Twenty-three friends had a wonderful visit to Piera McArthur’s house and studio in Thorndon. After unexpected refreshments and a brief introduction from Piera about her life, we crossed the Mediterranean-like courtyard (filled with lemon trees in raised gardens with ceramic plates on the fence) to her painting studio. She prefers to call herself a painter rather than an artist. At 90, she shows no sign of slowing down and will shortly be sending 18 to 20 large works to Jonathan Grant Gallery in Auckland. We were privileged to see some of these works in her studio and hear her explanations of some of them. She also had a large piece of paper on the wall with the places she had lived in with her diplomat husband John, and some other ‘events’ written on it. The ‘posthumous talk with Duchamp’ intrigued one friend who asked Piera to explain it. When asked about her artistic influences, she said ‘everyone is influenced by everything around them. I love everything good’. Her works are vibrant and joyful and she loves anything theatrical – there was a self-portrait of artist and model, called ‘the doing of the portrait’; a Lady Godiva painting; some musicians and a few still lifes – flowers in vases – although it is difficult to describe any of Piera’s lively works as still!

She also showed us some of her works on paper – text and watercolour – about the life of Bishop Pompallier that were made into a book called ‘The Holy Ghost among the Fantails’. She explained her use of the marouflage technique, which means joining two surfaces together – she likes to paint on paper and glue it to canvas, although it is a messy process. Not that she always uses this – she sometimes paints directly onto canvas. Friends were also welcome to look at the art in her house – I’m sure all of us found it a very enjoyable and entertaining visit.

If you would like to read more about Piera, this informative article appeared in the newspaper in 2012, the same year Joanna Woods book ‘Diplomatic Ladies’ came out, featuring a chapter on Piera (A Portrait of the Artist).

Vivienne Morrell