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Katherine Mansfield Paintings Exhibition Waikato


The Katherine Mansfield Paintings

Susan Wilson brings Katherine Mansfield’s short stories alive in a series of nine oil paintings on show at the Calder & Lawson Gallery in the WEL Energy Trust Academy of Performing Arts at Waikato University until 29 January 2004.

The London-based New Zealand artist accepted the commission from the Folio Society, a British publisher of high quality books, to illustrate its millenium edition of the Mansfield short stories. The Folio Society surveyed its readers to find out the best books of the 20th century. Katherine Mansfield came out on top in the short story category.

Wilson felt a strong affinity with her fellow expatriate and pored over all Mansfield’s letters before starting the paintings. The result is an edgy and evocative collection dotted with Kiwi symbols. Wilson also drew on a range of personal experiences and memories to complete The Katherine Mansfield Paintings. Just as the author captures energy and sadness in her stories, so the artist makes her paintings resonate with vibrant colour and compassion. The artist therefore approached her task by referencing not just the stories, but images from art history, as well as her memories of New Zealand. “I draw constantly in sketchbooks and I used my drawings for these paintings,” Wilson said, “especially the ones made here in the landscape. I searched through my sketchbooks to find my images and painted from them directly.”

For one of her favourite stories The Voyage Wilson’s own memories of a dramatic crossing of Cook Strait at the age of twelve provided the inspiration in this painting which became the frontispiece in the book. More detailed research was needed to illustrate the New Zealand morepork from Her First Ball and the pre-WW1 German postman’s outfit from Frau Brechenmacher Attends a Wedding. Wilson has picked a quote from each story to illustrate her paintings. The following quote captures the spirit of shrewd observation embodied in the latter painting:

He stood in the kitchen puffing himself out, the buttons on his blue uniform shining with an enthusiasm which nothing but official buttons could possibly possess.

Susan Wilson was born in Dunedin and raised in Southland and North Canterbury before moving to Auckland aged twelve. In 1976 she moved to London and switched from nursing to painting when she studied at Camberwell School of Art and Craft from 1979 – 1982. She soon gained a significant reputation as a painter of landscape, still life and portraiture and went on to study at the Royal Academy. Today Wilson’s paintings are included in private and public collections but are, unfortunately, not so well known in her own country.

This exhibition first showed in London during 2000 to accompany the Folio Society’s Katherine Mansfield Short Stories. Auckland’s Jonathan Grant Galleries then brought the paintings to New Zealand for a touring exhibition around the public art galleries in Blenheim, Wellington and Timaru. This unique series of works (see images), accompanied by Wilson’s drawings, now comes to Hamilton. A suite of special events, ‘Katherine Mansfield: Stories and pictures,’ is being held in association with the exhibition at the Academy of Performing Arts. These events comprise lectures, talks and performances by the staff of the department of English from the University of Waikato (programme attached). A highlight of the series will be the performance on Saturday November 29 of an excerpt from The dazzzling light, a play by Rachel McAlpine in the style of Japanese Noh theatre. In this remarkable piece, performed solo by John Davies, the ghost of Katherine Mansfield appears to her father in the French graveyeard where she was buried.


‘Katherine Mansfield: Stories and pictures’

A suite of free events in association with the exhibition The Katherine Mansfield Paintings presented by the staff of the English & Theatre Studies Departments University of Waikato

Mon Nov 24 at noon Ken Arvidson introduces KM and her world An lllustrated lecture in the Concert chamber

Tues Nov 25 at noon Jeremy Bell reads Frau Brechenmacher attends a wedding Sarah Shieff discusses the story & the painting Whare tapere

Tues Nov 25 at 7pm Jan Pilditch discusses The Garden Party Conal McCarthy gives a tour of the exhibition Whare tapere & Calder & Lawson Gallery

Sat Nov 29 at noon John Davies performs excerpts from a New Zealand Noh play by Rachel McAlpine Mark Houlahan discusses the dramatic KM Dance studio


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