Fresh Kiwi Painter with a Super Realism Style
It was a hectic Wednesday afternoon – not only did I have to find some good art but I had to go watch Rocky Balboa for Salient’s Film Editor. Exalt gallery is a relatively new gallery down on Blair Street and I hadn’t been in there since the end of last year.
By chance, I stumbled in though the door and had some sponsored Seresin Estate wine to sample. I was then introduced to a very down-to-earth Rachael Foster, whose exhibition “Our Turf” was getting underway.
Rachael was born in Australia but is Kiwi bred, moving back here with her family when she was four. It was a short step to North Shore Childrens’ Art House Foundation. A total romantic, she dropped out of Elam School of Fine Arts to go globetrotting to far off exotic lands to find inspiration. She had no idea what she was looking for; her eyes were wide open for iridescent colours and life experiences.
Indeed, one of the first things I noticed about her works is that they show a lot of traveling around the country. Her paintings are priced on average between $3000-5000 which is an accurate reflection of the amount of time she spends out in the field finding inspiration. Another key factor represented in the pricing was the incredible amount of time that it takes to do such paintings. There is what she likes to think of as a Super Realism style in the imagery she brings to canvas. Shunning oils, she pushes her acrylics to the absolute limit, striving for a fleshy plastic and smooth billboard finish.
One piece ‘Fine dining, Yeah right’ is split into a series of three, showing a state house kitchen table that looks reminiscent of Once Were Warriors: there’s a Tui bottle complete with a spatula lying beside it, a plate of bread and a fish half unwrapped in newspaper. Being the first image I saw I immediately thought “Kitsch! Kiwiana” and Kiwiana is the main theme of “Our Turf”.
The philosophy in this series of works is one of simple delight in the ordinary things in New Zealand that are seen but not examined by the rest of us. They are the leftovers of a culture that is already dying. Rachael describes it as being of a form of ‘Kiwiana that is fast vanishing icons that tell a story about life in a bygone time.’
There are other simple everyday realities that are not what you would immediately think of as Kiwiana Kitsch (unless you remember Lyn of Tawa), shown by the painting ‘Liv of Hawere’, a friend who she happened to be visiting when she caught her in her morning dress. A toothpaste tube in her gob, frothy paste visible, hair rollers and bright yellow nighty. Struck by the cartoonish realism, I asked her what her method of capturing such live imagery is. First of all she takes some photos, sketches the image and in this case played around with the face to bring out the emotion and action she could see. Hence the high cheek bones and creases to the right hand side of her mouth from the toothbrush busy at work inside.
In this series there is plenty of obviously kitsch imagery, like a Kombi van and old rusting vehicles in the grass, but there was one that really stood out: ‘For Sale HOUSE ONLY’. It was of an old building in Russell that was so dilapilated that the floor was falling out and chicken coop wire coils were all over the place. I liked the way she captured this, you see only the bottom of the building (something some viewers have complained about – “Why didn’t you show the whole building?”) and there were ‘KEEP CLEAR’ and ‘FOR SALE House Only’ tags besides a fading phone number. It was the boldness and immediacy of this neglected building that captured Rachael’s attention. Catching my attention also, it was an image I just couldn’t help looking at again and again, and in my books that is what makes a great painting.
Finally there was a piece called ‘Sovereign Land Owners Embassy’ which was of a Maori activist embassy caravan parked on a beach on the East Coast somewhere. A ramshackle mess, there is also a hastily-made fence, made out of drift wood as though fortifying it from any perceived enemy such as the Crown. It looks cosy enough, with the stone beach and blue waves crashing on the beach but she said there was an underlying tension when she was there. “It was like, ‘This is our beach! Don’t you come onto our beach,’ which was silly.” Despite any tension that was there the painting has enough beauty and emotional impact to engage the viewer.
Rachael Foster is a fresh talent to the arts scene and if you are a fan of accessible realism with bold, primary, cartoon-style colours then keep an eye out for her in the future.
For futher information check out: http://www.rachaelfoster.co.nz.