Farquhar’s short stories in art

Nicola Farquhar, Peahen 1, 2024, oil, acrylic and sand on canvas (left) and Peahen 2, 2024, oil,...
Nicola Farquhar, Peahen 1, 2024, oil, acrylic and sand on canvas (left) and Peahen 2, 2024, oil, acrylic and sand on linen (right). Courtesy of the artist. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Driving from Christchurch to Dunedin, artist Nicola Farquhar has been struck by the sheer size and scale of the South Island. The newly minted South Islander talks to  Rebecca Fox about expanding her  practice and experimentation.

Having a year’s worth of works go up in flames has been artist Nicola Farquhar’s biggest fear.

She has been worried her Christchurch home might burn down with all the works she has created for her exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery inside.

Having them safely ensconced on the gallery’s walls is a great relief and also a surprise.

Many of the works have been in storage, as her studio in a sleepout in her backyard could not fit them all so she had not seen them in a while and never before on the expansive white walls of an exhibition space.

‘‘I mean, it’s a total surprise because, of course, I’ve never seen them together; they were just stacked up.’’

The works in question had their origins in the short stories Farquhar enjoys and the pieces of writing she has squirrelled away over the years.

She is a fan of science fiction, and many of the pieces featured people’s engagements with other worlds through imagined encounters and people trying to understand themselves in relation to other things around them.

‘‘I quite like short stories because they’re quite experimental. People are just sort of turning over ideas. And then another one, and another one, at once. So they are kind of like paintings in a way. They have that iterative-type thing.’’

Recently she started editing the collection, pulling together pieces that really spoke to her with the idea of creating a ‘‘little book’’ of the works.

‘‘They kind of kept changing. So I was doing quite a bit of thinking about connections between ideas, I suppose.’’

The book was coming together as Farquhar planned and was working on her show as part of the gallery’s Aotearoa New Zealand visiting artist programme.

‘‘And so in lots of ways, the show ended up being kind of driven a bit by the stories that I selected. And the ideas in there. And sometimes when I wasn’t sure about what kind of decision to make in terms of an editing decision, or whatever, I would sort of refer to the stories.’’

They are also influenced by the light that infuses the exhibition’s gallery through its one window. Farquhar spent some time just sitting in the gallery on her visits to Dunedin during the past year experiencing the way the light came through the window.

‘‘It gave me quite a few ideas to start thinking about the show. So because they’ve got the works out there on the skylight and the one on the other side of the wall it has quite a big impact in here. That gave me some starting points for thinking about colour, just thinking about the colours of the light.’’

Nicola Farquhar, Ampitherial, 2024 (installation detail). PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
Nicola Farquhar, Ampitherial, 2024 (installation detail). PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Farquhar’s works are known for their vivid colours and her new ones are no exception.

‘‘It is a bit like painting, you know, which is just kind of making illusions of forms of things, of images and things. Sometimes it might be a shape, or sometimes it might be a sense of dimension. Which is another illusion because it’s actually flat - it’s the the illusion of dimension.’’

It has driven her to think a bit more about the ways paintings are made and how they are perceived.

‘‘In terms of putting together the show, I kind of wanted it have quite a sense of unity. So to make connections with the shapes and forms and the colours and the painting. And maybe a sort of more metaphorical story, like the conceptual ideas, can hopefully kind of just sit within the works.’’

Geometry, like language, can be used in many different ways and reformed. In painting simple shapes there are infinite different ways things can be arranged, she says.

‘‘I like thinking about geometric shapes a lot. So that’s what I like about written language as well, is that you have words, but you can arrange them in an infinite amount of different ways and they create different stores.’’

In among the stories are themes of birds, something she embraced in her paintings as well as she did the idea of paint brushes being like wings or feathers.

‘‘It pops up a lot in people’s ways of describing themselves when they’re thinking about, say, being outside the body in some way. So either something supernatural or spiritual, is quite a common sort of metaphor. They’re often seen as this sort of intermediary or transient-type figure in a lot of stories and I did find that that sort of popped up an imagery type way.’’

Nicola Farquhar, Dollparts, 2024, oil and acrylic on linen with canvas board attachment. PHOTO:...
Nicola Farquhar, Dollparts, 2024, oil and acrylic on linen with canvas board attachment. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
Collage is also an important part of Farquhar’s work and for this exhibition has led her to experiment and try out new ideas such as making movie clips.

‘‘I really like the idea of collage in general because it happens in all the paintings - putting a whole lot of moving parts seemingly together to make something you know in relation to that geometry thing. I like that idea. Since it’s something that can come together and then it could potentially come apart again as well. This endless kind of reforming.’’

While she is unsure where the idea to make the clips came from, to her the movies are a compilation. It has been a learning process which has had many variations during the year as different ideas played out.

The clips feature photographs of paintings she created for the clips and images of birds and ‘‘slow movement’’.

‘‘And it actually ended up something different to what I first thought it was going to do. So maybe it was just another way of working with collage.’’

The fascination with light also played into her thinking as she wanted to use glass in some way.

‘‘And I think in the end, it just sort of eventuated that the movies became the light and the glass because they’re on the glass screens. So the light and the glass, and the collage, I guess, seem to remain free form themselves. I just like the sort of texture on screen.’’

Having the opportunity to pull together such a big body of work through the visiting artist programme is a privilege she has been aware of all year.

‘‘To be able to do it in a way where you can make whatever you want and you’re quite free to experiment. Because that’s what you want. You know, it’s horrible to think that you have to just make something that you’ve already made - it would be be terrible. So, you know, being able to just test everything out as the year’s gone on, it’s been really, really good. Obviously, I’ve needed to pull everything together at the end. That’s OK.’’

She has also felt she has learned a lot this year due to being able to try out and use different materials such as sand, seeds and other additives.

‘‘They have their own qualities about them, which has been really nice to play with.’’

Nicola Farquhar, Shipwreck, 2024, oil and acrylic on linen. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
Nicola Farquhar, Shipwreck, 2024, oil and acrylic on linen. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Her family’s move to Christchurch from Auckland for an easier lifestyle means for the first time she has a studio at home, which has also enabled her to try out different techniques and work outside for the first time.

‘‘So I quite like doing things outside. Some of these works there is kind of canvas that’s been dyed or printed or stained or coloured and washed and all that kind of stuff in different ways. So I could do all that just outside, which I wouldn’t have really been able to do before very easily.’’

As an artist who did not commit to her art practice until her late 30s when she went to art school, gaining her master’s, Farquhar has always been aware of how important it is to find her peers.

‘‘ I guess for me, finding those kinds of storytellers, finding that that type of fiction, for me has been a really good way of trying to kind of find my, identify, my sort of peers.

‘‘Whatever form they are, somehow you need to find them somewhere. They give you a set of references and just an impetus to continue making stuff.’’

She has also found comfort in the artists who have shown before her in the gallery and in knowing other artists will fill the space after she has gone.

Having had artists such as Marilynn Webb, Cora Allen and Peter Robinson showing before her created a lovely ‘‘vibe’’ to the gallery.

‘‘It’s nice to have a sense of that when you are making a show. It’s just a feeling of companionship, I think as well.’’


To see: 

Nicola Farquhar: ‘‘Stars, lands’’, 
Dunedin Public Art Gallery, May 
18-September 15.