Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pacifistic Art Warrior

Rita Angus "Self Portrait"  1966
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa  

Rita Angus (1908-1970) was a New Zealand painter who is regarded as one of the leading figures in 20th century New Zealand Art. She is known mostly for her landscapes and portraits. She began her artistic career at a time when people were concerned with creating a distinctly New Zealand art, comparable to the American regionalism movement which was evolving at the same time. Angus was not herself so much interested in defining a national style as she was in creating her own style, yet the flavor of her times certainly influenced her vision. Her paintings are clear, hard-edged and sharply-defined, and usually also characterized by light or bright colors. She worked in both oils and watercolor.

In the dramatic sky of this 1966 self-portrait both day and night meet, implying powerful astrological forces – a subject of great interest to Angus. In fact, the two clouds shaped like fish refer to her astrological sign which was Pisces. Angus stands in front of the Wellington (New Zealand) hills, she is visually almost equal to them in height and solidity, and the carved-looking folds of her painting smock relate to the tree ridges and hill folds  of the land behind her. She presents herself frontally, almost confrontationally, similar to a warrior holding a paintbrush like a sword and a palette like a shield. She is both of the land, and representative of the land, and willing to fight for the land, at least aesthetically (Angus was a staunch life-long pacifist.)

Rita Angus "Woman Sketching AD 1965"  1965
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa   

In this painting Angus portrays herself in a modern version of an Egyptian tomb painting, a subject which had fascinated her for several decades. The stylized artist figure is surrounded with images representing her life. We see her house, her cat and her easel, a tree, perhaps symbolic of her beloved landscape, and a stylized moon, which may again allude to her interest in astrology.

1 comment:

Mary Walsh said...

Great piece on an artist I knew nothing about before reading.
I love this blog. Keep it coming!