Kahikatea - Moss and Mist
Kahikatea, is a coniferous tree endemic to New Zealand. A podocarp, it is the tallest tree of Aotearoa, gaining heights of up to 60 metres over a life span of 600 years. These majestic trees thrive in heavy rainfall areas and grow well on swampy land. Formerly widespread throughout Aotearoa in lowland areas, there are particularly magnificent stands remaining in South Westland, near Haast, on the West Coast of the South Island, Te Wai Pounamu.
In her latest series of paintings, Jessica Crothall moves away from earlier techniques to better respond to the Kahikatea rain forest. In reference to the way fungal plants and moss hang from the Kahikatea branches, Crothall adopts a dripping approach in applying the watered-down acrylic paints, similar to the way one might use Indian or Japanese inks. In this process, water is also generously poured on to the canvases, and various versions of the scenes are painted to capture the essence of a typical rainforest with heavy downpours.
Interestingly, Kahikatea can support entire ecosystems on their trunks and branches. A scientist once found 28 different plants living on one tree – lianas (twining and climbing plants like supplejack, kiekie and our native passionfruit and native jasmine). Kahikatea trees also manage to stand upright in the soft wet soils by intertwining their roots. For Māori, this unique growth pattern is seen as a symbol of strength in unity. Crothall’s paintings respond to this concept, reflecting on our current times of increasing extreme weather events, cyclones, storms, and heavy rainfalls, how important it is that we are there for one another. As the Kahikatea, we cannot stand alone, we need the presence of others to sustain us and hold each other up.
Born in South Canterbury near Waimate, Jessica grew up on a sheep and cropping farm and attended high school in Timaru where she had Gypsy Poulston as her art teacher. She attended Canterbury school of Fine Arts and graduated with a Diploma in Fine Arts in 1976.
While she specialised in printmaking she soon grew tired of the printing processes and shifted to painting as her primary medium of expression by 1983. She has exhibited most years since then, in solo and group exhibitions between 1984-2023. These have been mainly in Dunedin, and Christchurch, and also in Nelson and Auckland. During the period of the Chrysalis Seed Trust she was in a number of group exhibitions at the Centre of Contemporary Art in Christchurch (2003-2008).
While her work has included some figurative elements, she has predominantly been responding to the land of Aotearoa, experimenting with texture and colour, including a significant series with a tree motif in 2006. Some of these abstracted works have layers of symbolic meaning. Between 2012 and 2022, her work had primarily been responding to the Christchurch earthquakes, in a highly geometric aesthetic using a series of overlapping lines.
Her latest work shown here in ‘Kahikatea’ shows a shift away from this urban focus to a return to abstracted responses to land and trees. A new feature is inspired by Chinese and Japanese watercolours. Jessica applies water liberally alongside the acrylic paint on canvas. This technique was heralded by abstract watercolours done by her in the 1980’s, and in her recent 2020 show at ATELIER Studio |Gallery.
Peter and Jessica lived in Christchurch together between 1996-2011, then shifted to Dunedin in 2011. Jessica has lived and worked from their Dunedin home since then. She has several series of works on long term display at a number of public venues in Christchurch. These include Laidlaw College (Condell Ave), Kendons Ltd and the New Zealand Institute of Management building in Blenheim Rd. She has had two recent cycles of work installed in Myanmar(Burma).
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