Aotearoa New Zealand is part of a submerged Pacific continent, which broke away from the Gondwana supercontinent millions of years ago to create two major islands – Te Ika a Māui / the North Island and Te Waipounamu / the South Island.
Artists from Aotearoa New Zealand are often well-travelled. Feeling the distance of Aotearoa from the world’s centres of art, they have often been drawn overseas to study and work, contributing to the art history of their adopted countries as well as this one.
Brent Harris is an Australian artist, well known for a practice that explores the productive tension between abstraction and figuration. By locating emotional content in figures that he develops from automatic drawing, his works frequently express an uneasy human subjectivity. But while his imagery deals with intense psychological states, it is often also darkly funny: monsters of the subconscious, both grotesque and ridiculous, rise to the surface in a process of emotional identification and gradual refinement.
Time is a problem in the contemporary world. There is simply not enough of it. Our to-do lists are too long; the time available to do what needs to be done is too short; the demands on our attention are increasingly brutal. Digital technologies track the minutiae of how we spend our days, but the sheer speed at which things seem to be happening makes it difficult to keep up.
I was in London last October and keen to visit Ron Mueck, but he wasn’t there: he’d gone down to Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight, where he has a studio. I spent my childhood in England, but I’d never been to the Isle of Wight. It’s in the English Channel; a Victorian retreat beloved by Tennyson, who wrote ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ here. It was also the home of the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, who made portraits of many of Tennyson’s guests. (When Tennyson took the American poet Longfellow to Cameron’s house for a portrait, he reportedly warned: “You’ll have to do whatever she tells you. I’ll come back soon and see what’s left of you.”)
Early in 2017, Professor John Simpson, the former head of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury, approached the Gallery’s then director, Jenny Harper, with a proposition: he had been considering the future of the art collection he had accumulated over the past six decades, and wished to know whether the Gallery would be interested in selecting a group of works for a gift. My colleague Ken Hall and I visited John one afternoon in March. It quickly became apparent to us that the collection was signiﬁcant and that the oﬀer was particularly generous. Interestingly, we discovered that the works variously represented John’s own artistic interests and his national and international artworld connections. As such, they told a story of art and art history that usefully expanded the local account.
Lara Strongman: Let’s talk about the process of making the works for this exhibition. Can you describe how you produced them?
Julia Morison: I’ve never actually made ceramics before. I read Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, which is about a netsuke set that is passed through several generations. De Waal is a ceramicist and he talks in this book about objects and porcelain in such a visceral way—basically he seduced me into picking up a ball of clay and playing with it. For a long time I haven’t had the use of my hands [because of arthritis], so I thought that playing with clay might actually help strengthen them.