Moray Gallery

Joanna Tokona: Long Water

3-24 December 2021

Captivated by life, laughter, love and layered complexities that are downright sad, Wairoa is, my in the moment space.


Deep Waters and Skies with Strong Physicality 

                                                                                                                                              What painterly techniques can bring a landscape to life? And how much distance can the naked eye behold? Artist Joanna Tokona specialises in movement, and her paintings induce a sensation of range. Swathes of sky and water refigure themselves around dark, resilient trees. These expansive environments churn, they’re spirited. Tokona’s latest exhibition, ‘Wairoa, Long Water’, comprises three large ocean works, two of which are triptychs on loose canvas, and three circle-shaped cameos of trees. One visitor comments, “They’re awesome aren’t they?”                                                                                                                                                             

Of the large works, Running Free glistens. Under a heaving sky, an immense wave barrels toward ancient, dark bedrock. What’s striking about this painting is its physicality. Uninterrupted strokes required Tokona to walk the length of the one and a half meter canvas. An image created by such actions demands a corresponding agility in its viewers. To follow the inwash funnelling into the foreground, for example, we must surrender our hold on a top corner of distant rain, and track some way across the canvas. The central, sizeable wave is hypnotic. This landscape immerses us. An obscure foreground, Tokona mythologises rocks in sienna and teal-toned blacks. The volume of paint! She applies oils lavishly.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Encountering the triptych Running Past my Window, it takes a moment to realise how elevated we are. Based on the horizon in the bottom quarter of this immense, three and a half meter panorama, the sky grows farther than ‘as far as the eye can see’. A panorama makes a world of a view. A westerly charges this riotous scene. We feel the gale. But the environment is laced with an ornament of fine, soaring birds; this creation story is also nuanced.

Vines climb both bare trees and a tossing eucalypt. These vines are dense on their trunks, staking their claims, fur-like. Van Gogh’s directional strokes whirl the water and blur maroon clouds. Background brush strokes fold around the bare tree subjects, reiterating their shapes. This unnatural halo effect—where different depths of field affect one another—is what animates this scene.

Colour-wise, this painting is integrated. Purple clouds repeat faintly in the ivory water, as do the green vines. These greens feature even in a few clouds, perfectly native; or perhaps these greenish ‘clouds’ are, instead, islands on a montage horizon.

Tokona uses a range of brushes and palette knives, ensuring every surface—water, branch and leaf—is realistic. Zigzagged, hooked or pulled leaves, these intuitive strokes realise the leafness of leaf for eucalypts. Another tree’s leaves are cupped tufts. Tokona knew a palette knife would condense and homogenise these. But while this painting is consummate in colour harmony and impasto gestures and alive with momentum, what it fundamentally offers viewers is its scale. Here’s a majestic sensation: having the limits of one’s peripheral vision undermined. This painting induces a delicious vertigo. Its sky’s breadth continually opens viewers’ perception of distance.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

In the three circular works, Tokona paints even over the edge of the canvases: this is her nurturing approach. She has a unique method for constructing her paintings. Not layering, but darkly marking out her bare tree subject first, Tokona then colours in the negative space. She does so with strokes predetermined by the subject, thereby making the background strangely prominent. She checks that prominence, however, by using paler tones such as, in the case of Wound Up II, peach and baby blue. A play on ‘wound’, the tract of trunk this painting depicts has a cut that is literally bleeding. Tokona’s works are spiritual. They’re not spiritual in cryptic ways – her awe for Nature isn’t coded, nor does it equate to fairweather sketches but to these lush, worked tributes.      

A strong, physical exhibition, ‘Long Water’ combines the power of Nature with reverence for it, and a substantial quantity of oil paint with Tokena’s lifelong experience of how to orchestrate it.                                                                 

Review written by Angela Trolove December 2021



Wai is for water which runs free, unrestrained and salty.

 It is the place where a low hum resides in the gaps between waves and tides. Active, non-conforming, comforting and ever- lasting.

Roa is infinite and stable.

 Long, slow and tall, sometimes winding, roa cannot be rushed.

At times roa can be difficult to fully comprehend, as understanding it requires resilience and patience. 

Patience is my flaw.   

Roa and Wai, Wai and Roa.


Captivated by life, laughter, love and layered complexities that are downright sad, Wairoa is, my in the moment space.

 My in the moment space,





Joanna Tokona 2021