What a fantastic experience it has been with the Nelson Arts Festival this October. Thank you so much for flying me down to Nelson for two weeks to paint my heart out, situated on the banks of the beautiful Maitai River, with a group of talented, fun artists – Geoff Noble, Miriam Hansen, Smeagol, Richard Adams and the Kawai Raupapa Rauangi (Maori visual arts) students from Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.
We were ‘The Billboard Project’ and by the end of it, all of us had created these large-scale 1.2 metre x 2.4 metre paintings that are now being auctioned on TradeMe - you can bid here for our works. Auctions close Saturday 7th November 2015 and if you’d like to own my work entitled “Grey Ghost“ you can bid here for my painting.
Sometimes we had to battle the odd gust of wind but if that was our only issue, I think we had it pretty sweet. The sun shone for us and I even got to sneak away the odd time to enjoy the region’s wine tasting, beer tasting, bike riding and natural beauty.
In fact taking a wee drive out to St Arnaud’s Lake Rotoiti cemented the choice of subject matter for my work – the extinct South Island kokako, differing from the North Island kokako having orange wattles instead of blue. As soon as you step out of your car at Lake Rotoiti you hear the incredible bird song and we weren’t even there for dawn chorus. The taonga (treasure) that are our land, forests and birds is evident in these moments when we stand amongst nature and imagine how it once was, and hopefully could be in the future. Our vital role as kaitiaki (caretakers) of the natural world is becoming more and more clear to me. In the coming months and years I would love to have my artwork in some way aiding conservation efforts by Department of Conservation and other organisations, so if you know of any openings there for art-based PR or projects, please get in touch with me. A huge pat on the back to the practical, artistic, surfy genius that is Geoff Noble who not only painted a masterpiece during the festival but also made all those huge, sturdy easels that you can see in the pictures. And also a big thank you to our sponsors Liquitex for the paints, Nelson City Council and Red Gallery for currently exhibiting our finished works.
There is always a story to my work and after actually painting the piece, my process is to then sit down and put my thoughts into a bit of a narrative so people like yourself, can delve, if you’re interested, into the inspiration.
Description of painting “Grey Ghost” by Sofia Minson:
Kokako feathers are normally grey but in this painting are painted with watery acrylic washes of the blues and greens of New Zealand’s forests and waterways.
Peeking through shadow is a stylised korowai (feather cloak) as if worn by the bird itself.
Intricate patterns painted in thin white ink dripping down the torso reference Maori kowhaiwhai designs, tukutuku panels and ancient hindu sacred geometry. This multi-cultural, multi-faith element is seen in much of Sofia’s work as she celebrates her own mixed Maori, Swedish and Irish heritage. She is also influenced by her diverse experiences growing up here in NZ and overseas in Sri Lanka, Samoa and China due to her father’s engineering work.
Lastly, the orange wattle proudly showcases a Moko Kauae or chin tattoo, traditionally worn by Maori women to signify mana and status. This touch of human marking brings this image of a bird into the realm of dignified portraiture and in doing so, reminded the artist of a watchful, ancestral presence.
Sofia recently learnt about the mysterious status of the elusive South Island orange-wattled kokako.
Kokako are related to the extinct huia bird whose feathers were prised among Maori. The North Island kokako with blue wattles are endangered with less than 400 pairs in existence. South Island kokako on the other hand were categorised as completely extinct until two years ago when rare sightings brought their Department of Conservation classification back from ‘extinct’ to ‘data deficient’. Known as the Grey Ghost, there is renewed hope for the South Island kokako. However the bird’s shy and secretive visual nature, coupled with its tendency to rarely produce vocalisations or possibly even mimic the song of other bird species, is making it impossible to to acquire irrefutable video, audio or photographic evidence.
Another inspiration for this piece, as in much of Sofia’s work, is Maori legend. In the myth of the infamous Polynesian demi-god Maui slowing the sun, it was the helpful kokako who gave Maui water to quench his thirst as he fought to slow the racing sun across the sky. Maui and his people were frustrated with the fleeting trips the sun made across they sky and wanted to increase the hours of daylight so their lives could be more productive. The kokako filled its wattles with water and brought it to Maui who was wrestling with the fiery behemoth, pulling with all his might on unbreakable plaited flax ropes. The sun became exhausted and Maui succeeded in bringing longer days to earth. He rewarded the kokako by making its legs long and slender so the bird could bound through the forest with ease in search of food.
Posted by artist Sofia Minson from NewZealandArtwork.com
New Zealand Maori portrait and landscape oil painting