Behind the Art: About a Paddle

This is the first in an on-going series of posts on the story and the thinking behind some of the great art that has been created in The Cook Islands and by Cook Islanders everywhere.

Artists do not often have the opportunity to expand on the meaning of their individual works during an exhibition.  This series is that chance.

The floor is open to Judith Kunzlé, who discusses “Paddle Spirit,” the paddle that she created for The Art Studio’s Oe Vaka Exhibition, images of which you will find on this site.


The Art Studio - Oe Vaca Exhibition

"Paddle Spirit" - 2nd from right

The Paddle.
The paddle is facing me. What will I do with it? The wood is different to paper, what does it offer as a medium? I could burn, or paint , or draw. What do I put on the paddle?
Obvious thoughts first: the traditional decoration would be Polynesian patterns.
I’d like to burn, but I also like to work ‘figurative’: a crab, a taro tuber, tiare, tree, bird (flying?), a seashell. Something that would follow the form of the paddle. But what would a crab, tree, seashell on this paddle mean?
What about food? It’s one of my, and everybody else’s, favourite themes. Or mountains – another subject I like, but why would I put those on a paddle?
The technique of burning invites texture, crisp, even marks. I used to be interested in texture, was endlessly patient to draw fur, feathers, etc. Now I’m more interested in form, anatomy, preferably dynamically moving.
I turn the paddle around, handle down blade up, it has a figurative presence now.
Why would I have a form (body of a thing) on a form (paddle)? The most obvious reason is to decorate the paddle.  Or to create a contrast, using the paddle as a point of departure, its flat surface versus spatial…?

Ceci n'est pas un pipe - Magritte 

Belgian artist Rene Magritte painted this pipe in 1929 and stated: this is not a pipe, it is a painting.
This is no paddle.  It is…. I want to transform the-paddle-used-for-paddling into another object, idea, perception.
Into another material… drawing fur, an animal with eyes, with a mouth or beak, a nose… a face… what face?
A Buddha, a paddle ghost… the Paddle Spirit.
What do we expect of a Spirit?
Is it a she or a he? Which race? Is it even human?
Or maybe it’s better to keep a distance from this touchy theme, focus on a cat instead, a creature on top of the food chain, with eyes on the front of the face, like us.
Eyes, looking.
The face would not be a predator though… it would be friendly, have a sense of humour. It would be beautiful, whatever it is: clear eyes, looking directly, no games.
Looking but not watching… open, but not seductive… expectant but not threatening.
No established spirit of course, no old man, no earth mother, no white, black, yellow, brown,… no race or identity that excludes.
Form, but not identity… how?
I want to aim for an approachable beauty, but not a person we try to recognise as someone else, no: who is it?
Not a generic face, a cliché face, a kitsch face.
Neither a “hard head” nor an ambivalent expression. Rather – the way we would look inside ourselves. Or what comes out when I draw?
Drawing was like modeling in clay… the face coming out from the paddle, whose heart-shape defines the facial contours.
I focused on drawing raw, direct, freely, experimenting and accepting what comes out, letting the emerging form talk.
I did eight studies on paper, then two on the paddle, sanding it down again until this one.
Paddle Spirit - Judith Kunzlé - VakaEiva2012

Paddle Spirit - Judith Kunzlé - VakaEiva2012