Sunday, 16 December 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

The involvement of several Mercury Bay residents in a Nelson art exhibition

New Zealand painter Helen Flora Victoria Scales was an enigma to many, from her family and her few friends to many in New Zealand’s contemporary art world although her work can be found in all New Zealand's leading art galleries and hangs quietly on the walls of many knowing private collectors.

Flora was a stoically independent woman - an artist who lived and travelled across middle Europe all through the twentieth century, escaping the colonial life she was destined to live when she has born in 1897.

Flora was utterly dedicated to painting, rarely satisfied with the outcomes and reluctant to realise the commercial value in her art, regarding herself instead as a “perpetual art student.” 

The Auckland Art Gallery in 1975, encouraged by famous artist Colin McCahon, who admired her immensely, brought her art into the open, as she was nearing the later years of her life. She is noted in New Zealand at history as having inspired artist Toss Woollaston, to whom she gave five important lessons and who, when she dismissed him, claimed “[Flora’s] attitude seems to be that to draw and paint is better than to discuss drawing and painting.”

Flora lived in London, Cornwall and the English countryside and studied in Munich and lived, studied and painted in Paris. When the German forces invaded Paris in World War II, she was interred for two years in the south of France. That in itself is a fascinating insight into a life well lived and Flora’s indomitable spirit.

Such stories, the times, her experiences, the adventure, the travel and the determination of Flora Scales with her paint box, few possessions and a suitcase that saw her walking her way through the twentieth century until her death at 98, excited  Kuaotunu-based writer Isabel Gilbert Palmer and colleague Ali Evers Swindell .

Together they decided to dig deep and research as much as they could about  this exemplary woman who lived quietly and in own her distinct way and whose biography could be pieced together and connected by her paintings, letters, photographs and snippets of stories people knew about her.

For almost three years they researched enough to contribute to a catalogue that will be published by the Suter Gallery in Nelson where the Flora Scales Retrospective Exhibition opens this coming Saturday (17 November). The exhibition will run until 27 January 2019. It exemplifies a passion which has been supported by the Suter Gallery from the outset and closer to home, a  local community effort - a true creative New Zealand in the provinces collaboration. Behind the scenes, Matarangi’s Leigh Cunningham and Hilary Falconer helped Isabel with editing  the content of the catalogue Isabel chose to do and Phillip Fickling, also from Matarangi, helped with basic organisation of photographs and suggestions for their placement. Kuaotunu’s Chris Twemlow edited a small film sent from Paris of an interview one of Flora’s closest friends gave and Gian MacGregor helped in the search for some of Flora’s elusive paintings.

Flora Scales died aged 98 in 1985. It is imagined her life and work will touch and be remembered further by the retrospective exhibition that will show approximately 43 of Flora’s paintings, sourced from major art galleries around New Zealand, the Alexander Turnbull Library and private collections. 

If you are in Nelson over the summer holidays, make sure you visit the Suter Art Gallery.

Pictured is one of Flora Scales's paintings form the Suter Gallery.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.