Philippa Blair, like Philip Trusttum, Allen Maddox and Philip Clairmont, was nurtured in the expressionist formula of Rudi Gopas at the Canterbury School of Art. In the sixties Gopas had urged his students to choose colour freely and examine its psychological effects, and to abstract from specific natural forms to produce visual statements that evoked the universal.
This exhibition brings together a selection of works from several series produced by Philippa Blair over the last few years. The juxtaposition of these displays the various consistencies and divergences in her painting.
Blair describes the content of her work in terms of intangible polarities - shelter/exposure, energy/rest, night/day, personal/universal, spirit/matter. Blair stated in 1984, ‘I am interested in the idea of metamorphosis literally and symbolically. Changing states as a metaphor of life and as a physical fact, breaking barriers between 2D and 3D work.’
The initial impact of the paintings is a result of their physical scale, in their height, reach and the bravura of their execution. They confront the viewer eye to eye, face to face, body to body. The paint flickers and dances across the surfaces and the surfaces themselves fold and drape, feather, open and close, articulate and flow with their own energy.
These works are not to do with ‘emotion recollected in tranquility’, but are an expression of real events and experiences projected onto canvas. The flow of the paint is given form by the boundaries of line, fold, overlap, slash or edge. The very dynamics of body movement imposes a structure on the paint.
The paintings which from the tent paintings of 1985 through A Tree Has Its Heart In Its Roots the Heart Books and the new 1987 Heart Paintings, contain a variety of dualities: tree/atomic mushroom, tree/lightning, heat/slashed heart. The cloaks encompass a number of themes: life tree - growth or Hiroshima - shelter from destruction. Most of the paintings have an implied symmetry with a central vertical spine, while others, in a variety of arrangements, become asymmetrical and extend outside a rigid conformation.
Blair is aware of belonging to a cultural continuum which is unfettered by borders and time. She draws on this and her own direct responses to provoke herself to paint.
Blair has also been interested in breaking down the traditional barriers of art making, in the sense that her works are at once painting, sculpture, cloaks, and shelters, unrestrained by the limitations of the frame. This is evident in the construction Snakes and Ladder, or the tipi paintings in works like the Journey Cloaks 1983, or the Canberra Kimono, where several canvasses suggest clothes but also incorporate sculptural elements.
The poet Ezra Pound said ‘Dance is to music, as music is to poetry.’ Of Philippa Blair one might say ‘Dance is painting, as painting is to vision.’
‘Curated by Mary Vavasour, this 1987 survey of recent work by Philippa Blair marks a key moment in her career.
Shelters, cloaks, tents, books, windows and other constructed canvases filled almost every wall available in the Fisher Gallery (now Te Tuhi), collectively embodying her artistic and personal journey. When observing her more recent work on stretched canvas, evidence of these earlier works is present in the way her paintings are almost three-dimensional and often stretch across two or three panels.
The year 1987 was significant one for Blair: she not only exhibited around Aotearoa but also held her second solo exhibition in New York City at the Shippee Gallery. Later, in 1995, Blair relocated to Los Angeles, where she lived and worked for nearly two decades before returning to Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland in 2014 where she continues to paint.’
– Chloe Geoghegan, 2020
→ RKS Art – Philippa Blair: New paintings and drawings exhibition poster
→ Fisher Gallery exhibition card
→ Fisher Gallery press release