Suspended between Land and Sky
The paintings of Andrea Eve Hopkins
by Nigel Borrell
“…her painting career pays tribute to the redeeming power of whakapapa, friendship and collective pride.”
Te tåepaepatanga o te rangi is a whakatauki or Måori proverb that articulates the relationship between Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatuåmuku (the earth mother). It speaks of a place where the sky hangs down to meet the horizon of the land and states that even when these primordial parents are separated they still communicate across open space and over great distance. It is a poetic expression that reminds us all of the interconnected relationships that one can make beyond the tangible and material worlds that we might inhabit.
It is a particular idea that I’m reminded of when viewing the worlds created in the paintings of Andrea Eve Hopkins. The importance of the land and our relationship to it is a fundamental concept that formed the heart of her first solo exhibition People of the Land at Studio of Contemporary Art in Auckland in 2003. This conversation between people, the land and the open spaces within which they exist has become an unbroken tenet in the sixteen years of her painting practice. This retrospective exhibition (Andrealand: Retrospective and New Works) provides an opportunity to take in these seminal moments from across the painter’s career and to navigate the various landscapes and propositions that they present.
Born in Whangarei in 1974 with whakapapa connections to Pare Hauraki, Ngati Whanaunga, Ngati Paoa, Marutuahu and Ngati Manipoto, Andrea Eve Hopkins is of a generation of contemporary Maori artists that emerged on the scene around the new millennium. Her peers include Star Gossage, Ngatai Taepa, Rueben Paterson and Racheal Rakena among many others. Her profile as an artist has quietly progressed over this time but, perhaps unlike her peers, she has achieved this recognition largely independent of the mainstream art world. She paints her own truth in revealing and courageous ways. Hopkins’ paintings explore personal statements about heritage, place and the proclamation of tino rangatiratanga: a sense of autonomy, independence and freedom. The artist paints about what she knows and what she connects with emotionally and spiritually. There is a sense of clarity and focus in this endeavor and as a viewer, we are welcomed into a world of possibility and dimensionality.
“Why paint reality realistically? I prefer a visual language based on the old and new to tell stories worthy of embelishment.”
In works such as Onward and Upward, 2004 the prominence of the land looms large in her thinking. Here the land is the personification of Papatuanuku as witness to time past, present and future. Her paintings present places where time itself seems suspended in another reality. They are places where human, tiki and manaia figures often sit dwarfed by the land, where figures sit in isolated pockets or dance along interwoven horizon lines. They are fragile and intricate as they occupy uneasy landscapes where kites and structures float above heavy light. However these considerations are almost always counteracted with her signature sense of wit and playfulness.
Swimming with Sharks, 2012 is one example. Here small figures anxiously swim amongst a sea of kowhaiwhai patterning that echoes the mangopare or hammerhead shark kowhaiwhai design – a tongue and cheek commentary that describes being under siege and is then flipped on its head with reference to the customary visual language of kowhaiwhai.
Elsewhere works like Made in Taiwan – Yeah right, 2005 riffs on the infamous Tui Beer advertisements yet Hopkins uses it to reference the debate around Maori art and authenticity. She hijacks the notorious slogan to speak back to the commodification of Maori art and culture.
These witty moments appear throughout her practice and seem to be strategically used to disarm heady issues.
The surrealist landscapes and fantastical dimensions created by Salvador Dali and the inner strength crossed with vulnerability found in Frida Kahlo’s autobiographical self-portraits (1907 – 1954), are particular influences. The legacy of Robyn Kahukiwa’s narrative paintings is another. We glimpse all these inspirations when we survey her work.
For Hopkins, visual art-making was originally secondary to her first interest and talent in performing arts and singing. Hopkins excelled at kapa haka (Maori performing arts) and took a leading role in this from a young age. As she matured and her leadership in this arena became more entrenched, the inevitable sense of social pressure and expectation created a heightened anxiety in later years and she developed a social phobia to public performing.
Her creative energy soon turned to visual arts and painting as the main vehicle to balance her health and well-being. This is a journey that the artist has been forthcoming in addressing and courageously explores in her painting practice.
As the artist candidly puts it…
“Never underestimate the power of failure. Failure is often a road to somewhere better”.
The young painter was tutored and mentored by some of the great Maori art educators and artists of our time: Manos Nathan (1948-2015), Colleen Waata Urlich (1939-2015) and Sandy Adsett (1939- ). Hopkins originally began her training at Northland Polytechnic in Whangarei where she met up with other like-minded individuals such as Linda Munn, Hiraina Marsden, Dorothy Waetford and Yvonne Tana. She was encouraged by Manos Nathan to attend Toihoukura art school in Gisborne and learn painting under the master colourist Sandy Adsett. Adsett’s guidance was a critical factor in enabling her to realise a career in painting and a means by which she could earn a living making her work.
Manos Nathan encouraged her to take risks, to experiment, to explore and play in both life and in her creative journey. But perhaps Nathan’s greatest gift was imparting the importance of whanaungatanga: of making familial connections or from afar with those international artist colleagues. The importance of making connections and the notion of reciprocity was a crucial teaching and one that Manos and Colleen impressed upon her. Through their leadership, Hopkins was introduced to Te Atinga – the Maori visual arts committee of Toi Maori Aotearoa and, in more recent years, the Taitokerau Maori Artists Collective. These groups have offered valuable support and opportunities to collaborate and exchange with other indigenous artists and communities globally. The artist remains an active and long-standing contributor to these movements.
This retrospective recalls these humble beginnings and celebrates Hopkins’ artistic journey, illuminating her own path in the hope that it might help others find their voice.
Andrea Eve Hopkins’ painting practice sits within this consideration of land and sky. Her interior worlds declare cultural truths, transmit personal knowledge and reaffirm connection to place and to collective heritage.
In her own quietly-paced way she has generously opened up conversations and spaces that speak to the very idea of humanity, of life, to the frailties of falling down and picking oneself back up again – to persevering and to the power of speaking to your own journey.
In this regard, her painting career pays tribute to the redeeming power of whakapapa, friendship and collective pride.
Finally, the artist reminds us of our place in the world, of the unique relationship we share to the land and the places we occupy.