One wintry morning in 2003 I stopped in at what was the Tinakori Gallery on Featherston Street. I was then works of art adviser at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and ever on the look out for work for the walls of New Zealand embassies and residencies abroad. As I studied the gallery’s displays, the door swung open and someone rushed in. Noting my presence, the visitor lowered her voice to talk to Marcia Shaw and Mark Hutchins, who worked there at the time. I didn’t pay much attention until “Oh, that’s terrible news” was exclaimed and, as you do, wondered what the terrible news was…
That afternoon I heard the terrible news. Artist Joanna Paul had collapsed while at the Polynesian Pools in Rotorua, and died several days later in hospital. I thought of Paul’s paintings purchased for MFAT the year before, a series of airy skies – optimistic and meditative – and felt very sorry.
Paul has been one of those quiet presences in the landscape. You could easily miss her. Born in 1945, she studied at Elam School of Fine Arts in the late 1960s and developed a multi-disciplinary practice that now looks very contemporary. She is well known for her paintings and drawings, and also for her poems. Less well known are her photographs and experimental films.
To mark the ten years since her death, the Robert Heald Gallery is this month showing a series of nine previously unexhibited photographs dating from the 1970s. About half of the images take the idea of an aperture: an opening or a gap for admitting light. The openings in these works admit from outside sharp bursts of colour into dark interiors – the nitrous green of grass, the yellow-orange of marigolds, and the white of sheets on a clothesline. They remind me of a line from one of Paul’s poems – “through the shaped spaces”.
Two other works take the same approach but from the outside looking in: a porch shadowed with foliage from bright interior light; and a mysterious image that looks inside to a painting with a cross in fleshy pinks. The former image could be a detail of a Gregory Crewdson photograph. Crewdson’s large, intricate works were exhibited at City Gallery Wellington recently and seemed to want to elicit a particular response from the viewer. In contrast, Paul’s image is detailed but understated, like a good poem.
The other four works are gorgeously coloured outdoor scenes. Two have a sharp foreground of cropped figures in a flower garden, another is a pile of dirt and rocks mirroring the shape of the hills behind it, and the remaining work is a still life with poppies and jonquils in the style of a Dutch old master.
Admiring this saturated colour also means mourning it, which seems appropriate. These works are all scanned from Kodachrome slides. And while Photoshop and new technology have their strengths, they can only approximate this sort of richness. Joanna Margaret Paul: Photographs 1976–1985 is showing at the Robert Heald Gallery in Left Bank (off Cuba Street) until 26 October in association with the Estate of Joanna Margaret Paul.[info]
October Art Recommendations
The dealer galleries in the Cuba Street area have been trialling late-night openings. With seven participating galleries – Robert Heald, Bartley and Company Art, Bowen, Hamish McKay, Peter McLeavey, Suite and Enjoy – it’s worth making a night of it, every first Thursday of the month until 8pm. Highlights among the dealers this month include new work by Raewyn Atkinson at Bowen Galleries. Atkinson has recently returned from a residency in California, and the works are made of shards from a ceramic factory dump near where she lived. At Hamish McKay Gallery, Rohan Wealleans is painting auras and giving massages.[/info]
About Mary-Jane Duffy
Mary-jane is a Paekakariki-based poet and essayist, and FishHead’s art columnist. She teaches poetry and academic writing on the Whiyireia Creative Writing programme, torturing students with half-rythmes and pantoums, zombie haiku, and line breaks, referencing and structure. Duffy has a background in museum and gallery work, making a lucky escape from the basement of the City Gallery Wellington in 2002 and opening the Mary Newtown Gallery with Paula Newtown in 2004. Art (across all the disciplines) feels like the closest thing she has to religious experiences — seeing, reading or hearing things that make her brain fizz.
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