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Marti Friedlander, Roy Cowan and Juliet Peter, 1960s. Juliet Peter Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ. Reference No PAColl-9723-7-2When I worked at City Gal­lery Wel­ling­ton in 2001, we bor­rowed some Janet Paul works for an exhib­i­tion from Kaye Roberts. Kaye ran the Brook­er Gal­lery in Kel­burn for many years but had retired by then. The day I col­lec­ted the works from her home, I admired a ceram­ic horse by Juliet Peter in the liv­ing room. “You should organ­ise an exhib­i­tion of Juliet’s work,” she told me.

So that’s what happened. In 2002, just before I left the gal­lery, I cur­ated an exhib­i­tion of Juliet’s paint­ings and prints in the Hirschfeld Gal­lery. Juliet was still alive then and I was able to con­sult her on the where­abouts of many works — espe­cially a bunch of fant­ast­ic water­col­ours done dur­ing the war while she was a land girl in Can­ter­bury. My favour­ite was a paint­ing of her cous­in, Anne Ensor, spin­ning. In the paint­ing Anne wears trousers and smokes, and it’s stayed in my mind as a for­ward-look­ing image — one that speaks of a time in which women could be them­selves. And for a short win­dow in the 1940s that was possible.

After the war Juliet mar­ried Roy Cow­an, and togeth­er they pro­duced prints, pot­tery and paint­ings from their house in Ngaio. They had a kiln in the back yard and a print­ing press in the base­ment. In the 1970s they were the nuc­le­us of a close-knit arts com­munity. And then they disappeared.

I knew Juliet’s work from the School Journ­al — her prints and illus­tra­tions were often fea­tured there — but little else. While work­ing on the exhib­i­tion, I vis­ited her in Ngaio and met the cats, and I saw the huge out­put of work that filled the house. I was attrac­ted and repelled in equal meas­ure by the ceram­ics. As a child of the 1970s, I have been over­ex­posed to brown earth­en­ware, but I loved the sur­prise of her horses — frivol­ous and dec­or­at­ive amongst the util­it­ari­an din­ner­ware and weird containers.

A Mod­est Mod­ern­ism (at the Dowse until 2 Novem­ber) fea­tures Juliet and Roy’s work from the Dowse’s col­lec­tion. Their rela­tion­ship sings across all of it with call and response — the Ngaio bush and the anim­als and the people appear­ing and reappearing.

Roy’s paint­ings have come to light in the last few years, and with their inclu­sion it’s pos­sible to see his interests more clearly. The paint­ings have a dark­er tone than any­thing else he pro­duced, but his illus­trat­ive approach is most inter­est­ing when applied to the large-scale vases.

And like the title says, it’s a mod­est mod­ern­ism. Less con­cerned with form­al­ism, it’s mod­ern­ism applied across a range of media and loc­al con­tent, about two artists mak­ing their life togeth­er in art.


Octo­ber Art

Sel­flok, a new install­a­tion work by Sydney-based Egyp­tian artist Hany Armani­ous, has been described as “Middle Earth on drugs”. This whim­sic­al work com­bines diorama with the aes­thet­ic of the stu­dio or the garden shed. How­ever, look more closely at those things on the shelves and you’ll spot gnomes and their little gnome homes amongst the abstract blobs and tin cans. It’s pro­vi­sion­al and play­ful, and full of the chaos and joy of mak­ing shit. And it’s on at City Gal­lery Wel­ling­ton until 30 November.[/info]

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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.

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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