Star Gossage (1973, Ngāti Wai / Ngāti Ruanui) presents a veritable garden in her exhibition of recent paintings. Surrounded by these works we are transported to Gossage’s own garden on a headland above Pākiri beach, north east of Auckland. This exhibition is something of an ode to spring; with titles that include Morning Nasturtium, Peach Blossom with the Mandarins, and Spring Gifts. We imagine ourselves idly rambling through the garden to bend and pick flowers, or reaching up to pluck the fruit that hangs heavily from branches above, biting into its sweet flesh.
Nestled between ocean and river, the artist’s whare is located on ancestral land – a place rich in history and mythology – a landscape that Gossage returns to again and again as both site and subject of her work. There is an immediacy and intimacy inherent in the application of paint and bare unfinished edges of these paintings, which allows for glimpses of the raw canvas beneath. Amid the obvious signs of human intervention found in the cultivation and care of trees, flowers, and shrubs, Gossage captures something of the wildness of the garden. “They are a bit rough, I think that’s what makes their beauty,” writes Gossage, in a handwritten note carefully tucked inside the packing with these works when they arrive at the gallery.
Then there are the figures: three wāhine with arms cradling gathered blooms. These ethereal portraits appear as tūpuna or ancestors, their individual identities indefinite. Connected to the whenua, whānau, and wairua of this place, they are at once grounded and otherworldly; their features blurry and indistinct. These women emerge out of the landscape, their forms rendered from a mix of local clay, with chalk pastels, conte, and oil.
Gossage has cited Australian painters Arthur Boyd and Sydney Nolan as early influences in regards to their approach to painting myths and allegories of the land and bush. The fragmentary nature of Gossage’s work lends her paintings a dreamlike quality, where the images are not inert but instead constantly shifting. With Gossage’s own background in film and video, it’s tempting to read these interconnected images as something akin to a series of film stills. Yet narrative remains elusive here, the artist more interested in evoking a particular emotional or psychological state than presenting a fixed set of ideas or concepts.