Fellow's connections with city in works

2018 Frances Hodgkins Fellow Louise Menzies with one of the office chairs she has re-covered in a fabric based on Frances Hodgkins textile designs. Photos: Gregor Richardson
2018 Frances Hodgkins Fellow Louise Menzies with one of the office chairs she has re-covered in a fabric based on Frances Hodgkins textile designs. Photos: Gregor Richardson

Louise Menzies’ time as the Frances Hodgkins Fellow has come to an end but her work from the past 12 months is just coming alive on the walls of the Hocken Gallery. She tells Rebecca Fox about how her ideas came to fruition.

While a North American potter may have set Louise Menzies on her journey, it was two Dunedin artists who helped make her work a reality.

Menzies' work often begins with a figure in whom she becomes interested and responds to.

During her time as Frances Hodgkins Fellow last year it was three - 20th-century American potter M.C. (Mary Caroline) Richards, Dunedin artist Frances Hodgkins and former Frances Hodgkins Fellow Joanna Margaret Paul.

The three artists are acknowledged in different ways in ''In an orange my mother was eating'' - the title a line from a Paul poem - at the Hocken Gallery.

When the Otago Daily Times talked to her early last year, she was beginning to research the three artists' work, but had not yet found her direction.

That came during hours spent looking through the Hocken Library's various collections.

''I like to fossick about in archives. I'm interested in things from the past and how we relate to them.''

Louise Menzies has turned the pages of Joanna Margaret Paul’s colouring-in book The Lone Goose...
Louise Menzies has turned the pages of Joanna Margaret Paul’s colouring-in book The Lone Goose into Inkjet and risograph prints set in handmade paper.

Menzies, who had read many of Paul's books, had not come across the 1970s colouring-in book The Lone Goose before and, when she did, did not pay it much attention.

''I'm particularly drawn to Joanna Paul's writing and publications. She was such a polymath and I'd spent a lot of time with her books.''

It was while searching through the collection she came across letters written about the book by Otago poet laureate Brian Turner, who at the time was an editor for John McIndoe.

''Then it came alive. I was fascinated by the conversation, so I revisited the book.''

The letters show Turner championing Paul's book after Reed, the publisher, suggests it would not sell - ''but this leaves us terribly, terribly cold'' and ''otherwise I fear the reps will be laughed out of the shops if they try and sell it''.

Turner ''really goes into bat for it'', threatening that McIndoe will go it alone rather than use Reed, Menzies says.

''One of the difficulties I see it is that reps are forever being confronted with adults who seek to impose (even inflict) their own taste, or lack of it, in art on children ... but the reps should not be embarrassed or apologetic about trying to sell something that is good of its kind, which The Lone Goose is.''

To showcase this little known history around Paul's work, Menzies has mounted the letters and pages from the book on to paper she has handmade, creating new works from them.

''It was a symptom of what was happening to Paul, how she was overlooked at the time. They ridiculed it really.''

She also saw in the letters a parallel conversation to what is happening in contemporary art, ''how the audience understands, the assumptions that play out''.

Menzies is fascinated by how the argument over publishing the book charts a ''micro-moment'' in Dunedin's history.

''The way it relates to the city I have lived in and enjoyed.''

Her interest in Paul also led to the creation of a three-and-a-half-minute video that is projected on to the wall of the gallery.

''It's about an image of an object of love, reflected through the portrait of someone else's child. In this case, Pascal Harris, the son of Joanna Margaret Paul.

It also features a soundtrack by free-jazz musician Ornette Coleman, whose 10-year-old son is also playing on it.

Interspersed through the work are images of coastal matagouri and words of the poem Where I was Born, written by Paul after she heard a conversation between her 5-year-old and a friend.

''It is a riddling poem; sounds like nonsense.''

Louise Menzies also turned the letters found in the Hocken Collections relating to The Lone Goose...
Louise Menzies also turned the letters found in the Hocken Collections relating to The Lone Goose into similar prints set in handmade paper.

Her research of Hodgkins led her to the time in the 1920s when the artist was ''stony broke'' in the United Kingdom and took a job as a textile designer.

''It's an interesting moment in her career, which has not had much attention.

''It shows what means an artist will go to.''

Menzies discovered Te Papa held eight gouaches of some of the designs Hodgkins created during that time. They would have been created as a reference for screen printing at the time. No samples exist of the actual fabrics made from the designs.

It was a volatile time in Europe and Hodgkins was still piecing together who and what she was as an artist, she said.

So Menzies decided to re-create the designs with the help of a digital designer. She drew elements from an original design to create a pattern.

''The colours are pretty faithful. It's a version of what the originals might have been, not a physical reference of the original design.''

Then Menzies used the fabric to cover two chairs and a stool from the office used by the Frances Hodgkins fellows at the University of Otago, highlighting the links between the city, the artist and Menzies as the Frances Hodgkins fellow.

But her journey began with Richards and her interest in her work as a potter.

Menzies herself had become fascinated with potting and had travelled to Australia with a group of potters last year.

Richards' influence on her thinking was marked with the re-creation of a flyer which originally advertised a show Richards had. While it was missing the date, Menzies had pinpointed 1958.

With the poster, Menzies was trying to acknowledge the role Richards played in 20th-century ceramics and art.

''She was a potter and poet; she wrote about education. Like Paul she was a polymath of a different sort. She was also overlooked in her lifetime.''

Richards struggled for recognition in her time as being female and creating pottery was not seen as having the same standing as her male peers.

Menzies' fascination for fossicking through the Hocken archives and the time-restricted nature of the fellowship also led to another project - the creation of a 2019 calendar.

''I'm really interested in print culture.''

Of course, it has a twist: each month is an image of the month of a calendar from the past which shared the same dates as this year.

''The nature of the residency being a 12-month cycle made me think about time as being arbitrary, that we slice and organise it to structure our lives.''

She produced the calendar with help from Dunedin Print.

Most pages also featured a cut-out, which enables the next page to show through.

Artist Matthew Galloway helped with the calendar's design.

''It was a really fun time.''

Menzies is returning to Auckland, but says Dunedin has a place in her heart.

''I hope to do something in Dunedin in the future, to continue by connection with the city.''

To see

Louise Menzies’ ‘‘In an orange my mother was eating’’ opens on February 16 and runs until March 30.

She will take part in an artist’s talk on February 16 at 11am. There is also a curators talk on March 30 at 3pm.



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