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..?