To Sea You
550 x 300 x 120 mm (variable); 1020 x 1020 mm, 2 parts
glitter on canvas, dried gourd, pins and sequins
Courtesy of the artist and Gow Langsford, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Estimate: NZD 16,000 — 19,000
Reuben Paterson’s practice is multi-faceted across multi-media. He is perhaps most well-known for his large scale canvases with relief layerings of glitter and diamond dust. Earlier in 2021 Paterson’s crystal waka Guide Kaiārahi was installed in the forecourt of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Paterson weaves koru and kōwhaiwhai in To Sea You as an homage to both his own whakapapa (Ngāti Rangitihi,Tūhourangi and Ngāi Tūhoe) and his creative relationship to the Dutch emigré artist Theo Schoon (1915—1985), whose explorations within the kōwhaiwhai form were a catalyst for cross-cultural discourse in the 1960s and 70s.
Accompanying To Sea You is a dried gourd decorated with blue sequins. The work embraces the Maori proverb ka mua, ka muri, generally meaning to walk backwards into the future, and looks towards the carved gourds in the iconic practice of Schoon. The deployment of such decorative materials furnish a joyous ‘ground’ to Paterson’s more searching enquiries into the complexities of reconciling traditional practices within Te Ao Hurihuri. In 2007, Paterson supported Artspace Aotearoa through the production of an edition of 5 sequined gourds that were later acquired by the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.
Artist Biography & History
with Artspace Aotearoa:
In 2007, Reuben Paterson supported Artspace Aotearoa through the production of an edition of 5 sequined gourds. The entire edition was acquired by the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in 2008.
Artspace Billboard Project (solo), November 2007 — April 2008
In 2004, Pateron’s work was exhibited at Artspace in a group exhibition of works that would travel to the 26th Biennial de Sao Paulo, where they were exhibited in the Oscar Niemeyer Pavilion from September 25 — December 19 2004. This project was curated by Tobias Berger, then Director of Artspace Aotearoa.
Iki and Thanks For All the IKA (group), February 17 — March 30 2004, curated by Tobias Berger in partnership with Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius and Cook Islands Museum. This exhibition was originally held in Lithuania, travelled to Cook Islands Museum and returned to exhibit at Artspace, accumulating works along the way.
Reuben Paterson is a dynamic artist known for his creations in glitter and diamond dust. The influence of Paterson's Maori heritage (Ngati Rangitihi) is strong in his earlier works, which focused on kowhaiwhai motifs. Drawing from both his Maori and Scottish ancestry Paterson also combines traditional pattern and design with non-traditional media, reinvigorating and extending Maori expression. Paterson incorporates formal painting properties of sharp line and ornate detail with specially commissioned glitter colours to elicit curiosity and joy. His use of traditional motif produces works that link to memories of our recent and ancient pasts; memories that are visceral, tangible and intangible. More recently Paterson has extended his range of subjects to include animals and bird life and has extended his practice to include sculpture; similarly created in his signature glitter style.
On the eve of the launch of the When The Dust Settles catalogue Artspace Aotearoa trustee Hamish Coney spoke with Reuben Paterson about the genesis of his work To Sea You and his long term connection to kōwhaiwhai and the inspirational practice of the Dutch émigré artist Theo Schoon.
HC: John Hovell has described kōwhaiwhai as an activating agent “The carving is a set piece with the potential for action contained within. The tukutuku are the field of action within which the protagonists perform… The role of kōwhaiwhai patterned onto the rafters is to set the whole in motion.”(1) How do you see the role kōwhaiwhai and this idea of agency?
RP: My introduction to kōwhaiwhai was as a re-learning and connection to my father when he passed. To me, in the broadest sense kōwhaiwhai are genealogical markers. That genealogy is about the journeys taken by koru and kōwhaiwhai from one pou to the next in that arching rainbow across that wharenui sky connecting genealogy to genealogy. For me, kōwhaiwhai are the action of looking up as a gesture that is also the question and answers my father’s death. Kōwhaiwhai to me are really an access point to experiencing tīpuna, father through those patterns. They allow me access to people.
The act of looking up is the eternal question. It’s the why question. It elicits the search for answers. Kōwhaiwhai have constantly been the question of re-learning of who these patterns justify and what they stand for.
HC: This work To Sea You presented in When the Dust Settles brings together two distinct aspects of your practice, your glitter canvases and hue (gourds). Is this the first time you have bought the two together? The rhythms of the kōwhaiwhai are not dissimilar to how the tendrils of the gourd plants articulate. How do they relate in this work?
RP: Yes it is. It’s the first time I’ve bought them together. There is a well versed whakatauki about the hue runners …’he kawei hue, he kawei tangata’, descendants are like the runners of the gourd plant. It really speaks to your question. Before, I talked about the kōwhaiwhai giving me access to my father. The gardening process also gives me access to my father. Gardening is another way to embody my connection to him. Even with Guide Kaiarahi(2) I connect to him, with these Māori descent lines.
HC: What are your iwi connections?
RP: I’m Ngāti Rangitihi, Tūhourangi and Ngāi Tūhoe. We have a long connection to the Tarawera river. But after the eruption (Mount Tarawera, 1886) we were displaced to Matatā. Then only last year we had our treaty settlement with the crown over the Tarawera falls region. I remember it well because it was day after the opening of Toi Tū Toi Ora. So the day after the opening of the exhibition I drove down to Matatā for the Treaty Settlement signing. There is a photo of me sitting on the paepae sitting with a Kahumamae(3), a Kahu Kurī (a dog fur cloak of sorrow) of my great-great-grandmother, Pareraututu.
HC: There are not too many Kahu Kurī out there that is for sure.
RP: And not with this history that I’m in direct descent to. That was a really special time. Ngati Rangitihi are kaitiaki to the very top of Mount Tarawera, that is ours also, right on the top. You may hear of Te Arawa of course, but maybe not so much of Ngāti Rangitihi? That was a very proud moment for us. I return to Matatā because my father raised there. The iwi was displaced after the eruption. But for the settlement to finally have been signed was an epic moment. This means that Ngāti Rangitihi finally has a place. Ngāti Rangitihi can finally say that after the eruption we do have a place now, a legal place. This is ours!
HC: You are on record as a keen student of the mahi toi and life journey of Theo Schoon. He worked across many ‘media’ and his early kōwhaiwhai works set the scene for a fertile period of cross-cultural engagement. Let’s discuss your view of Schoon and how he has influenced your thinking.
RP: For me, deeply, I have always felt very emotionally charged by Theo. He shared similarities with me. He was a gay man. He re-learnt by being an artist and his learning approach was aesthetic. His whole mana is derived from the fact that, not only was he learning and talking and being taught, but he was interpreting, making and creating. He was tending a garden. His whole ‘solstice’ about Māoritanga and Te Ao Māori was involved. I’ve always had a deep empathy and a deep trust for his practice. I have, through his journey and my love of my ideals of him really understood what it must have been like for Theo as a gay man – and as an artist who wasn’t given the accolade and recognition he deserved in his time for what he was doing. I think about him leaving these shores and moving to Australia and I can feel him give up. I have this cause within me that will forever validate his sadness by celebrating him in these celebratory sequin materials
HC: His was a very sincere and earnest awakening to another culture by a very different type of person, Māori or Pākehā, from the New Zealander that you might have encountered in Aotearoa at that time (1950s).
RP: He was not doing anything different to what people do now. His re-learning still exists. I’ve seen this through the voice of Guide Kaiārahi. I’ve seen people find their nationalism through Māori identity in a new material. I think that that search for identity was what Theo was looking for. He was doing this spiritually by connecting with Te Ao Māori. He was also searching for his identity as a gay man. I think his was a really substantial and heartfelt journey and he made this journey explicit for us.
HC: He was on a journey without a map. He was a pretty courageous dude.
RP: As a gay Māori man, growing up as a child in the late 70s, 80s and even into the 90s as an art school student, passionate and hungry for art, there was no other artist I could connect through, except for Theo who was navigating both sexuality and culture at the same time. There was no other artist in my world that I could find to be my mentor – who was like me. If you look at the world of mentorship now there still not a lot of gay Māori artists who can be mentors for other young gay Māori artists who are coming up. We really don’t exist. The platform is growing, but it’s still a very refined and small group.
So that’s why, in this work (To Sea You), I put Theo right in there and have re-imagined elements from a drawing you shared with me from 1963, that is held in the collection of Te Papa Tongarewa. It’s a combination of a relationship between me and him. It’s almost a collaboration. The Theo element is from a work on paper in the Te Papa collection. The wheke-like kōwhaiwhai. I’ve taken that work, that element is in there, and then I’ve completely tethered it to another kōwhaiwhai and they weave together.
HC: I cannot think of a work that has entered the public consciousness faster than your Guide Kaiārahi crystal waka (recently installed outside the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki). It seems that people respond to its radiance. Are there concepts of radiant beauty in Te Ao Māori? The energising aspects of it?
RP: Do you mean that as, has mauri?
HC: When I visit a whare tūpuna, as I get to know more about tikanga Māori my ability to have not just an aesthetic response is deepening. However, I’m sure that for many visitors, including Māori the initial sensation is one of uplifting, beautiful, energising, radiant energy. That is what people are experiencing before Guide Kaiārahi, that energy… call it a feelgood factor. What is some of the thinking about these ideas and sensations within Te Ao Māori?
RP: Wharenui experiences are ones of wonder. That you have tangible, physical objects imbued with the spirit of the people. I guess as a segue Guide Kaiārahi and kōwhaiwhai are access points. The wharenui is one of those access points. So is the Kahumamae. They are all these access points. For me my marae experience is around occasion. It’s always auspicious under the guiding protection of the past. I do remember as a young boy meeting the house for the first time and having that same sense of wonder. But I come to that house Rangiohia very differently now because it’s a homecoming. Now it’s a grounding. So I’m not sure I’ve answered your question but I do think Guide Kaiārahi has a pronoun because he has a mauri. It’s the mauri I felt him express to me when I visited Brisbane [during the fabrication process] to see him for the first time. When something like this is honoured it can’t help but have the past come with it.
HC: These are crazy times, but it seems to me that people are coming to art… almost for help. What is the role of art and the artist in this new Covid reality? It provides solace, almost therapy - art provides comfort for people in a way that they may not ask art to provide in other times. In these times of uncertainty what does the artist bring to the table?
RP: I think the more important question is what we all bring to the table? This experience is completely communal. The real blessing in this experience is that everyone is learning, or re-learning at the same time. As an artist I can’t put something that is an everyday to me, on a pedestal. Art and the making of it is already important and valuable to me. Because it is my everyday… and because I’ve worked through Covid, because I choose to. It is just something I have to do. So I can’t break down the importance it has for other people. But, I would be very curious to hear how those people might answer the question. It is too hard a question to ask of the maker.
(1) John Hovell quoted in The Māori Meeting House: Introducing the Whare Whakairo, Damian Skinner author, (Te Papa Press, 2016)
(2) Guide Kaiārahi – the large scale crystal waka by Reuben Paterson installed in July 2021 in the forecourt of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.
(3) Te Kahumamae o Pareraututu, or the ‘Cloak of pain of Pareraututu’