As I began preparing works for my solo exhibition at the Aigantighe Art Gallery (Timaru) scheduled for September 2017, I realised that what I was painting, and much of what I had been creating since 2015, was my personal response to the series of devastating Christchurch and Canterbury earthquakes. These started on 4 September 2010 with a terrifying 7.1 magnitude shake, followed by numerous strong aftershocks for the next five months. On 22 February 2011 a shallow, magnitude 6.3 earthquake caused severe damage in Christchurch and Lyttelton, killing 185 people and injuring thousands. The aftershocks – some up to 6.4 magnitude - continued regularly for nearly three years. Intermittent strong aftershocks still occur.
My world there, and of course most people’s, was turned upside down. A lot of what I loved was destroyed, including my home. But out of this came a lot of positive things including the way friends, family, total strangers banded together to give support to me and to each other. Eventually things were resolved for me, and I could move on. I decided to rebuild my life in Timaru and that has proved to be a good decision.
We are frequently reminded that there are many forces that we humans don’t, and probably never will, control – hurricanes, landslides, floods, earthquakes. As well as nurturing and supporting us, the earth can unleash forces that destroy and cause chaos.
To a certain extent we can anticipate these events, and prepare for them. However, we can never be fully prepared for the immediate and long-term impact – physical and mental - of events such as a major earthquake. But, somehow, we have to pick ourselves up and start again, often in a radically changed environment. Hence the title of this latest series – and the exhibition – “Unexpected World”.
The Japanese ceramic artist, Satoru Hoshino, who lost his studio and all his work in a landslide in 1986, once said – and it expresses very well what I also try to do as an artist:
“When a disaster occurs and a person is thrown out into chaos, he makes himself into a centre and creates a passage through the chaos. To deepen relationships, find meaning, and build new order….People try to construct order while the chaos of the universe keeps on endlessly undermining it. It is an endless struggle, but it is necessary to keep on constructing a passage.”
These works reflect my struggles and passage through – and out of – chaos to a new order.
As with my early works, and the 2016 “Moments of Truth” series, I have used many small pictorial motifs throughout my “Unexpected World” paintings. Poets and writers have favourite words; composers like to use certain musical phrases. So too with my motifs – they are part of my language as an artist. They reflect various aspects of my life, events that have occurred. They have particular meanings for me, and are not used randomly. Some images are quite recognisable – a cat, a house, a bird, a flower, some steps, a line of washing. I’m quite happy for viewers to interpret these motifs and others to discover a story of their own within my paintings.
I decided to use several works from earlier series in my “Unexpected World” exhibition. Some from the 2016 “Moments of Truth” series (Which Way?, Warm Fuzzies, Big Bird, Fun Days, Little Bird, Party Time, Running Free, Springtime and Living the Dream) reflected my feelings and emotions during the aftermath of the quakes, especially during the initial euphoric period of a new life in Timaru. I also chose to include four paintings from the “Old Bag” series of 21 works created in 2015-16: Hogget Fleece, Kiwi Stamp, Blue Light Bag and Dags. In my art, I often explore the many challenges that women have to confront and overcome. These challenges can be triggered by natural events such as earthquakes, fires or floods, but more often by relationship breakdowns, medical mishaps, financial and social constraints, or simply by age. A rude comment, suggesting my ‘use by’ date had passed, originally inspired the “Old Bag” paintings. After trying several types of support for the paintings, I discovered old wool packs (fadges). Although they were a challenge to paint on, they are an integral part of the wool industry that has historically been a backbone of New Zealand’s economy and the symbolism of their original and continuing use was irresistible. The discarded fadges seemed ideal canvases for a series of paintings about the amazing resilience and resourcefulness of women in particular. But in time I also came to see them as a metaphor for everyone who survives a disaster of some sort. Despite age, all sorts of mutilation, and disasters man-made or natural, we can continue to contribute to society. As survivors, we can express great joy in just being alive. I use a restricted palette of colours - a challenge in itself - to make each work individual, just as each of us is an individual with something to offer to the world.
Another departure from more conventional supports for paintings was my use of small rocks, gathered from local beaches and painted with my small motifs. During the Christchurch earthquakes there were many rock falls - huge boulders were catapulted into the air and sent rolling down hillsides, killing people and destroying homes. We could hear the rocks cracking and grinding beneath our feet, deep in the earth. “Rock On” was intended as an interactive installation, in which visitors to the gallery were invited to rearrange the seven rocks within the frame.
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