“telling Stories” by Janice Gill

<> <>Launch, Fairfield House, Nelson, 10 October, 2009

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<>Keywords: Literature and Culture;

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<>Have you noticed that we launch a book, but open an gallery exhibition? I’m going to open this book, and I invite you to do the same. For, of course, the book is an exhibition of Janice Gill’s paintings – as many as they could decently and tastefully cram into the volume.

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<>You will find it a bit different from the standard art book which is cluttered with turgid and tendentious essays by Professors Ho Hum and Drs Impenetrable, with most of the images clustered down the back as if they do not really belong in the work.

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<>Open this book, skip the short introduction by Mr Who’s He, and you are directly engaged with Janice Gill and her paintings. You dont need art professionals or curators to intermediate between you and the paintings; you engage directly – if there is an intermediary it is Janice herself,

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<>You dont need even Janice’s text to tell you about a painting. Just look. Each painting is self sufficient, although there may be details that you did not know of, or escaped your eye. which the text may point out.

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<>However Janice’s text has another role. To provide a context or, rather, to provide two contexts. The first is her life story as an artist, while the second is a story of New Zealand seen though the eyes of someone who is both an activist involved in, and committed to, New Zealand but also a bystander observing from outside.

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<>No single story of New Zealand is comprehensive, each reflects the narrator. Janice is one who grew up in a rural town, who tried the big city and did not like it, and moved on to a thriving provincial centre – small enough to offer a community; large enough to offer variety and stimulation. Its story of many New Zealanders. They may have had the same perceptions and the same thoughts as Janice, but she recorded them. In doing so did not only capture the moments but distilled them into her story of New Zealand.

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<>The New Zealand she is portraying is not the New Zealand of how we would like it to be – or how the conventional wisdom wants to portray it. It is New Zealand as Janice sees it – from where she stands, albeit with a wry humour – of how it is for her.

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<>Although Janice describes herself as a narrative painter. Had she not been captured by colour and design when she was so young she may have been a writer. Those who know here personally will know of her excellence as a raconteur which her book well illustrates.

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<>But Janice is also a portrait painter. Not of the good and the great, but of ordinary New Zealanders. Some you will be able to identify but often they are nameless – perhaps because they are composites, perhaps because she saw them but did not ask their name. A good portrait painter has to be able to relate to its subjects. Janice is naturally with the more marginalised and the common people. But it strikes me that where she has some doubts about a character – perhaps because they were powerful and self serving – there is still an empathy with them.

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<>A good illustration of Janice as a portrait painter is from a friend of mine, who attended an opening of her works a decade ago and was struck by a particular work – The Commuter. There it is on page 39. He did not get around to purchasing it, but when a month or so ago he saw it again in the book, the rapport with the painting, and the man it portrays, was renewed. I am taking the work back to Wellington tonight for him to make a decision about its future.

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<>No doubt you will have similar responses to others of Janice’s oeuvre. You sort of know the subject, and it fits into the context of your life, just as The Commuter fits into my friend’s. Ownership of the book means you can marginally possess the work, and meld your context into Janice’s.

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<>One buys and keeps books for many reasons. In the case of an art book, one is to possess artworks that you cant in any other way. But even the possessor of some of Janice’s works will value the book, because it enables those they have to be related to others, to be a part of an overall narrative.

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<>You’ll see this when you got to your next opening of Janice’s works. An exhibition gives you something no book can. You can examine the surface of the painting; you can see the size the painter envisaged rather than that the book constrained; you can walk around – left, right, closer further – just as the artist did when she planned and painted it; you can see a different light upon it.

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<>Nelson is fortunate that next year the Suter is exhibiting a retrospect of Janice’s works – all are in the book, but of course the book has many more. The retrospective is currently in the Southland Gallery, before it comes up here. I hope you will go to it, but you will value the showing ever so much more if you have read Telling Stories – at least once, perhaps many times, lingering over the images.

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<>See you at the opening when the Suter launch’s the retrospective. But open the book first. .