Saying it with flowers

Thursday March 28, 2019 Written by Published in Culture

Visitors to Sylvia Marsters’ latest exhibition Tiare Taina are likely to be looking at the best artworks she has painted.


And that is straight from the mouth of the highly-acclaimed artist herself.

“Do I class this as my best work? Absolutely.

Particularly the last painting I did. It is my seminal work.

“When I did it I stood back and I still have trouble realising ‘I did that.’.

The object of her brushwork in Tiare Taina is the gardenia a flower she absolutely adores.

“The gardenia is something that I first noticed when I came to Raro in 2003.

It was my first time here.

“One of the greatest challenges for a painter is to paint white and I always remember (Eruera) ‘Ted’ Nia saying - ‘Sis you have to paint the gardenias if you want to get to the heart of the people.

“That resonated with me for many years.

So it took from 2003 till now to allow me to feel I have actually captured the essence of the flower, because there is a lot more than just the physical image of the flower.

“There’s a lot of connection around the world. I’ll walk around my Auckland neighbourhood and I’ll see gardenias out the front of people’s houses and I will say ‘there’s a Cook Islander’ and ‘another Cook Islander’.

“It is just something that draws you back, it’s like the spirit of the people captured in a symbolic way.”

So how hard is that to capture in your painting?

“It has just been one of those things that has had to slowly sink into me over the years. As you say it’s not just the colour, or the technique, it is the way I feel within myself.

“On that first visit Papa Ron Crocombe, who I had the privilege to spend a lot of time with, said: ‘You have to make a connection with this place on your own terms.

“I think through the painting of flowers this is the way it has sunk into my spirit.”

And that has built up your own confidence?

“That’s a huge part of it and I think that’s what Papa Ron was alluding to … is that confidence it gives you. This is your place in the world and you are connected in your own way. And I think – also the years and years of experience just builds a confidence and I now know how to go about creating the work. To the standard that I feel is right.”

Putting together her exhibition has been hard work, she says, as well as being “a very strange experience”.

“Lots of sleepless nights … but in a very good way and very rewarding way.”

So how many years to put the show together?

“I would say 14 years.”

And to physically paint it?

“Six months sitting down in front of the canvas. And it came together so quickly, it was like it was just the right time.”

How daunting is it to sit in front of a blank canvas?

“I usually have an image in my mind. It will come to me until I can’t hold it in my head anymore and it has to get out. So that’s quite easy in that way.

“That’s the confidence and I know the composition will work. I have the ability to execute it.

“I get quite excited when I have the blank canvas.

I use linen now and it smells like oranges. I can’t wait.

“I’ll go flat out for a few weeks and then I’ll go ‘just keep going, just keep going’.

“So you need to be quite disciplined.”

And her discipline is now for all to see at the Bergman Gallery.

The official opening of Tiare Taina is tonight at 6pm.  

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