On the 5th April 2017, mum and I returned home to New Zealand after 47 years in Australia, carrying two suitcases each. We were picked up at the airport by our beautiful friends Dean & Treena, who leant us their spare car and waved us goodbye as we headed to Palmy.
We checked into Baxters, a student accommodation facility where mum & I shared a double room for three months. Each day I went to Helen's studio, researched and painted in response to the experience of my journey home. For me, painting is necessary as breathing to process the seasons of life.
The Square Edge Arts Centre was so very arty! Every floor housed studios for dancers, musicians, singers and visual artists. It was like something out of an American movie. Every art supply need was met from the Ochre art store so conveniently placed downstairs and the Cafe Royale served the best beef pies I have ever eaten.
During the first few months, while I was researching the history of Māori art, I spent a lot of time using the wifi in the cafe. This gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of the local people and make a few new friends. The experience was everything I had hoped for.
Across the Waters & Where the Sea Meets the Sky are two of my first paintings of my new collection. I was researching the ancestors journey across the waters from their original homeland. They set out on their waka, being guided by the stars, in search of new land and a new life. It would have taken such courage and strength, to launch out with their families into the unknown. This is how I feel, having packed up all that I had and leaving all that I knew behind, to venture home to a land I know nothing about. It is both exciting and scary, but I feel compelled to take the journey.
Tangata Whenua is one of the first Māori words & concepts I understood in my journey home - 'People of the Land'. Of course it means different things in different context, but for my understanding it means the connection Māori have for their land & nation, the earth itself, the ancestors that have passed through the veil and the family present now. It is more than just living on a patch of ground in a house, it is what it means to belong - to a people, to a place.
After a few months sharing the art space with Helen, it became apparent that I needed to find my own studio. I tend to expand to my parameter, so to keep growing I needed more space. Just at the right time, a studio space right next door to Helen became available and mum and I launched Studio 201. We ran workshops & classes, joined the Arts Trail and I continued with my collection.
I have always favoured the colours red, black and white. In the way I dress and how I decorate my house. I never really thought much about it and my family always teased me about my obsession with these colours. Recently I started to research Māori art history and found to my surprise that red, black and white are traditional colours for Māori. Is this a coincidence? or does DNA play a significant part in who we are? Is there such a thing as cultural DNA? These paintings are an expression of who I am. The colour red deeply moves me and as I allow myself the freedom to be me, my paintings become an inheritance of all I am yet to understand.
Identity is such a complicated matter, because it involves the big questions of life, Why am I here? Where did I come from? Who am I? We have become who we are through both nature (our DNA makeup) and nurture (the way we are raised).
For me, the huia feather represents my own non-existence. My birth mother (pakeha) did not tell anyone that I was born, and still to this day, will not let her family know that I exist. Why is that? Is it because of the social pressure of status, unwed pregnancy, mixed race baby? Why am I still a secret?
When Governor Grey visited New Zealand in 1901, a Māori women took the tail feather of the huia bird from her hair and placed it into the hatband on the Duke's head. Upon returning to London, this stunning looking representation of social status became a fashion icon that helped to hunt the native bird to extinction. Everybody wants social acceptance. But here I am, grateful for my life and the treasure I have found in my Māori heritage.
The Silver Rose paintings are an expression of my dual identity. The silver fern is an international symbol of New Zealand, while the English are known for their roses. Being both English and Māori descent, I am a silver rose.
When I first met my brother Brownie, he embraced me into the family, reciting our whakapapa and blessing me with the Lord’s prayer in Te Reo. He gave me the pendant from around his neck (the shape is in the painting), a koru design that he had carved from a mother of pearl shell, and I felt such an incredible sense of belonging.
When we first arrived in Palmy, I had booked an exhibition at The Space Studio Gallery, so on Friday night the 13th January we opened the first exhibition of my new collection and it was quite a remarkable evening.