My hobby is photography and one of my favourite subjects is the cabbage tree – I often imagine drawing one, but my artistic flair is limited to an eye for composition behind the camera lens.
Of course, in this painting I am looking not at a photograph, but an artist’s impression of what is an immediately recognisable feature of the New Zealand landscape. What I love about the cabbage tree is picked up in the angles and shapes that make it so defining. I love the way Clark has used the colours to convey texture; he has captured the essence of a tree that reminds me of my favourite holiday journeys, from Christchurch to Kaikoura, Auckland to the Coromandel. Digging deeper, I found a fascinating article about Clark associated with the 1975 retrospective at the Robert McDougall. Clark chose to paint cabbage trees because he found their shape satisfying; ‘They are good paintable objects’ he said in 1961, adding, ‘There must be some emotional content in painting. To me the important thing is to get to the essence of a subject.’
Reading about his history, and especially learning that he was born in Christchurch, reinforced my sense of connection to this painting. I believe he has got to the essence of the subject, which explains my emotional response. In the viewing, I feel I have experienced what Clark intended to express when he painted Cabbage Tree in Flower.