13 August 2016
An artwork is a gift the artist gives to the world. If not always one that’s gratefully received. Few artists, musicians, writers, create for the money, though they won’t say no if it comes along (the artist has to live like everyone else). Most do it to achieve personal satisfaction at something well done, which they hope will be appreciated by other people.
Often, however, there’s a time lag between the giving of the gift and the receiving of it. Vincent van Gogh is most emblematic of this delay. He so desired people to see God and glorious, wondrous life in his paintings. He hoped his art would literally save people. In his lifetime his works were appreciated by few, yet today his paintings are hugely popular and profoundly moving, particularly when seen in the flesh. His work is a gift to humanity, one that will keep giving for centuries.
Recently a respected local painter, Jo Hardy, died. She was a serious artist, very intelligent, and she worked hard. Though she could grumble and strongly desired that her work should be recognised with some monetary reward, she was, I think, playing a longer game. It’s very probable that her body of work will continue to grow in stature as time passes.
One of her best works is already part of the Whangarei Art Museum’s permanent collection. It’s the portrait of an old woman in a doctor’s waiting room. The woman stares directly at us over her red rimmed glasses, with a pointed finger lifting one eyebrow over a bloodshot eye. Is she mad? Possessed? There’s certainly something defiant about her. She dominates the picture frame, even pushing another female figure off the side of the canvas. The woman is obviously at the ragged end of life, but there’s something heroic about her still. In her light blue quilted night gown, with a tartan blanket held over her am, she recalls a marble statue of a Roman statesman dressed in a toga.
The painting is an eccentric, life affirming representation of old age. In a contemporary culture saturated with images of youth, this wrinkled character speaks to us of mortality and what it means to savour life, no matter how challenging and despairing it can be. I can’t help but think that this woman is a cypher for the artist herself. Jo Hardy was a strong, opinionated and passionate woman, not afraid to confront injustice and idiocy.
A few years ago I asked her what advice she would give to a young person wanting to be a painter today. Her reply: “Painting is not a recommended career strategy; it’s an isolated lifetime vocation. It’s a totally unfeasible feast and famine lifestyle; not for the faint hearted… The painter must be the first (sometimes the only) person to stand up for their work. It takes nerve, independent originality is required. You’re lucky if it resonates with the zeitgeist.”
Jo Hardy was an original in life and in her paintings, which will keep giving for years to come.