This painting proved to be the most popular of the 14 paintings that I was able to do for the exhibition. It was a breakthru of sorts for me as I decided to try something different and paint thinly over a colored ground. The result was a lot more attention to the initial drawing.
At one stage several people who saw it unfinished said "Leave it as it is- don't touch it." Which of course presents a difficult situation for the artist. Convinced that I could finish it I proceeded to do so, and pleased to say it was the first one that sold opening nite.
When Ben Bergman of BCA Gallery on Rarotonga offered an Artist in Residency April/May 2010 it was impossible to turn down. Since I've been doing other projects it's a chance to get back to doing more painting which I truly love. Ben asked me to 'revisit' some of the legends which meant fun subjects. Since I'll be painting on the island for less than two months with an exhibition near the end of May I thought it best to get to work now. The painting of 'Ina's Moonlit Journey' which will be part of the exhibition is almost finished so thought to put it here for comments. Its a large canvas nearly 4' x 6' and was (mostly) fun to paint. Other versions and the legend are posted below.
Years ago a writer for the travel section of the LA Times wrote a nice story which began something like.."If you asked Jimmy the Greek in Las Vegas for the odds on a young man going off to a small island in the Pacific and surviving as an artist"...needless to say they weren't very good. Yet from the moment of stepping onto the wharf and seeing the happy smiling faces laden with frangipani flower garlands greeting their family members from NZ I somehow knew I had come 'home'.. Rarotonga was little known in those days- information was hard to come by, and in order to get a berth on the ship I had agreed to take a Fiji Indian traders 'island goods' in two hugh suitcases and do my best to create some business for him. And when asked by a store manager what I was going to do on the island I answered that as an artist I was going to paint. "what?- says he " "These beautiful people of course" said I and two days later sold him my first painting of a young girl - for the massive sum of 35 guineas - about a $100 dollars actually- which was enough to live on for three months at that time - and so my island adventure began.
Not really sure when the work of Paul Gaugain insinuated itself so strongly in my mind. As a teen I loved the illustrators such as Coby Witmore and their romantic paintings in the womens magazines. Early on at the Art Center School of Design in LA I discovered that painting faces was my 'forte', and that working at capturing beauty was very much my inclination. When the first big traveling exhibition of Vincent Van Goghs paintings came to LA along with the film 'Lust for Life' I fell in love with his work also.
A short stint in the advertising world showed me where I did not want to spend the rest of my life- and 'escape' became uppermost in my mind.
A chance meeting with a couple that had just returned from Australia and raved on about the new frontier 'down under' led me in that direction. The new jetstrip just opened on the island of Tahiti made me realize that Gaugains islands were high on my list of 'must sees'- so it was a island hop on the way south.
This is a painting I did last year..The young women of Polynesia are wonderful to paint and over the years I've had the pleasure of trying to capture something of their lovely spirit hundreds of times. There is a fresh Eve-like quality about them that so often says to me 'accept me as I am- a child of nature' and it is this quality that can be so haunting...
Many years ago I was inspired by the legend of Ina & the Shark to do this painting - actually the first of several large paintings that I did inspired by the mythology of Polynesia. The legend is:
'Like a solitary tree is Ina
who committed herself to the winds.
Ina invoked the lordly shark
to bear her safely on its back
to the royal Tinirau o'ver the sea.
Alas the bruised head
of the angry monster...
had obeyed the young maid...
who opened a coconut
on her voyage to the Sacred Isle.
It was a few years later that the Cook Islands were able to create their own paper money - and one of the bills they decided to produce was a $3 bill. When I was asked if they could fashion it after my painting I agreed -and the bill above (without my signature of course) was produced at the Australia Mint. The bill proved to be quite popular - and for 'inspiring it' I was given 50 of the $3 bills- most of which I gave away to friends. Hearing a rumor and checking on Ebay I found that those $3 bills were now fetching nearly $300 dollars as a 'collectors item'.. Hmmm
who would have known..?
A few years later I returned to the Ina legend and did this version of the painting.
The straight version of the tale is that ' halfway to the Sacred Isle Ina's thirst caused her to open a coconut on the sharks fin. When the shark raised its head Ina gave it such a nasty crack with her coconut that she raised a lump which has ever since been called 'Ina's bump'.
Hina was quite a gal- she showed up in so many of the myths and legends of Polynesia. Here she rejected the tongue of the monster Moko whose offer of a bridge she saw as dangerous. From hitching a ride on a shark to dealing with an eel to triping off to the moon she got around.
Over the years have come to realize that different mediums present different possibilities. Watercolor is sort of a 'one shot' deal in that once it dries changes are difficult. I evolved a way of using it that worked for me.. Pencil in a indication of where the important 'parts' need to be -eyes, mouth, jawline etc.. then loose as possible wet into wet to let the colors flow into each other- then a fine ink pen to define where needed. I found approaching it in this way worked for me - I very much enjoyed the process. In thinking back on it the watercolor classes I had while at Art Center probably had a lot to do with a positive feeling about the medium. Paul Sousa was the teacher who gave us a understanding of ways to use watercolor - and as always a good teacher is a very important part of any process.
Years ago I wandered by inter-island ship in the Northern Group of the Cook Islands. In the process of visiting nine islands I was able to experience much of what would be called old Polynesia - people living much as they had done for in some cases centuries. This painting was the result of a couple of photos I shot while on the island of Manihiki. Years later when sustainable community became one of my primary interests I came to realize that those people had worked out sustainability a long time ago - that their way of life which to many from the outside world was romantic - was actually the result of finding a way to exist while living on a small dot of land in the middle of lots of ocean. In sitting down to eat fresh fish from that ocean along with taro in coconut cream and the green leaves of that taro boiled in more coconut cream- spiced by hot little chilis- it was not only romantic sitting on woven matts looking out to the lagoon and the sea beyond the reef -it was delicious healthy food and a beautifully balanced diet- far better than the more civilized islands to the South with their white sugar, white flour & tinned meat.
Over the years many times I would be struck by the regal beauty of the 'old ones' who had lived close to nature and maintained their connection with the beautiful spirit of the 'island way,' a lifestyle that seemed to find balance between the physical and the spiritual world which often to me resulted in a mellow stoic acceptance of the 'Now'.
The island of Pukapuka was a beautiful place to visit. Having read Robert Frisbees books lent the journey there a special magic, as his time spent living on Pukapuka was a glorious adventure that many men dream of. As an artist the beauty of the women made me 'itch' to capture them in any way possible, but this time around only my camera was available.
A early morning walk along the lagoons edge was almost always rewarded with wonderful painting material. This watercolor of a single fishermans canoe with one of the best of fishermen on board was typical of the beauty to be seen along the beach.
I had the pleasure to live on the edge of this lagoon for almost 30 years. With its ever-changing moods it was a wonderful 'front yard'. Just for the record the young boy standing beside his canoe was on a coral head- the lagoon there was around 6-8' deep. This painting was done from a photo taken by my friend George Kauraka, a very good photographer.
Since the tradewinds blow in off the lagoon much of the days activities take place near the water. This scene on Manihiki Island was typical of a hot afternoon which lent itself well to
my favorite chisel brush with watercolor.
Often over the years I tried to capture something of the beauty of the Polynesian voyaging canoes - capable of sailing circles around the slow moving european ships of that time. It always seemed to me those left behind were also brave - it must have been difficult to see
your children sail off over the horrizon usually never to be seen again.