Māori artist's exhibition brings whenua to canvas

By Jessica Tyson

Māori artist Aroha Gossage has opened a new exhibition, Wairua, made up of paintings which tell the story of her childhood experiences.

Gossage, of Ngāti Wai and Ngāti Ruanui, attributes her new work to her mother and a childhood spent learning how to live with and from the land– collecting native seeds, diving for kina and pāua, and fishing in the river.

“She gifted me with a childhood living closely connected to our environment in Pakiri,” says Gossage.

The artist collected some of her materials from the land, including clay, to use to illustrate the paintings.  She also used oil and charcoal.

“I know where to go to get rich reds, up by the dam.  There are pure whites and blues if you dig a metre down in a special spot under our bridge.  The ochres are on the corner by the gravel road up by my aunty's and I find lovely greys at our waterfall.”

Aroha Gossage. Source: ARTIS Gallery

Wairua includes landscape paintings of Pakiri and Hauturu, Little Barrier Island.  It also incorporates kokowai, earth, “because of its gentle purity in handling as well as its unspoken power visually,” says Gossage.

“These rich earth colours you can't buy in a tube.”

The sense of light in her work results from manoeuvring oil pigment on board, to create what she calls “soft hazy gradients”.

“When the paint dries there are unprecedented beautiful effects that happen between the solvent and the pigment that give a likeness of atmosphere within her compositions.”

Wairua. Source: ARTIS Gallery

The sanding between each coat to create a fine surface with a silky finish also achieves effects like the stippled sky as seen in Haumaringi.

Gossage hopes the exhibition will inspire people to protect and appreciate the land.

“The land I'm painting is untouched and it remains that way, because of the protection of our tūpuna who have handed it down to us and I'd like for people to see the sacred nature of it and have an awareness of the environment.”

Gossage completed all of the 11 paintings at the exhibition in two months.  The exhibition is open from August 14 to September 2 at the ARTIS Gallery in Parnell, Auckland.