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Subjects to Hand - Joanna Margaret Paul Drawing

Media Release
Subjects to Hand - Joanna Margaret Paul Drawing


7TH APRIL – 25TH MAY 2008


This exhibition presents a selection of more than 70 exquisite drawings and short films by the late Joanna Margaret Paul. Over nearly four decades, using the simplest of drawing materials and looking no further than her physical surroundings, Paul accumulated a body of work brimming with graphic invention and poetic observation.

A personal memoir by Scott Pothan

When one of New Zealand’s most exceptional artists and former Frances Hodgkins Fellow and Rita Angus Residency Award winner, Joanna Paul was found face down in a hydrogen sulphide pool in May 2003 at the famous Polynesian Pools and died two days later after life support was switched off, there was widespread shock in the nation’s art community and among those who knew her.

Shock was followed by controversy as the inquest and Occupational Health and Safety investigations progressed with media scrutiny in 2006. And 5 years after her death she is yet again the subject of controversy with the seizing of a Crucifix which had been gifted to her by her tutor and mentor Colin McCahon and sold at auction 2 years ago to Wellington collectors without the knowledge of the executors of her estate. For those like me who knew her these are an enduring tragedy in the after life of a woman from a famous arts family who shied from any headlines in her own lifetime. Her parents were publisher Blackwood Paul and artist and writer Dame Janet Paul.

Major tribute exhibitions have since followed at the Sarjeant Gallery in Wanganui where she lived at the time of her death and at the City Gallery Wellington where she had also lived. This exhibition titled Beauty, Even travelled to the Rotorua Museum of Art and History at the time of the inquest. Subsequently this substantial exhibition of drawings, found in her studio and largely unknown to the wider public, was curated by Jill Trevelyan and the Mahara Gallery Waikanae titled Subjects to Hand and has been touring public art galleries in the North and South Islands. The Whangarei Art Museum is delighted to bring the poignant work and life story of this artist to the North in April 2008. Included in the exhibition in Whangarei will be our own work Floral Still Life 1975 recently acquired for the art museum collection and a major oil painting Fountain from the series of works she created as Frances Hodgkin’s Fellow in Dunedin in 1983 from my own collection and formerly in the Fletcher Trust Collection.

At her death she left behind an extraordinary collection of work much of which had never been shown; hundreds of drawings including also oil paintings and a significant body of work as a poet (for which she was equally admired) and prose, photography and film making. She was a multi-disciplinary artist of breadth, humanity and sublime sincerity.

The exhibition is supported by a beautiful book published by Auckland University Press and includes over 75 colour drawings and watercolours, including a drawing of Tutukaka completed the year she died, and a DVD of her short films.

By focusing on Joanna Margaret Paul’s drawing practice this exhibition examines in depth an essential aspect of her practice and her place in art history. For an artist who was an ‘artist’s artist’ and enjoyed only limited exposure compared, for example, to her first husband Jeffrey Harris and others, this exhibition is revelatory. Interestingly she first came to public attention in 1968 at the Auckland Society of Arts in a survey exhibition of New Zealand women artists, the first of its kind, from 1845 to 1968 curated by Jan Nigro. Paul was an emerging talent still studying at Elam.

From a personal perspective, I had known Joanna Paul, greatly admired the quiet domestic poetry and dedication she infused in her creative life and exhibited her work, which was rarely seen in Auckland since her Elam days in 1968, at Scott Pothan Gallery Remuera in a suite of works on paper Of Poppies and Duration in 1985. I was keen for Whangarei and Northland to engage with the work of Joanna Paul here and am proud to bring this exhibition to the Whangarei Art Museum.

‘Her quality of dedication and alertness to the visual world is palpable in this exhibition; there are drawings of sick children, discarded toys, rabbits, bowling greens, swimming pools, bonfires and lighthouses, views from aircraft and buses…nothing was beneath her notice.

The emphasis on drawing is timely too. In contemporary art there is renewed interest in the exactitude and sensuousness of drawing as a method of visual enquiry and invention. There are some parallels with the drawing practice of David Hockney internationally and our own Ralph Hotere whose exhibition of early figurative drawings follows Pau’ls at the art museum in June. In this context Joanna Paul’s art is ripe for re-evaluation, but it is also ready for a much broader audience than she enjoyed in her lifetime. Highly sophisticated on the one hand her art is also extremely accessible – a rare combination’. As Jill Trevelyan the exhibitions curator has said, ‘drawing was a vital part of Paul’s life; she once described herself as a tentative person but tellingly continued …I have more certainty on the page, than off it’ Joanna Paul
Writer Peter Ireland has compared her life’s creative output to Proust’s epic ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ - as one seamless serial project, having a beginning but no end.

A tribute and epitaph to a quietly emphatic life.

Scott Pothan
A 140 page full colour book will be available at the gallery, or from bookstores nationwide.

The Whangarei Art Museum is curating an exhibition to coincide and compliment Subjects to Hand:


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