A number of paths converge in Zena Elliott’s new paintings for Rīpekanga/Intersections. The Ngāti Awa artist continues to explore how Te Ao Māori is manifested in traditional and contemporary art contexts and at the same time investigates the structure of the picture plane and complex geometries of reflection and rotation. Elliott combines narratives of time, place, sign and symbol to produce visually and conceptually complex works.
The four tondos (Ōhua, Māwharu, Turu, Takirau) refer to the rhythms of seasonal planting and their loosely quartered, round forms allude to the never-ending cycles of months and years. The central discs, which feature crescent-like divisions, suggest the waxing and waning of the moon and they float atop the rhythmic patterns of the main ground. Curling tendrils and leaf-like shapes surround inlaid ‘seeds’ of paua shell and red wax, and Elliott’s subtle use of repetition and symmetry allows the eye to easily follow the flow of line and colour. Her juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary materials and techniques underpins her notion that there is a “time, place, and space” (1) for both the preservation and innovation of socio-cultural traditions.
Elliott combines stylistic and symbolic motifs from whakairo, tāniko, and kōwhaiwhai artistic traditions with her own contemporary painting practice, itself informed by stencil and street art. Her intricate geometric compositions create distinct visual planes upon the surface of each painting. Despite the obvious flatness of the painted surface, circles and diamonds advance from the picture plane, effects which are futher enhanced by the assured use of complementary colour combinations. The simplicity of unpainted outlines anchors Elliott’s richly layered patterning by providing visual unity across the entirety of each painting.