Glitter of Hope
In the midst of a global pandemic, when we are asked to stay indoors and do less, it is art that will and continues to get us through.
From Netflix and books, to the art and objects in our domestic places. This time has forced all of us to imagine new ways of being, seeing and knowing and as Rebecca Solnit reminds us: “People have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.”
But change is rarely straightforward, so it is with no surprise for us to learn that when the pandemic hit and lockdown was enforced, New Plymouth-based artist Reuben Paterson chose not to scale up productivity. Instead, he found new grounding in slowing down to reset and reconnect.
“I’d love to take this pace into the new world, step back from the notion of deadline and be organic,” Paterson explains. “I want to experience seasons in my art like I do in my garden.
“I’m a part of the cycle of the hue in this now, so for the dried hue I work with, I am also harvesting fresh gourds from the garden and the growing and drying of these the hue is about patience, persistence and time. They are in no need to hurry but everything about them is perfectly accomplished.
Paterson’s harvested heritage Nga Puhi gourds, with two individually pinned and sequinned dried gourds. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Black Sand Inspiration
When asked about his new beginnings, and how glitter found its way onto his canvases and sculptures, it doesn’t take him long to locate himself in a childhood memory that is so familiar to most people living in Tāmaki Makaurau. The wild and wondrous Piha beach and the positive associations of sparkle as a surface and his natural impulse to make something beautiful.
“I spent much of my childhood on the black sands of Piha, with that volcanic heat you feel right through your feet as you run to the remedy of firmer sand and sea; the curling purple rivulets that streaked the sand like vivid auroras. I do romanticise this memory because I lived in a landscape painting surrounded by its own naturally glittering surface.
“When the sun was just right, there’s a sparkling sheen that unified the distance of sand and sea. As a surface, it also reveals the obvious, and the hidden, it’s the act of looking twice and being a part of the act of seeing, of knowing, and of yet to learn, of being drawn into, and out of, to discover multiple layers of visual truths.”
There Goes the Moon, 2009, Sand and Incoming Tide, diameter 32 m. Photo courtesy F.A.T. Productions and TVNZ7
Connection Without Compromise
The land is an important, ever-constant companion of Paterson’s work. Nature and the position of nature in this enforced stillness that we have started to adapt to and potentially looking to resonate even more than before. Like his animations, our lives have rhythms of time and tide, embedded in our own contemplation, growth and possibility of transformation.
“All my animations look at the whakapapa of the glitter that is found in our natural world,” Paterson enthuses. “They are presented as multiple layers and rhythms of optical illusions that simulate the undulating rhythms, energy and history that has taken part in our land; and that I believe the land absorbs. More importantly, in my work, I want to acknowledge the historical occupation of land by Māori, as tangata whenua.”
Te Maiea, 2020, Digital animation, 4:30 loop, Aotea Square for Auckland Live, Photo: Sam Hartnett.
Knowing Your Place in the World
Cyclically, his practice returns to botanicals as a newborn familial exercise. These botanicals are a study, a way of staying aware of the changes his life has taken and the life led.
“I was observing the start of my new life in a similar way to how I experience and learn through the garden. This series started with another sense altogether - of being able to smell the garden and floral scent, in the night's blackness and not visible.
Are You my Dad’s Boyfriend? 2015, Glitter and synthetic polymer on canvas, 1200 x 1200 mm. Courtesy Gow Langsford Gallery, Photo: Bridget Webber.
“I’ve come to have a deeper connection to my understanding of whakapapa as a natural order to the universe, a dynamic system built around the living and the non-living as a reciprocal relationship, and like an ecosystem, there is a dynamic interaction between a community and their environment.
“In 2013, I moved to New Plymouth to make a golden glitter tree as the artist residency at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. The Golden Bearing is situated in Pukekura Park. The work stands still in time, unlike other trees, impervious to the seasons. He asks viewers to look twice at the landscape we occupy – the park appears to be natural but is a man-made garden.“
The Golden Bearing, 2014, Glitter on mixed media, 4500 x 5000 x 540 mm. Photo: Bryan James and the Govett Brewster Art Gallery.
Greeting the New Dawn
It is the grace we see through the combination of vulnerability and strength, rooted in kindness during these challenging times. The agility that the natural world is so good at - adapting, and collaborating, using complex support systems. It is the shift from finding strength as a unit and towards the building of a collective resilience.
Paterson explains “I’ve re-learnt a more positive association to surface because often glittery and glossy imply pretty or lacking in substance. I’m allowing glitter to occupy new territories outside of its stereotype of craft, child’s play and drag. This is a continuum of how we should treat all objects and all people - let everything have more space and let it in.
“I want to evolve with my work endlessly - I absolutely can’t wait to see where it goes, what it’s shaped by, and why - all that life that’s yet to come, I find that so significant. This is my longest relationship…with art.”
I will Never again Wake with Such Peace, 2019, Glitter on canvas, 1000 x 1000 mm. Courtesy The Central Gallery. Photo: Pip Guthrie.
Perhaps this better humanity is what’s coming. A world that is more accepting, and where representation is a constant. A new “us”, where our desire to see our world and ourselves reflected, finally fulfilled.
A friend recently said to me that the confidence in future-gazing is incredibly seductive right now. When I listen to Paterson, I hear a future that is paved by a glitter of hope, embracing the whakapapa of nature and the uncertainty of the unknown.