Dunedin New Zealand
Punakaiki: Gates and Journeys: a new shift in her work
Jessica reflects about these new works, ‘now in 2018 the new series have a more organic feel and take inspiration from the lush rainforest at Punakaiki on the West Coast, dominated by Nikau palms. A dominant colour scheme of greens, yellows, magentas and raw siennas is in evidence here. It builds on the lessons I have learnt from my earlier art-making.’ The exhibition starts with one work from Jessica’s earthquake series, and three works that act as a transition from those urban geometric works to this new series set in the bush. The theme of ‘journey and gates’ starts with the rebuild of Christchurch, and moves to the bush of the Pororari River. New roads and infrastructure transitions through these works that take us from urban reconstructed pathways to bush tracks and ancient trees. The theme of ‘gates’ was used by Colin McCahon in the 1970s. He said that art should be ‘signs and symbols to live by’. His own Gate series done in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, included and combined social protest, calling to care for the threatened environment, with biblical themes of light and dark, death and resurrection.
The artist builds on this tradition of using symbols from the geometric shapes and vegetation of Punakaiki, to call for us to care for the land and discover the one who created it. A retrospective exhibition shown in the Auckland art gallery 1988-9 two years after Colin McMahon’s death, was called Gates and Journeys. McCahon used simplified rendering of the NZ landscape as a symbol for spiritual and ecological realities. Jessica builds on this tradition directly. She adds to it a highly personalised way of visually responding to the land, through layered textures and abstracting the shapes and colours of the NZ bush, making it a symbol of not only of Punakaiki, also of the land of Aotearoa as a whole. It is also an invitation to explore these tracks at every level.
‘In these works light breaks through the subtropical canopy lending a broader range of metaphor and experiences. Taking this series as a narrative, as a whole we start the journey on a lush bushy track but soon we are stumbling through blown over trees, stripped vegetation and trunks perched precariously on fragile trees which are about to give away.– the aftermath of violent storms. Courage almost fails but we persevere. A sprawling forest giant straddles the track and we squeeze through and come into a place of green verdant abundance and shelter from calamity.’
The artist graduated from the Canterbury School of Fine Arts in 1976 in printmaking. She exhibited paintings most years between 1986-2018, mainly in Christchurch and Dunedin. As well as having solo shows she also took part in group shows including several at COCA (2001-2009) in Christchurch. She experienced many of the earthquakes (2010-2011), living in the city centre before shifting to Dunedin in May 2011. These cataclysmic events produced a shift in her art. Her work since 2012 has been exploring the themes of chaos, destruction, rebuild and new beginnings, and the death and resurrection of Jesus. Shifting from her previous series of abstracted landscapes (2006-2010), she draws from geometric abstraction, referencing buildings, structures and whole cities. Often three dimensional, these dynamic shifting lines intersect with intense colour.