, Vung Tau, and Bon Son, Oliver sketched, drew, and painted his observations using a variety of materials including oils, crayon/pastel, charcoal, watercolours, and pen and ink. This diversity can be seen in the selected art-works on display in our exhibition Vietnam: An Artists Impression.

Upon Alan Oliver’s return to New Zealand, he embarked on a successful career as an art teacher, working at Hamilton Girls High School until his retirement.