Du MTG: artist known for his exploration of the painting process

Rehearsals (1990) by Barbara Tuck. Photo / Provided

Sometime in 1991, this delicate lithograph entered the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection.

Donated to Napier City Council by the Department of Home Affairs, the work was commissioned to celebrate 150 years of Te Tiriti o Aotearoa.

Barbara Tuck is more widely recognized as a painter, and this lithograph is remarkably representative of her painted landscapes.

Some of Tuck’s landscapes make up an extraordinary exhibition titled Delirium Crossing, originally shown at the Ramp Gallery in Kirikiriroa and now at the Te Pātaka Toi Adam Art Gallery.

The works featured in Delirium Crossing are a collection of paintings made in the 2000s, almost 10 years after this print was made.

As a teenager, friendly with Barbara Tuck’s daughter, I was lucky enough to know Barbara – traveling with her, her architect husband and their three daughters around the South Island in the early 1980s.

My lasting memory of Barbara was of her by the water in Wanaka with a sketchbook, engrossed in the scenery – fixated on her drawing. Throughout the trip, she collected impressions, notes about the landscape that she would sew into paintings when she returned home.

Barbara was working from her villa in Arthur St, Ponsonby, at this time, in a studio above Auckland city. She had a dense, green garden, which seemed like a cocoon for her home, a separation from downtown Auckland a block or two away.

Delirium Crossing shows Tuck’s absorption in the landscape as a subject and it is fascinating to see ideas inherent in his paintings reflected in this print – although it is not a painting, nor a landscape so tangible.

Tuck remembers when, at 18, she traveled to Australia. How aware she was that the landscape there was different, “I understood the environment as completely different from what I was familiar with. I was walking on rocks rather than clay.”

In Répétitions, there is a sense of ground traveled, of human traces, of ecosystems, of spirits and of knowledge. Tuck’s worlds are influenced as much by his interest in philosophy, poetry, science and art as by his own experience. For Tuck, “the landscape is not something from which we form a view but something in which we immerse ourselves”.

We can see it in the fragments of detail that suggest ancient geologies and histories, trace stories accumulated over time. Overlapping layers twist and turn without horizon lines or perspective in a constellation where all time seems to have flown into the present.

Known for her exploration of the painting process, in this print we can see the same attention to print media in this work. Oscillating between figuration and abstraction, we recognize threads and veined networks, leaf shapes or perhaps fossils. Rich images that give way to marks that show Tuck in the moment – exploring the potential of lithography as a drawing medium.

The Delirium Crossing exhibition at the Adam Gallery offers new understandings of Tuck’s painting and similarly enriches the value of works such as Repetitions held here in the collection by providing knowledge and understanding that expands the meaning of the ‘work.

• Toni MacKinnon is an art curator at MTG.

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