Oil on unstretched canvas
1800 x 1900mm
Like much contemporary Pacific art, John Pule’s painting draws on his own people’s art traditions — in his case on Niuean tapa cloths called Hiapo. Although there are stylistic affinities with Samoan tapa cloths, Niueans did not use block rubbing or other devices for the mass replication of motifs. Each individual Hiapo was drawn freehand so that patterns are dynamic rather than merely repetitively decorative. Pule works the same way — on canvas. Pule’s work is neither representational nor abstract. Instead he seeks to convey the dynamism of that collective energy which binds the painter and his work to his own people.
Born at Liku, Niue in 1962, Pule has lived in Auckland since 1964. He works as an artist, poet, author and tutor and in 1996 held a writer in residence fellowship at the University of Waikato. Pule’s work reflects the conflicts and dislocations which are intrinsic to migrant experience. His work figures both Christian icons and the Polynesian mythological world. The most conspicuous elements of his paintings are bird-like creatures that catch other creatures or hover menacingly over humans who are sometimes represented as cradling the sick or making love. These figures do not represent gods, mythological characters or specific people.
Instead the artist’s intention is to convey a universal vision of desire and danger in human life. This vision reflects the forces of colonisation — particularly the missionary colonisation of Pacific Islanders’ beliefs and dreams and the ensuing sense of loss caused by migration away from island homes to Auckland. Pule’s images fuse cosmology, map making, biography and the body. Sometimes his paintings mark out Niuean geography, marking out the names of certain villages; other fields show the flow of blood through the body while still others mark out a migrant’s Stations of the Cross. Vaikona translates as “bitter water”.