Robin White: Something is Happening Here

Sarah Farrar, Jill Trevelyan and Nina Tonga

Te Papa Press, $70

Written by      

Fish and Chips, Maketu (1975) is probably Robin White’s best-known piece of art. Gorgeous, eh, that sky? “It holds a moment for us to be in,” writes Justin Paton, one of many contributors to this superb book of art and essays. “It sends you out into its blessedly blue Pacific day with a beautiful last word: away.”

A lot of White’s work is like this, calm clean planes and colour. But the thing about White (Ngāti Awa, now aged 76 and living in Masterton) is that she’s never stayed still. So: she weaves, she works with watercolour and silk and soot, she makes screen prints, woodcuts, she quotes Yeats. She very much likes to work with other people, especially women of the Pacific (she lived in Kiribati for 17 years) and to travel, and think.

My favourite essay is about how White reconciled art—a 24-hour job, she felt—with parenting. “Sometimes I just felt enraged, really angry,” White says. It got better.

A major exhibition of White’s work showed in Wellington this year and is now at the Auckland Art Gallery. It closes at the end of January—right about the time judges will announce the finalists for our most prestigious literary awards. Expect to see Robin White and this splendid homage front and centre.