Pokare by Andrea Hopkins ©AEH19

Soaring ideas but Feet in the Ground

‘Turangawaewae’ by Andrea Hopkins 2003

The wharenui (meeting house) is minuscule in the vast expanse of the painted canvas. Tiny delicate strokes with a thin brush render its familiar profile.

The painting is Tūrangawaewae (2003), an early work by local artist Andrea Hopkins, who currently has a must-see retrospective exhibition at the Whangārei Art Museum.

This work exemplifies what I think is most successful about Hopkins’ paintings: the contrast between fine delicacy and broad, expansively painted backgrounds.

This is a visual thing. It simply provides interest and pleasure for the eye to scan a large painting from further back, grasp its essential structure, then discover the small figures, patterns, symbols and landscape features embedded in the canvas.

To see properly you have to get up real close. This has the effect of making the experience personal and precious, like examining a piece of fine jewellery.

But it’s not just a formal device, it works metaphorically as well. In Tūrangawaewae, the effect is to locate the wharenui, that emblem of Māori cultural continuity and renaissance, in a boundless universe of space and time.

When we stand somewhere (tūrangawaewae means “the right to stand in a place”), we only occupy a small space physically but a massive one culturally. We are tiny in the grand scheme of the universe, yet wondrously endowed with a cultural heritage. Language, art, ways of thinking about the world, were established before us and will continue after us.

The wharenui, a symbol of human culture and working together, exists within something much larger. It is dwarfed by and also protected by the immense space Hopkins evokes in her paintings. To return with a jewellery analogy, it’s like a precious ring displayed on a large felt-covered pillow.

‘Pokare’ by Andrea Hopkins 2007 ©AEH19

In the sky section of the painting, again requiring us to get up close, is a reccuring motif in Hopkin’s work, a Māori kite (manu tukutuku).

These kites, abstracted and original, fly high and often in Hopkins’ paintings. And they are always a delight. They represent the creative spirit, a spiritual soaring.

Yet the kite flyer always has their feet on the ground. They can observe and imagine the experience of flight, without actually doing so.

The kite is a wonderful symbol of our desire to transcend our physical earth-bound selves, even though this is impossible.

We remain both of the sky and the land, of the spirit and the soil, of Rangi and Papa. The truth and beauty lies in the mutual harmony of opposites. Hopkins portrays these opposites powerfully in her best work.

What I often admire about Māori artists, is their willingness to use symbolism that contains big ideas without any hint of irony. And so I find Hopkins’ work to be philosophical in a way that speaks to me as a non-Māori.

But to someone who is Māori, who lives in the culture, who has participated in kapa haka, like Hopkins herself did for many years, then these paintings must surely speak even more powerfully.In particular, I’m thinking of her paintings featuring female figures, dancing and strutting in the landscape. They most often wear knee-length skirts, smart designer tops and high-heeled boots.

They look like middle-class office workers, teachers, hospitality managers, small business entrepreneurs, who easily transition from work to café to nightclub.These are confident modern women with a proud Māori identity, shown by their faces, which recall carved imagery of classical Māori design with a touch of Picasso-like abstraction thrown in.

Collection of figures from the ‘Mai Wahine’ series, 2010

Kii Raro, Mai Wahine (2010) and Things Are Looking Up (2011) are masterworks which delight in optimism and spirited play.

As always, a review of an exhibition with a large number of works is impossible. Hopkins’ work has changed and evolved over the years, different paintings make different statements.You have to visit the exhibition to create your own experience of the work. I can assure you, though, you’ll be uplifted, provoked and satisfied. The universalism present in these paintings speaks to us all.

Hopkins is a kite flyer, a skilled one, who deserves our admiration.


‘ANDREALAND – Retrospective & New Works’ – a milestone, mid-career exhibition showcasing a selection of over 30 works from Andrea’s impressive 20-year career, alongside a new body of work created especially for this exhibition ran from Dec 2018- February 2019 at the Whangarei Art Museum. New Works created with support from Creative New Zealand.

For the full article, check out https://bit.ly/2UkYMDS
and click here for more articles by Vaughan Gunson and here for his website

Fly a Flag, 2010 - acrylic on canvas ©AEH10

Text & Kowhaiwhai

ONERAHI, 2010 – acrylic on canvas ©AEH10

You have to look hard (without reading the title first) to make out the letters, and then the words, contained within Andrea Hopkins’ Text and Kowhaiwhai paintings but doing so is a rewarding experience.

By the time you identify the words a word (Parihaka, Wairua, Onerahi), you’ve taken in the complexity of the patterns-within-patterns in the construction and you stay looking at the whole for awhile afterwards.

The introduction of bright primary colours to the traditional black, whites and reds enhance the work and the simple bold forms (in detail reminiscent of Michael Illingworth’s work) give a strong sense of movement.

Using mainly elements of kowhaiwhai patterns to construct an alphabet of European letters seems like a perfect assimilation – a balance of cultures.

The comic strip-commercial art-style blue eyes (complete with round white reflection spots) give some faces an eclectic, and even cheeky, appearance, others using koru, suggest sadness.

The challenge Hopkins has taken up here seems to be to bring the meaning of the individual words to life.  The best text paintings succeed through the subtlety and not when the meaning is a bit too obvious (like the handling of the paint in the darkness to light of Ao-world of light).

Andrea Hopkins is a local artist with a strong sense of her ancestral Maori heritage (Ngati Paoa, Ngati Maru) and her appreciation of Aotearoa has been intensified by the experience of being overseas.

Fly a Flag 2010, acrylic on canvas ©AEH10

Working with an established and recogisable style, using the subtle patterns of Northland’s natural colours, her work has become notable for its stillness and simplicity.  It moves in and out of realism and abstraction, co-ordinates landscape with geometric designs and makes use of floating symbols and significant objects; and these figures are continued are continued in the other paintings on display alongside the text and kowhaiwhai ones.

Paintings like Fly your Flag and the series of sketching, Powhiri at Rotorua, connect birds, kites and flags.  These works go back to the association with the design of the original Tino Rangatiratanga flag.  Three women with cartoonish heads, in Pakeha-style dress, fly their flags as if they were traditional kites.

For Andrea Hopkins, traditional Maori artforms are the foundations to her own art, upon which she attempts to build something new.

Mana Magazine 2005

MANA MAGAZINE | an interview with Moerangi Vercoe

At the beginning of 2004 Northland painter Andrea Hopkins developed a five-year business plan to help her on the road to becoming a self-sufficient professional artist. It included getting a representative gallery, having three solo exhibitions, some overseas travel, and making enough money to live on.

A year later, she had checked off all of those goals. She has also become a licensed user of Toi Iho, the trademark of authenticity and quality for Maori arts and artists, administered by Creative New Zealand.

It was a good year, she admits. But it’s also clear that success has come after years of training and preparation to fulfill her dreams, not to forget the help of the man she calls her Patron Saint.

“When I was in Hastings, into the studio walks Kevyn Male, the former owner of Three Bears and Route 66 in New Zealand which his son now runs. He has supported many artists over the years. He came into the studio in weathered Barkers and a t-shirt, looked around the room and asked Sandy (Adsett) ‘who did that?’ and walked over to me and said: ‘Can you paint me seven?’.

“I said ‘sweet as’. He got his seven a few months later. What I didn’t know is that he took them back to Auckland and promoted me to some galleries.”


That’s how she came in contact with the Studio of Contemporary Art. Andrea has had three solo exhibitions at the Newmarket gallery including her major solo exhibition for this year mid May. The exhibition Every Day Identity included 14 new works that discussed her life as a ‘bi-cultural girl’. Her mother is Pakeha and through her father her whakapapa is to Ngäti Paoa, Ngäti Maru and Ngäti Maniapoto and was raised in Ngapuhi.

“I wasn’t raised on the Marae, but I am Maori.  It seeps through into everything I do.”

In particular, it is her love of kapa haka that has been a strong driver of her creative force. She led Northland group Timatanga to national level and was a winner of female leader in regional kapa haka competitions

“I can still belt out the odd tune on occasion, but I really wanted to focus on this (the painting). I knew it was going to be a challenging road.”

That road started after a few years in ‘proper’ jobs after she left school. She worked in mental health and health promotion, and also for the Taitokerau Youth Workers’ Network.

“I didn’t run away to the circus, I ran away to art school.”

The art school was Northland Polytechnic where she was a student for three years – the highlight of which was studying under senior clay artist Manos Nathan. He sent her down to Toihoukura Arts School in Gisborne to study under painter and educator Sandy Adsett. It was a move she credits as providing a major breakthrough in her professional development, both for the technical skills she acquired and the way they taught from a Mäori perspective.

Her time at Toihoukura also gave her the opportunity to travel overseas for the first time – to Bali, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok – and see firsthand how Mäori art was viewed elsewhere. She returned home more inspired and determined to succeed.

“Over here our art is everywhere. You walk into a marae and it’s right there. To see Maori art from an outsider’s eye was really good. It definitely put another foundation on the ground for me and showed me how unique yet similar we are.”

Land of the Long White Cloud – acrylic on board ©AEH04

“Traditionally, Mäori communicated visually. I follow this practice of taking traditional symbols, their meanings and working with them in contemporary contexts.”  It’s a practice that complements toi iho™.

Nga Manu e Rere – acrylic on canvas ©AEH04

“I liked the idea of Mäori made. I’m a Mäori contemporary artist and proud of it. I wanted to support the kaupapa.”

In the meantime, she is working out a new five year plan and preparing to take part in a group show to be held at the New Zealand High Commission in London.

“All I can do is keep on doing it, but keep getting better.”

Published: Mana Magazine, Issue 64 – June/July 2005
Writer: Moerangi Vercoe