Art Auction – Italy poppies

I’m not generally a big fan of the “please donate art to our auction” fundraiser. No one asks the accountant, lawyer, or plumber to donate the equivalent. Artists are targeted because they have a physical product and “you can just make another one – right?”. Anyway, that aside…

St John in Hawera are doing an art auction to raise funds towards a new station. Tony was an ambulance officer for about 16 years, and Mum was a very regular ambulance user, so it’s a charity close to my heart. Heck, I’ve used them a couple of times myself 😉

My artist’s statement for the exhibition:

In 2010 Tony and I travelled to Italy as I was one of 40 New Zealand artists who had works in the Legato exhibition in Cassino, Italy. I took 4 works over, celebrating 4 men including my father, Patea grocer Mansel Barker, otherwise known as Able Seaman Barker.

The trip had a profound impact on me, and on my art. I have continued to paint the Italian landscape, and works which depict in some way the lives that were touched by WWII. Two of the works which went to Italy have been exhibited here in NZ as well, and newer Italian works have been exhibited in Wellington. In 2016, by invitation of the curator, I exhibited works in Italy for the Legato exhibition which coincided with 70th commemorations.

This series of essentially black and white works is inspired by the poppies, which grow amongst the rubble throughout Italy, bringing colour to the landscape.

Poppies at the railway station Italy 2012Poppies at Sorrento 2012

New Legato work finished

This commemorates my Mother’s birth father, Fred McKenna. Sadly, Mum never knew him, but in later life got to know her half-sisters. One of them, Margaret, provided some photos and information so I could make this piece of work, which is going to Italy later this year for the 2014 Legato exhibition in Cassino. Fred served in WWI and this year’s Legato is the ideal place to honour the grandfather I never knew.

I have been working on this piece for days; it’s 18×24″ on stretched canvas. I haven’t varnished it yet, just in case; there’s one small spot that might get adjusted yet. I have photographed the entire piece, and then there’s some close-up shots to show the details and layers. 

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Starting a new painting

I’m starting a new WWI work, featuring two relatives I never knew – Mum’s birth father and his brother, her birth uncle. If this turns out well, it will travel to Italy for the 2014 Legato exhibition. I’ve aged laser copies of some documents relating to them, collaged them on, and added paint and ink. This is all just an under layer; once it is dry I’ll use a coat of clear gesso over the top and keep working on it. The colours are not as lively as the ones I used for the WWII works. I’ve gone murkier, grayer and duller because that’s how WWI feels for me. It’s probably also a reflection of my feelings about Mum never getting to know her birth parents and having a ‘dim dark’ past.

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Making those incredible links

In 2010 Tony and I took four works I’d created to the Legato exhibition in Cassino, Italy. They honoured four men who had swerved in WWII; my dad, my best friend’s dad and uncle, and the father of a woman who had worked for dad.

I am sending work next year, when the commemorations will be all the more special as the world marks 100 years since WWI. I’m already doing a large landscape based on my recollections of the walk to one of the memorial services we went to, but have been hankering to do something honouring a solider as well. But didn’t know who, or why. I should have known to listen and wait, because the answer always comes.

My good friend Joanne D had asked me a while back about doing a piece to honor her grandfather but we didn’t pursue it. She and I have been emailing and I’m going to do a piece that she can show her Granny then it can travel to Italy, then return to her family. Fantastic!

Before I knew that was happening, I decided to search the internet for local people who had served that could have relatives I could trace and talk to. My mother was adopted, and didn’t find out until she was in her 60s – but we were able to find out both her mother and father’s full names and are in contact with some family members. I was scrolling through names and there was someone I thought had to be her uncle. I range her half-sister and she confirmed this but went on to say that her father had served in WWI as well. Would I like her to send me some copies of war records etc so I could do a work about him.

I had to end the conversation and think about what I had just heard – that I was being given the opportunity to honour the grandfather I never knew by creating a work about him and sending it to Italy to be honoured by hundreds of people. I felt utterly overwhelmed. I wrote back today to say “yes, please do send me some copies” as I’d love to do this.

When we connect with people, and tell others what we need, it’s incredible what happens. Here’s a photo of Mum, and the piece I did of Dad – I knew they’d both be excited to hear this.

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bright spark

Trusting myself to paint

The piece I’m working on was looking quite ‘pretty’ but I knew it needed an ancient wall. This meant trusting my instinct and being prepared to act – something I have been not so good at in recent times. with my art This afternoon I took a deep breath, made a mask, grabbed some brown and black inks and started making an ancient wall right over the top of the some of the prettiness. It feels good to be trusting myself to grab paint and go for gold. Here are some detail shots (in reverse order – oops)

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Preparing to paint

I’m sending work to the Legato exhibition in Cassino, Italy, in 2014. I’ve been playing with ideas for a while, but nothing has worked as I wanted it to. The problem has been my head-space rather than my actual art practice. Last night I think I finally got into the right place mentally to get on with it. Fingers crossed.

Legato is now an established part of the annual WW2 Battles of Cassino commemorations held in Cassino, Italy in May each year. The 70th commemorations will be a special time with surviving veterans, international dignitaries and families of veterans participating as well as the local Italian people who are committed to remembering and honouring the people who were there during WW2.

I have some full size sheets of watercolour, a bucket of water, a couple of photos, my memories of Italy, some stencils, inks, fluid acrylics, brushes and a new roll of handytowels. Oh, and my camera. Here’s a few visuals of what’s involved.

Getting there

Remember I said I was burying the evidence? It’s now lost under gesso and ink, stenciling and more ink! It’s not finished but it *is* starting to make me happy. Even Tony could see what was happening once I hauled out a photo of the gardens in Aquino (or was it St Angelo?) that we photographed as we walked down to the bridge over the Rapido River for the yearly commemorative service with the American and Italian soldiers. Edit: my geography and memory is poor – see correction in comments – thanks Kay. Here’s a progress shot, including a blurry one showing the layers, and the original photo I’m using as inspiration:

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