Currently a major retrospective of Joanna Margaret Paul’s (1945 – 2003) art is touring New Zealand. It opened at City Gallery Wellington in October 2022 and closes on 6 February. Friends of Te Papa were given a guided tour of the exhibition by City Gallery Public Programme Specialist Graham Frost.
Joanna Paul was born to an artist mother and a bookseller father – Janet and Blackwood Paul. She grew up in a literary and artistic milieu. Sadly, she died in an accident at a Rotorua hot pool in 2003 aged 57. She had married (for the second time) only a few months earlier.
The exhibition is largely organised chronologically and shows how her art was influenced by where she was living at the time. The first room is Dunedin Ōtepoti and nearby Seacliff where she and her first husband, fellow artist Jeffrey Harris (1949 – ) lived in a cottage. The next rooms include works mostly completed while they were living in Barry’s Bay on Banks Peninsula. The last room includes a couple of works done in Wellington (collages) with most completed after she separated from Harris and was living in Whanganui for most of the last two decades of her life.
Her art and life are closely intertwined. As Graham told us, it is a biographical exhibition. Her landscapes are often of a house or garden where she lived, or views nearby. Her interiors show objects on the kitchen table – one I particularly like includes some Latin translation she was helping her son Pascal with at the time among the breakfast dishes – or clothes in a wardrobe, or rooms in her various houses.
She and Harris had four children; tragically the second child Imogen died at nine months. Joanna Paul stopped painting for a time – her first artwork after this tragedy is an artist book called Unwrapping the Body (shown in a vitrine in the exhibition) based on words and images about the human body. Paul was also a poet, and worked in various media – painting, photography and film.
I recommend seeing the exhibition if you have a chance.