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Wellington artists launch exhibition to bring back grace

22 January 2020

The Others,by Sela Brass

Two Wellington artists are presenting an exhibition to bring the concept grace back to life, using the concept as a philosophy to overcome the challenges life throws at people in times when they must deal with adversity, judgment, illness and death.

A State of Grace will run from 29 Jan – 8 Feb at Wellington’s Potocki Paterson Gallery, featuring many-layered paintings from Sela Brass of Wadestown alongside multi-hued ceramics and bronze figures of shadow and light from Island Bay’s Libbie Persico, all with grace as a central concept.

The exhibition’s theme stems from experience. Persico has recently taken over personal care of her mother, who is in a wheelchair after facing the challenges of cancer for the past four years. She also lost her fifteen-year-old niece to cystic fibrosis. She says she sees grace in the way people face up to these sorts of devastating life events and been inspired by it as the way people can live a better life.

“Grace is not a word we use, and we need to express it. We need to bring it back,” says Persico.

“People think of it as a religious sentiment. But I connect it with the moment of dying. We often want to run away from it. But it’s a part of all our lives, and we all have to deal with it. Grace is a way to look life in the face. A state of grace is to accept life. It’s a choice.”

While her art features religious imagery such as crosses and the snake, these are used as powerful symbols of grace witnessed in life rather than religious objects.

This can also be seen in Revelation, a series of bronze faces that makes a spectrum between nearly all there and nearly all gone, intended to confront people with ideas of nothingness and being only partially here in this world, raising questions of where we begin and end.

Brass also practices grace in the face of adversity. She is regularly hospitalised due to a debilitating neuroimmune and photosensitivity condition that means she often paints in the dark, or in hospital. She says the essence of grace for her is in living a good life despite these challenges. Many of her paintings feature finding grace in isolation as a central theme.

“I consider myself fortunate. Because when else would I – a privileged white woman in her 50s living in Wadestown – have experienced what it is to be stigmatised. I don’t like it at all. But I’m blessed to experience it because when else would I have understood what it means?

“Disease can be heavily contested and stigmatised. If you have it, it infers that you have weak character. Watchers have an opinion but nothing personal at stake. In a way, the people there to help you can be a barrier. Sometimes the only thing that can get you through is practising grace.”

A lot of her painting is done in hospital, in the dark, with a torch, which means her paintings can take up to a year to paint. Brass also uses natural materials in her paintings, so a work like The Others is made up of more than 100 layers of ash and stone and pigment and paint.

Both artists say grace comes as a product of hardship, something that affects everyone no matter how close or far away we are from it. Persico says it’s not just a word, but a way of life.

“There’s so much out there that people have to deal with – and they can still have a good life.”

A State of Grace is on at Potocki Paterson Gallery, 41-47 Dixon St, Wellington from 29 Jan – 8 Feb.


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