Ipukarea: ancestral home, homeland, native land - significant water or geographical feature of a tribe's homeland relating to the tribe's identity and the source of their livelihood. Describes a body of water within a vessel, a place that represents the history and emotional attachment of the tribe, a place central to the identity of the people where they can go to be rejuvenated, a place that represents the hopes and aspirations of the people, the lifegiving waters from which they drink. (www.maoridictionary.co.nz)
These paintings are explorations of New Zealand places and landscapes I have an intimate knowledge of, affection for and experience with. They are mountains, beaches, oceans and rivers that I have lived with and long for. The paintings examine my attachment to landforms; in particular, the wild and strong landforms that shelter, sustain, threaten and inspire those who live there, understanding that the land does not belong to us, but we belong to the land.
I have a great fondness for my homeland and its features, an affection that is more pronounced when it is on the other side of the world. These works investigate this relationship to the land and its particular connection to New Zealanders. One day as I was leaving Art School in suburban Wimbledon I heard what I was sure was the sounds of a Kapa Haka group. It was strange and delightful to hear such familiar sounds echoing through the streets of this very distant land. So I followed the sound to a nearby school to see the group performing to a audience of enthralled (and slightly afraid!) local children. The sound was bold, loud and beautiful. Never have I felt such connection to Maori language and culture. I have no Maori ancestry and yet it is a distinctive part of my culture. All New Zealanders are familiar with Maori culture, mythology and attitudes toward the land. The land itself is part of a story and mountains are characters who love, get jealous and grieve. The land was fought over in many bloody battles that still remain contentious. Working the land and surviving it's wilderness is something nearly all Kiwis can identify with through direct experience. We have a beautiful land we are very proud of, we respect its power and appreciate its bounty. Toku Ipukarea means “my own homeland” and aptly sums up my feelings of identity and rejuvenation when I am immersed in these places.
This body of work began as a brief respite from the highly detailed, heavily conceptual work I was doing for a period of about four years. It felt like an indulgent holiday, brief and fun, but not the focus of my time. I painted four small paintings of places I knew well that had strong geographical features with a great deal of emotional potency to me personally. I painted with a bold vigour appropriate to the subject, a sketchy, lively manner that allowed the paint to revel in its properties rather than be dictated to. I painted them with thoughts of friends and family, knowing they shared my sentiments about these places and would appreciate the sense of connection to the land. I was also asked by a friend to make a painting of a special, significant place for him, so that he could be reminded of that place and how healing it was for him in difficult times.
During this four year period I completed my masters in Fine Art at Wimbledon College of Art and with it a group of seven paintings that were my attempt to make serious art, although with a dose of irony and self parody. The work was well organised and carefully constructed an it was obviously an indulgence and celebration of painting but it also had a sarcastic, cynicism that wasn't entirely genuine. I learnt a great deal about myself and realised that as successful as the works were, I was playing by someone else's rules. I was trying too hard to fit in to the “Art World” and to find a place as a contemporary, critical artist. I was making work that was strategic and systematic, and not always about things I believed in.
So I began to develop a manifesto of sorts, some personal principles of what is important in my work. I decided to make work of subjects that I find visually interesting, personally potent and conceptually engaging. Work that aspires to give and celebrate life through the medium that appeals to me. I often felt slightly embarrassed by my affection for paint due to it's associations with redundant ideologies and sensuous frivolity that do not always walk well with philosophical discourse. But it was the magic and enchantment of paint that first captivated me, the way it can transport us to other worlds and enthrals us with its primary visuality.
Some artists still speak of sincerity, integrity and the development of a personal visual language – I had believed such things to be outdated relics of modernist thought. These paintings express my desire for sincerity tempered with sensitivity. I want to engage an audience in a deep way about important images, ideas and issues; making art in ways that I love for people I care for.
They were exhibited at The Fisher Brown Gallery, 57 9th avenue, Tauranga, New Zealand from the 23rd January until the 6th February 2009.