South Seas Idol is an important and thought-provoking exhibition of significant works by painter Jenna Packer. Her graceful, delicate and captivating paintings present worlds of possibilities, complex narratives and constructed histories. She explores the social, political and economic structures that shape the world we live in today, looking locally, nationally and globally. Through her personal vision and rich visual language she paints parallel, post-modern, time-less and time-filled landscapes that expose the ideologies and myths that underpin our belief systems.
In her cinematic scenes, Jenna Packer re-interprets and re-contextualizes historical events, and generates new and alternative narratives and possible futures. Looking regionally, she gives the viewer a flash of what could be and poses universal questions: What happens when the oil runs out? What happens when the environment is no longer sustainable? What happens when the social structures that our contemporary lives are built around, collapse and fail? Will we take what we have learnt from the past, to build a better future?
There is an ongoing interplay between the micro and the macro, the local and the global, the masses and the individual, country and community. In South Seas Idol there are pockets of activity, crowds of people and detailed architecture, juxtaposed with the vast, ongoing sky and atmospheric mountain ranges. Compositionally, expressive horizontal landscapes move the viewer’s eye across the work in Votive, while the large central monument acts as a visual guide drawing the viewer into the work and thus revealing important detailed subject matter.
Jenna Packer’s unique and well-developed symbolic language is loaded with metaphor and message. Throughout the exhibition we see statues as the purveyors of myth and representations of dominant culture. The sacred head of the bull appropriated from Merrill Lynch’s corporate logo and a symbol of Capitalism, is hoisted upon a Jesus-like figure in Superstructure, while Big Time shows working class figures wading up the Waitaki Valley - a monument to New Zealand’s proud agricultural tradition?
As well as using figurative elements to tell the story, her unique and highly skilled painting technique deepens her narrative. The luminous use of transparent washes allows the white of the canvas to shine through and harks back to Italian fresco techniques of the 14th Century. There is also a clear connection to New Zealand early landscape watercolourists such as Alfred Sharpe, reinforcing that these works are as much about looking at the history of New Zealand as documenting a possible future.
Enchanting yet stirring, representational yet allegorical and observational yet deeply reflective, Jenna Packer’s painting practice is unlike any other artist active in New Zealand. Looking regionally but within a global context, Jenna explores how politics, power and economy, affects contemporary society.