E whiti e te ra, e Maene ki te Kiri - the title of a painting of clouds by celebrated artist Reuben Paterson takes its title from the first two lines of a Maori waiata or folk song meaning: "Shine, the sun soft on skin." It is this same lyrical warmth we can expect from the artist's most recent body of work. The Intimateswill feature three sculptures which act as overgrown mobiles to mesmerise and delight the inner child. These will stand alongside intricately glittered botanical and cloudscape paintings which are imbued with intimacy, celebrating love, loss, and personal growth. Paterson, taking inspiration from the Canadian poet Anne Michaels, has commissioned a piece of writing from friend and art essayist Dina Jezdic to accompany the exhibition.
An Intimate Meditation on Identity by Dina Jezdic
Our relationships define us.
Every word here was written, with love and friendship, for Reuben.
Reuben is my son’s godfather.
‘How quiet must a boy’s voice be' reads the provocation, a white text in capitals, each letter hand cast as a rose stem of glitter in resin. Reuben is perhaps asking us to consider how do we, as a society, love and care for our boys?
Reuben once told me that the power of honesty and truth is about intentions shifting us to our best selves. I am hearing him whispering towards me in a tin can with a string made just for two… ‘I’ve been meaning to tell you’…drawing us in. We are witnessing the artist standing firmly in his own mana, the power of self-knowledge and love, refusing to be limited by other people’s expectations or how others see him, label him or perceive him. The use of text is the acknowledgement of the Western construct of knowledge, exposing the concept that we are all colonised. We are all being taught a prickly lesson, but just like the sickle-shaped hooks which aid the rose in grasping for growth, the lessons are also our guide.
Wikipedia tells me that roses first evolved in Asia, but today grow all over the world. With over three hundred species and thousands of hybrids best known for their seductive ornamental and fragrant properties, there is a garden rose out there for every occasion.
Reuben reminds us that every time we impose our expectations, we take away from an individual’s power, and that, just like roses, the most vulnerable among us are often subject to severe damage from outside pressures. I also remind myself that no little boy should have to explain or need to apologise about who they are or becoming in order to deserve love. Nor should they sit in fear or shame of their identity. Once again, the trajectory of the work that has always been familial suggests ‘losing parental love and acceptance’ a major example of possible ‘loneliness and erasure’. This unpicks the complexity of how we allow our loved ones to make our world dimmer, splintering ourselves for their approval and easy consumption. It’s strange how we give the people we love so much power over us. And then again, the power we give ourselves when we finally see ourselves, through our own and not somebody else’s eyes.
The Intimates, feels dedicated to those most vulnerable among us, whose humanity is not automatically taken for granted, who are looking for a space beyond identity and someone else’s idea of who we are or who we are meant to be. It signifies the concept of te puawaitanga (the blossoming) in a turbulent time where many dominant landscapes and power structures are in the process of shifting… perhaps in search of a fragrance.
This show is a declaration that these personal stories matter, and so does this very public attempt to bring to life creations that will connect some of us to our own past, present and our desired futures. It’s like stepping into a story book, enveloping and doused in dreams of memorial fragrance. Sharing his own story is an act of defiance; Reuben Paterson’s identity takes on a life of its own like a private library turned public, a shimmering mobile that balances the painful truths of words that carry weight.
I can’t but think this show is for all the parents like me and all the little boys that need our love and encouragement in their upbringing, to thrive in their vulnerability through intimacy and let their beauty illuminate our world.