Sometimes it’s easier to see the constellation than the individual stars. And so it is with the Hamilton-based arts group Artnexus who collectively shred the cloak of invisibility of mature female creativity.
The Bay of Plenty and the Waikato are like the wings of a butterfly. The body of the Kaimai Ranges fastens the fluttering Bay from dipping into the sea while the Waikato planes in flat and fertile flight. And, as in history, there is significant movement between the wings. Now it’s easier – no Wairere Track but the tar sealed artery of State Highway 29.
I drive to Morrinsville, a circle of pattern and agricultural activity on the Waikato wing. Because I persistently get lost in “short-cuts” rural New Zealand I stick to the main roads I know so well. I drive through Matamata, industrialising Waharoa, then turn left at the signpost and pass through the countryside some think is the best but some think is the worst in the country – it’s traditional dairy-farming land.
I drive past the day’s A&P Show. Agricultural and pastoral shows were once a district’s highlight; I’m not so sure about that now. Slowly, into this provincial town where I find free and available parking. It’s still a Saturday-morning bustling provincial town. There’s something centred about its small busyness.
The last time I “got lost” going to Morrinsville I must have driven in from Auckland because I can’t automatically find my destination – the Morrinsville Art Gallery – the Wallace Gallery. I do find a country market in full swing. When I ask a stallholder to point out the Gallery a woman standing nearby says “you’re going to the exhibition opening….?”
The Gallery hasn’t moved and looks exactly like it did last time. Its bureaucratic architecture – unprepossessing but totally functional. And, for a provincial town, it’s a big gallery. There are unique doors and seats, art works in their own right, created from huge, recycled metal radiators. There is the Sir James Wallace Gallery which shows work from his extensive collection of art and then there are the adjacent foyer, Community and Main Gallery areas and a small retail space.
There’s a hustle and bustle in the foyer as a cloth-covered table is being set up for the exhibition morning tea. A young man saunters in to the Sir James Wallace Gallery and begins to produce note patterns and fragments of identifiable compositions. There’s a published opening time for the exhibition so I take in the work of Anna Crichton and Philip Trusttum then sit on a radiator seat and write my first impressions of this day – all good.
In the galleries on the other side small groupings stand and talk or examine the eclectic hanging art of the Artnexus collective exhibition. I commence my enquiries with one of the group who refers me to Pam Watson the instigator and mentor of this 20-year-old organisation.
The first thing I notice about this woman is her hat and the escaping wisps of iron-grey hair. It’s what I call a “potae”. Made of cloth, black and not new and reminiscent of the sun-focused New Zealand Territorial Army hats. It’s the embellishment that I adore. Around the hat band Pam has added a string of glass-looking beads. It’s a creative’s warning sign. This is not just ordinary.
Watson is an articulate and informative woman. In a particularly short space of time I’m given the background to Artnexus. She was the night class arts tutor for a group of Waikato creatives who wanted to continue to meet, share, promote and sell their creative work. There was nowhere to go. Under her guidance the collective was established in 2000. There has been a history of creative fellowship, website sales, well-organised and curated exhibitions in Auckland and the Waikato. It’s also clear there has been a history of commercial success for the group.
Pam Watson says they were appreciated and liked by galleries because they were so professionally organised and professionally reliable. From Mrs Google I do later discover that one or two “men” have participated in the group. On checking the list of works I see one name which could be “a man” and I did see “a man” at the opening. But my overwhelming sense is this is a collective of women for women.
This year’s annual exhibition is the nineteenth – something of an achievement in itself that the group has survived for such a long time. The title for 2019 “Resolution” came from the group’s pre-exhibition discussion. The title was “resolved”.
Watson discloses that the group is particularly appreciative of the opportunity to exhibit at the Wallace Gallery. It is clear to see why. The Gallery volunteers are pleasant and assertively supportive of their Director, Eliza Webster who is open and approachable. The gallery space is large, light and charming. The town, dominated by its historic hotel “The Nott” and all those individually painted cows has an ambiance and identity larger “cities” would envy. Even the exhibition morning tea is quintessentially provincial New Zealand – someone has gone to a great deal of time and effort to produce a large and inviting platter of tiny, tangy muffins with cream cheese and salmon. There’s the ubiquitous tea and coffee table with the hot water urn. It all combines to create a wonderfully low-key, warm and inviting event.
Although Pam Watson is telling me about the group she’s telling me about herself: creatively passionate and dedicated. She takes me to her own work, featured on the promotional poster, and explains the technique and materials used. But, that’s not what she’s really telling me. She’s showing me how, as a totally creative human being, she has adjusted to age-related physical changes to continue to use her gift and talent. She’s indomitable and inspirational.
She confirms this later in the morning when I observe her in conversation with Gallery Director Webster. Watson is sharing, no promoting, her creative aunt, the painter and arts tutor, Violet Watson. Violet and her work are apparently part of this district’s creative history which her niece is determined will be shared with the contemporary community.
As others start calling for her time, Watson says there is a member of the group I must meet. The someone is 96-year-old Jean Horn. Jean’s personal narrative is not an unfamiliar one – family and many years of care of a husband until death. It’s at the end of this road she starts to paint and the full-force of her creativity is developed. Her first solo exhibition was in 2018 at 95 years of age. She’s so full of life and force you want to hug her tiny frame.
This conservatively dressed, seemingly ordinary New Zealand woman is like the painting I ask her to stand beside. A mixture of light and dark, a pattern of life experience and vibrant colours. Jean is emphatic about the benefits of continuing creativity and social connection. She tells me what I should not do to ensure a long and happy life. It’s more than endearing – it’s that fundamental feeling of care and responsibility for other women and I appreciate that she bothers to share this with me. It’s also personally affirming.
And the supermarket test? Again – appearances are deceiving. Even Pam Watson’s wonderful hat would not indicate the depth of talent and creativity of this Waikato-based collective. Again I met mature, creative women shredding the ascribed cloak of age invisibility. So worth the drive to Morrinsville.
The Wallace Gallery 167 Thames Street, Morrinsville is open 10am to 4pm Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays) and during winter months of July-September from 10am to 3pm (closed Mondays). PLEASE NOTE, the Gallery is always closed on Mondays INCLUDING Public Holidays. http://www.morrinsvillegallery.org.nz/ firstname.lastname@example.org
ARTNEXUS IS ONLINE: http://artnexus.co.nz/cgi-bin/artnexusdisplay.cgi?Page=Home
You’ll enjoy reading this article in the Waikato Times about Jean Horn’s solo exhibition in 2018 at 95 years of age. https://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/life-style/105364803/artist-95-proves-youre-never-too-old-for-firsts
And again from the Waikato Times an article about Artnexus and associated group Artventure https://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/life-style/93926621/variety-is-the-spice-of-life-when-artnexus-and-artventure-exhibit-together
Note: You’ll currently find media articles and comments about the benefits of art for individual and community mental health something this group has inherently known about as creative people. Interestingly this group developed from community night classes held at a local school – much of this New Zealand-wide topic diverse programme has been annihilated.
Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.
You’ll enjoy the first of the series Invisibility Disdained, acknowledging International Women’s Day 2019
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MOLLY MORPETH CANADAY AWARD, Whakatane
Winners of the 2019 Molly Morpeth Canaday Award – John Brown, Teresa HR Lane, Danae Ripley, Lea-Anne Sheather, Esther Deans, Raewyn Martin, Adrienne Millwood, Kirsten Ferguson, Nicola McCafferty, Toby George King, Sena Park, and Mary Duggan.
Read all about the award results below, and please come along to see the exhibition in person at Te Kōputu a te whanga a Toi – Whakatāne Library and Exhibition Centre if you are able. Open 9am-5pm on weekdays, and 10am-2pm on weekends.
Remember – you can also help to select a winner – vote for the People’s Choice Award at the gallery!
TAURANGA ART GALLERY
THE CARLTON GALLERY AT THE ARTS JUNCTION, KATI KATI
Exhibitions change regularly in the Carlton Gallery and the Gallery is available to be hired for your show of work. (if you’re interested in exhibiting contact details are below)
The Arts Junction is open Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm and 10am to 2pm Saturdays and Sundays. Located at 36 Main Road, Kati Kati (next to the Western Bay of Plenty Museum) Phone 549 5250 or email email@example.com https://www.facebook.com/TheArtsJunction/
CURRENTLY SHOWING AT THE CARLTON GALLERY: Tauranga Porcelain Artists are presenting an Exhibition of their style of Art. There will be displays of Traditional work as well as more Modern Designs.
From 3698 competition entries, the 20 winning images are now showcased in the third annual Trustpower Photographic Exhibition! Come and see the breathtaking winning images, presented on large-scale display boards in the Bay’s largest outdoor photographic exhibition. It’s on right now on The Strand, in Downtown Tauranga until 14 April 2019
ATRIUM GALLERY AT THE BLACK SHEEP, WHAKAMARAMA
Developed as a community gallery and retail space with lots of hard work and effort by local creatives, the Atrium Gallery is open 11am to 5pm Wednesday to Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday. https://www.facebook.com/atriumgallerynz
If you have information about an upcoming arts event, exhibition or arts news you can contact ARTbop at firstname.lastname@example.org
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