For background on the artist and works, see below.
About the Artist
Gerda Leenards grasps fleeting moments, the transience of light and weather in paintings of infinite subtlety. Her works may appear to be landscape, yet are not – Leenards actually paints the light, the weather and echoes of memory, rather than the landforms, and is intrigued by ideas about the transformation of the land and water by the swiftly changing light. Born in the Netherlands, Leenards emigrated to New Zealand at the age of 10, and her Dutch heritage and awareness of the European masters does influence her work. She is often identified as one of New Zealand’s leading landscape artists, but doesn’t see these paintings as landscapes as such. ‘Often landscape is handled in a very stationary way: here are two cabbage trees and a roadway. It’s very descriptive of the road and the trees.’ She is conscious of the way painters like Turner and Constable explored the effects of weather. But she points out those painters were working at an exciting time when scientists were just beginning to understand weather and cloud formation. ‘There was a feeling then that the earth was permanent. Now everything is changing very fast.’ Issues such as global warming and the fragility of the earth interest her, and while she doesn’t paint it literally, this awareness has an influence on her painting of the transience of nature. Gerda Leenards emigrated to New Zealand as a child, and now lives and works in Wellington. A graduate of Ilam School of Fine Arts in Christchurch in the 1960s, Leenards has exhibited in the major public galleries in New Zealand and was three times a Visa Gold Award finalist. She has works in most public collections in New Zealand including Te Papa, the National Museum. Her work The Nature of Culture toured in the national show Inheriting the Netherlands. In recent years she has attracted critical acclaim for the way she captured the fragile and mist-laden world of Fiordland. She has simultaneously explored other territory, with a common thread surreal or moody weather, atmospheric vapour, and ambiguities created by the changes of light, including the Chinese landscape after journeys through that country following ‘the Blue Ribbon’. Gerda Leenards is featured in several respected New Zealand art publications, including Lands & Deeds, Gregory O’Brien’s book on the landscape tradition in New Zealand art.
Gerda Leenards is known for her intense engagement with landscape, and often references to underlying concerns or issues are subtle and understated, such as in her Fiordland works, and Meretoto paintings. Her work Inferno is more direct: addressing concern about climate change and the wildfires raging through Canada, Australia and Europe – even, potentially New Zealand.
The slightly earlier Kanuka series were inspired by stands of trees holding to the edge of the riverbank near Foxton, underpinned by knowledge such as the response of trees to environmental degradation: limited sequestration of carbon dioxide, for instance. Her paintings are seductive, but the message may have an edge.
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