Zealandia is a term which has been reintroduced to the vocabulary in recent years after over half a century of neglect. In its original incarnation, Zealandia was a personification of New Zealand, a daughter of Britannia, the subject of nationalistic statues and images. But it was an image that never completely took hold. New Zealand's beauty was too austere, its country too untameable, to be descended from the gentle rolling countrysides of Britannia's isles.
In recent years, the term has resurfaced, repurposed, as the name of the sunken continent of which New Zealand is one of the few parts above the waves. If Britannia rules the waves, then her daughter lies mainly beneath them.
Peter James Smith is well aware of this duality and its connotations when considered in connection with New Zealand's European history. The sons of Britannia, in the form of Cook and his fellows, came as mariners and scientists to chart a great southern continent, and found only ocean speckled with islands. But what islands, lands filled with astonishing natural grandeur that would take centuries to fully explore. It is only in the last few decades that the continent itself has finally emerged, again through the discoveries of science.
Art and science are often considered unmixable opposites, but Peter James Smith gives the lie to these theories. His art mixes the grandeur of the land and sea with text and notation relating to disciplines as broadly separate as philosophy and climatology (both referenced in A Song of Plato's Cave). Mythology is invoked, in reference to both Māori and European traditions, as is the early history of European settlement.
Smith is also keenly aware of the history of New Zealand art, and nods and references to predecessors ranging from Van der Velden to McCahon can be recognised in his epic landscapes.