Melvin Day (1923 - 2016) began formal art studies when only twelve, and graduated from the Auckland University School of Fine Arts in 1941. After service during World War II, he settled in Rotorua, where he shared a studio with a keen amateur painter and produced several Maori portraits. In 1951 Day travelled in Italy, Spain and France, and returned to New Zealand to begin study at Victoria University, following which he went to the Courtauld Institute to read in the history of European art, graduating in 1966. Day exhibited in the UK and lectured there before appointment to the Directorship of the National Art Gallery in Wellington in 1968.
Julia Waite of the Auckland Art Gallery worked closely with Day throughout 2015 when his paintings were included in a an exhibition called Freedom and Structure: Cubism in New Zealand Art (1930 – 1960) and when interviewed by "Stuff" for Day's obituary she described Day as "curious" and a "risk taker"."I think in a sense, he was happy to work against the grain and to be his own person," Waite told Stuff. Day, she said, was part of a group of artists in Rotorua in the 1950s who produced "some quite radical, albeit fairly rough" abstract works, and were at the forefront of abstraction and cubism in New Zealand.
"There were other radical painters at the time, but the thing about Melvin was, he had quite an academic approach to art so he was really looking at this movement from quite a scholarly perspective - trying to understand what cubism had been about and to incorporate that into his own practice, " says Waite. "He wasn't really nationalistic at all, he wasn't part of the hard-light school, he wasn't particularly interested in painting in a regional realist style which is a very dominant style in Canterbury - he was more interested in movements."
Day was fascinated by the work of Picasso and Braque, after travelling in Western Europe he developed an interest in Spanish painters, and while his work was largely in abstraction, he also painted modernist landscapes - particularly of Wellington, where he lived most of his life.