Moray Gallery

Jessica Crothall: Kahikatea - Moss and Mist

4-24 May 2024

Kahikatea trees manage to stand upright in the soft wet soils by intertwining their roots. We cannot stand alone and need the presence of others to sustain us and hold each other up.

Dacrycarpus dacrydiodes, commonly known by its Māori name as Kahikatea, sometimes named ‘white pine’ by Pakeha. Kahikatea is a coniferous tree endemic to New Zealand. A podocarp, it is the tallest tree of Aotearoa, gaining heights of 60 m over a life span of 600 years.  These majestic trees thrive in heavy rainfall areas and grow well on swampy land. Formerly widespread throughout Aotearoa in lowland areas, there are particularly magnificent stands remaining in South Westland, near Haast, on the West Coast of the South Island - Te Wai Pounamu

In my latest series of paintings, I have moved away from my earlier techniques to better respond to a Kahikatea rain forest.  I admired the way fungal plants and moss hung off the branches so I deliberately adopted a dripping style in applying the watered-down acrylic paints similar to the way one might use Indian or Japanese inks.  Apparently, Kahikatea can support entire ecosystems on their trunks and branches. A scientist once found 28 different plants living on one tree – lianas (twining and climbing plants like supplejack, kiekie and our native passionfruit and native jasmine. Water was also generously poured on. Various versions of the one scene were painted to try to refine and capture the essence of a typical rainforest with heavy downpours.  At the same time, I rendered a few mountain scenes like Milford Sound and Lake Marian in Fiordland, because my partner and I enjoy exploring those areas.  I have always admired Chinese and Japanese calligraphy and Painting.  Recently, I saw some very fine modern examples of Chinese painting in the National Art Gallery in Singapore.  The artist did large heroic works on paper and experimental techniques. On my part I prefer painting on canvas although I have done a few compositions using traditional inks and paper.

Kahikatea trees manage to stand upright in the soft wet soils by intertwining their roots. We cannot stand alone and need the presence of others to sustain us and hold each other up. (Christian bible, 1 Cor 12-31). In these current times we are experiencing more extreme weather events.  Cyclones, storms, heavy rainfalls and even tornadoes.  All the more important then, that we are there for each other.  For Māori, Kahikatea is a direct metaphor for chief or leader.  It has a unique growth pattern in the roots as a symbol of strength in unity.

LINK to a 'Discover the Artist' video about these works by @antoniasartstudio 

LINK to the ODT review of Kahikatea Moss and Mist by James Dignan.