Saturday, September 22, 2012

In praise of: Patricia France

You remember the story of the well-meaning woman in Spain, Cecilia Giminez, an octogenarian who tried to restore a fresco at the Sanctuario de Misericordia and basically obliterated it. The fresco was 19th-century so was hardly a Giotto or Piero della Francesco, let alone a Fra Angelico. But vandalism, however well-intentioned, is vandalism. Here is the fresco before and after she got to work on it:

Terrible. But – the vandalised version looks like a Patricia France. This, for example, is In the Deep South (1991):

Patricia France was a New Zealand painter, born in Stratford (1911), raised in Auckland, trained in Paris and died in Dunedin (1995). We became friends after I included her in a calendar of NZ paintings I put together in 1988 or so. I visited her every time I went to Dunedin: she was an old lady by then but wonderful company, her house was full of great paintings by McCahon, Jeffrey Harris and others, and she was madly generous – she gave me two paintings and I know she gave many away to other friends and admirers. I could guess bits of her history, and she told me a lot, but I didn’t know the full story until I read the excellent book about her, Painting Out the Past by Richard Donald (Longacre, 2008) and watched the equally excellent 35-minute video profile/interview with her by Brian Turner (University of Otago, 1994).

As they say on Seven Days, this is my picture: Separate Creatures (1984), which I bought that year from Patricia’s first Auckland exhibition at Denis Cohn Gallery:

The really early stuff could be violent (e.g. Hanging My Father) but while the later paintings are all pretty, if you look carefully and long you see a lot of anger. An uncomfortable beauty. But if her sadness went into her paintings of people, her joy went into her paintings of flowers. They are radiant.

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