Fiona Pardington’s Still Life with Barley Grass and Freesia, Waiheke

Fiona Pardington Still Life with Barley Grass and Freesia, Waiheke 2011–12. Epson hot press natural 320gsm colour photograph. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, gift of Sheelagh Thompson marking her 86th birthday and honouring director Jenny Harper's dedication to Christchurch Art Gallery during the five years of its closure after the 2010-11 Canterbury earthquakes.

Fiona Pardington Still Life with Barley Grass and Freesia, Waiheke 2011–12. Epson hot press natural 320gsm colour photograph. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, gift of Sheelagh Thompson marking her 86th birthday and honouring director Jenny Harper's dedication to Christchurch Art Gallery during the five years of its closure after the 2010-11 Canterbury earthquakes.

The most magical book I held in my hands as a child was called Ratsmagic, and it belonged to my sister. It was a dark, threatening masterpiece of a picture book, in which a bluebird is kidnapped by a witch, right when she is due to lay her egg. The animals in the valley where she lives whisper to one another “Bluebird is with egg, BLUEBIRD IS WITH EGG” with a fierce and mythological importance. A clever rat is sent to save her from her terrible fate.

The illustrations in that story have the same lustre and pooling darkness at the edges as Pardington’s work does. Bluebird’s egg has the same soft saturation as the ones in this piece, and every detail of flora and fauna on every page of the book is alive inside, yet held still, as if it might exhale the moment that you glance away. In the end, the egg is hatched at last, and seems to carry all the world inside it – a frighteningly beautiful, violent and solemn image. All life there, in all forms; beginning and ending. My sister and I turned the pages of that book again and again, seeking out the hidden corners in the images; the tiny details and outlines and quiet reveals.

To me, the greatest kind of magic is when you can’t be sure if what you see belongs to the your mind’s eye, or has been conjured there by someone else. The consciousness of an artist can slip in beside your own, and make a nest there; images imprint and are shared back and forth. Your memory of a place or an object becomes imbued with others you have been shown, or have sought out.

I look at this photograph and a hundred thousand memories of quiet rooms and dust and sunlight and stories and danger rush to my eyes and all through my blood. It is part of a narrative that goes on inside me; furniture added to rooms, little details touched again and again.

Many years later, when my sister became pregnant with her daughter, I was the first person she told. A message came in the early afternoon of a dark winter’s day that simply read: “Bluebird is with egg.”

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