A painterly eye

Now that the art galleries are closed, I’m pleased I spent so much time carefully viewing each painting in the Frances Hodgkins European Journeys exhibition on three occasions. By my third visit we knew more about Covid-19 and I was not keen to use the touch panels! There was an elderly couple carefully viewing the paintings. I felt quite sorry for them (even when one of them sneezed copiously); they looked quite frail. It would be a last treat, I expect, as before long over-70s were asked to remain at home.

I took note of who owned the paintings. The Auckland Art Gallery seems to own most of them. Other owners include the Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Papa, the British Council, Dunedin Art Gallery, and some private owners such as the Fletcher Family Trust. I was a little disappointed not to see the painting entitled Loveday and Ann. I looked it up online and found it is currently with the Tate St Ives. This seems fitting, as Frances Hodgkins lived and worked there for some time after she had to return to England from France at the beginning of World War I. The painting is dated 1915 and had two private owners (one of whom inherited it) before being purchased by the Tate London in 1944. It shows two women with a basket of flowers. The different characters of the women are quite striking, not to mention the bright colours.

The striped chair in Loveday and Ann reminds me of Hodgkins’ self-portraits which feature a favourite chair with objects belonging to her arranged haphazardly. I like this way of doing a self-portrait.

After my second viewing of the exhibition, I found the way I looked at things was enhanced. I would be struck by how a scene looked like one of her paintings. Even the pink bathroom cloth hanging over the window catch with pink flowers in the garden beyond reminded me of the rose tones she used in her later work particularly. She had a number of paintings which showed objects in the foreground and views through an open window or door.

The first time I experienced this “painterly eye” effect, was on observing my hens scratching about under the raspberries.

I wasn’t sure, but I thought one of Hodgkins’ paintings featured hens. On my third visit I found it.

This is an early work, painted in 1914; watercolour and charcoal. It is entitled Barn in Picardy. (I’ve also caught the reflection of the exit sign in my photo!) This painting is owned by our art gallery, so I look forward to seeing it more often.

Many of Hodgkins’ paintings respond not just to landscape in the many places she worked, but to events at the time, particularly wartime. In World War I she tended to paint portraits or inside scenes, as she could come under suspicion for painting outside in St Ives, on the Cornwall coast. In World War II more abstract trends in painting seem evident in her work, but rendered in her distinctive style. Her portraits too, could make social comment, such as The Edwardians (1918).

I like this photograph of her, particularly her woollen socks! Worn over thick stockings, I could see, by looking closely at the bigger-than-life photo on the wall at the exit from the exhibition. Yet bare arms. Practical considerations, perhaps when painting. And does her slumped posture indicate how grateful she is to sit after painting for long hours? She was 76 in the year this was taken (1945).

The Press today lists online exhibitions we can visit while the galleries are closed. A nice way to feast on visual experiences and nurture (code cracker word today) the painterly eye.

Home sweet home

It has felt quite good to be retired (note the qualification). Being at home has always been something to look forward to, such as at the end of each working day and during holidays. Now that we have to stay home, home remains a sanctuary for me.

There was a southerly blast last night and I’m pleased I photographed the roses before they were blown about. There’s a nice autumn second – or third – blooming happening.

The abundance of Japanese anemones or wind flowers brightens the whole garden (once you’ve got ’em, you’ve got ’em). At night, the flowers close up forming lovely nodding heads.

Loads of cranberries, framed by Japanese anemones – and parsley, chives, swan plants, Cecile Brunner, pittosporum, kowhai, and lilac which is turning to autumn colours.

There are white anemones too, with one of three rhubarb plants behind.

Herbs, fruit and vegetables are doing pretty well despite, in some cases, the ravages of chooks and caterpillars.

It’s rather nice to have hens to keep me company when I’m out in the garden. Yesterday, I picked the seventh bowl of raspberries, and a few blueberries. The chooks don’t like raspberries, but love to jump up and pick low-hanging grapes. Mostly, they prefer to scratch about for bugs.

I felt sorry for the hens when it rained the other day. They didn’t go into their little house for shelter. Instead they huddled under trees or scratched about in the rain getting quite wet and bedraggled. So I found an old umbrella and tied it up over their perch. There it sits quite fetchingly under the banksia rose and behind the abutilon and fairy rose. Even Popcorn, the white hen, matches the colour scheme as she turns pink under the umbrella!

Making a “home sweet home” for the hens is calming somehow in these days of uncertainty and anxiety. My WEA course on Sustainable Living has been cancelled (with two sessions to go) but now I can practise what I have learned at home.

Living room

My niece has decided the chooks may stay with me as they are happy here. “We’ve bonded,” I told her. I’m not entirely sure how this happened. Looking back at my earlier posts, I noted that I found them slightly sinister, messy, and sometimes gross. I also felt responsible for their welfare.

They have caused all sorts of mayhem, digging holes in the garden, stripping tomatoes from a plant, pooping on the door mat and outdoor furniture, and digging up a planter. Was there room in my small garden for these fowl?

I wondered how long it would take till they’d wrecked the whole garden, but found there were some benefits. They have worked some patches of soil to a fine tilth, great for new planting as long as I can protect the plants. Despite their little brains, the chooks are able to comprehend tone of voice, particularly when I express disapproval! I can have a lunch plate composed of garden produce – and home-made bread. It seems there is room for us all.

They often peck on the windows when they see us inside, occupy the back door mat, and wander inside if the door is left open. Maybe this is endearing. A couple of eggs a day helps. Watching them puts you in the present moment, a distraction from the ‘interesting times’ we are living in. Their care structures the day, that’s for sure: giving them kale leaves in the morning, a fresh bowl of mash and fresh water, cleaning out the nesting box, checking they have enough oyster grit, picking up poop, swabbing the deck after they’ve been let out in the afternoon (it seems cruel to leave them in the enclosure all day), filling in holes they’ve dug, putting up more barricades to keep them out of the vegetable plots, and saving some corn cobs from our dinner as a treat before they take themselves off to bed.

Today, I put a pea straw bale in their enclosure. They now have quite a living room.

Popcorn inspects the ‘sofa’.

Sustainable Living – climate change and transport

Six people attended the course this week, which meant we could work in two groups of three for a quiz. The results of this revealed my ignorance of the causes of climate change – more Inexcusable Ignorance (see an earlier post). I don’t even know the properties of all those greenhouse gases. A course in basic science is needed.

I guess I was feeling smug about biking into town. No more. I learnt that NZ is in the top 5 of OECD countries in its production of emissions per capita.

One frightening graph the tutor presented shows the UK’s emissions going down while NZ’s are going up. How can this be? The decrease in the UK’s emissions can be traced back to when their Climate Change Committee began to keep data. However, these Guardian articles may present a less rosy picture. Here, The Climate Change Commission, is only just getting underway with Rod Carr, former vice-chancellor of the University of Canterbury as Commissioner.

Really, all we could do was consider supporting organisations which are working to make companies and governments take responsibility. Fat chance. NZ’s reduction in emissions is pitiful. Submissions were recently called for by organisations such as NZ Forest and Bird for the govt. biodiversity strategy. Scientists have commented on the proposed strategy. It’s complicated.

Next then, was to look at what we can do personally. Once again, young people are encouraged to lead the way in this government initiative.

We talked about our own personal actions such as re-using and repairing instead of replacing, avoiding car travel where possible, op-shopping, avoiding plastic packaging, growing our own vegetables, and eating plant-based food.

It is an enormous pleasure to share your own produce with family and friends.

Raspberries picked this afternoon. The apples may not be ready to eat – they fell from the tree when I was planting beetroot underneath (‘helped’ by the chooks).

Hefty Tomes

Dull weather today and a great opportunity to get stuck into these great books.

I used part of a book voucher given to me on my retirement by my department colleagues to purchase We are Here. Thank you! I want to use the voucher for books which will give me years of enjoyment and interest. This one is sure to do just that. It is informative and beautiful to look at; deservedly on the shortlist of the illustrated non-fiction section of the Ockham Book Awards. I am pleased to see Wild Honey, previously reviewed on this blog, is shortlisted in the general non-fiction section. I like the Table of Contents pages in We are Here. It’s like the formatting of websites where you can choose list view or icons. Here you get both simultaneously. There’s a ribbon page marker too.

There is a lot of written text in the book, but the illustrations make it particularly captivating and informative in an accessible way about all manner of aspects of Aotearoa from living things to a musical timeline.

The knowledge and creative energy which have gone into this book are astounding.

As I write this, I can feel the earth stretching and rolling below the house – a 3.2 quake, 12 km deep, 5km east of the city, according to Geonet. Such events are featured in the book.

The other “hefty tome” is Frances Hodgkins European Journeys which accompanies the touring exhibition, currently at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. This book came free from the Listener when I renewed my subscription last year. I cruised lightly through the exhibition a week ago intending to read the book and then re-visit. The book is fascinating. I’ve read a lot about Katherine Mansfield heading off to Europe to pursue her art at about the same time. Rather than her being all alone in that pursuit, albeit prose and poetry rather than painting, this book records lots of artists from New Zealand doing the same. Hodgkins’ work was, perhaps, more sociable than the necessarily isolated work of the writer. She made friends of fellow artists who worked together in London, Europe, North Africa and Cornwall and who supported one another. Like Mansfield, Hodgkins was fierce in sticking to what she was good at rather than being swept up by current trends – although these were influential too. “It is a difficult game I am playing but I must play it my own way though it is hard sometime to keep one’s head level & ones heart brave – but I feel my work must win in the long run” Hodgkins wrote to her mother in 1907 – with her idiosyncratic spelling (p73). She resisted abstract art. The book is beautifully illustrated, showing how her style developed.


I like the still life with watermelons. (Watermelons are available now and they are delicious, cool and palate-cleansing. The chooks like them too.) Hodgkins’ still life paintings are interesting in the way they use colour and light and shape or form rather than realistically reproducing objects – and they place interesting views behind, such as the view through the window, so you have still life and landscape at once.

You can explore more of Hodgkins’ work and life here.

Responsible leadership, please

A photo accompanying an article from The Times in this weekend’s Press holds a poignant message. In the photo, a victim of Russian destruction of the village of Maarat Misrin in Syria’s Idlib province, is carried on a stretcher. Behind the stretcher bearers, this detail shows a white hen following along.

Behind the hen, the man with the camera may be a journalist, one of the brave (like Marie Colvin) who go into war zones to bring us stories of the effects of political manoeuvring on the people who live there.

Meantime, Putin and Erdogan “hammered out a ceasefire…to bring respite to civilians…and defuse tension between Ankara and Moscow” (The Times).

Did they spare a thought for the many women and children killed when the poultry farm was struck in the early hours of the morning?

On International Women’s Day, we might consider whether or not women leaders would make the same old mistakes. Our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is determined to do things differently by being kind and dignified and not resorting to the distasteful discourse often employed in parliament.

Another parliamentarian who was calm, measured and dignified, was the former Green party co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons, who died this week. She was disillusioned by parliamentary processes to effect significant change and concluded that “real change comes from within” (The Press, March 7).

Leadership has been shown by young people and there are calls for the voting age to be lowered to 16. Dare we hope? Greta Thunberg, and other young people inspired by her, demand that politicians account for their inaction as the planet slides into a state unable to sustain human life.

We have learnt little and made insufficient progress in leadership, even after centuries of war, destruction and greed. Hence the casual disregard for the simple, peaceful lives most of us would like to live, raising our chickens.

Sustainable Living – gardening

This week’s session was a visit to the Curator’s House Garden in the Botanic Gardens.

Skirting a bay hedge, we entered the garden and were delighted by the arches of pear trees full of fruit.

Then we were drawn into this abundantly productive place which is full of all manner of edible and companion plants everywhere you look. We swapped stories about our own gardens as we identified fruit, vegetables and herbs.

I was so intrigued by it all, and drinking it all in, that I forgot to take photos, so these images were found online – as close as I could get to what it was like – although the plants seemed more abundant and taller than they appear in the next image.

There were beehives full of activity. I liked other structural elements too, such as the cold frames, the little glasshouse, raised planters and edging, the massive worm farm, the compost bins, and the rock edging along the riverside path. It all looks expensive and competently engineered.

There is lots of inspiration here, however – that magic that good gardens have. On reflection, one of the most inspiring gardens I have been to is one developed by a friend using whatever materials could be found, so there’s hope for us all yet!