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Rieko Woodford-Robinson "Aotearoa"

Preview: Tuesday 2nd October    Exhibition Dates: 3rd October - 20th October (Exhibition on view during Auckland Art Week)   Rieko Woodford-Robi ...

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Preview: Tuesday 2nd October    Exhibition Dates: 3rd October – 20th October (Exhibition on view during Auckland Art Week)


Rieko Woodford-Robinson’s inaugural Auckland exhibition “Portrait Animalia” (2016) introduced us to an artist whose artworks are steeped in the tradition of anthropomorphic illustration.  The artist has made no secret of her love and fascination for soft toys and an upcoming book The Fascinating History of Toys and Games Around the World (1) discusses the inextricable relationship between toys, children’s illustrated books, classic novels and art.

Anthropomorphic animals depicted in classic children’s stories such as Wind in the Willows, 1908 (Kenneth Grahame), Alice In Wonderland, 1865 (Lewis Carroll, pseud), The House at Pooh Corner, 1928 (A.A. Milne) and the Uncle Remus stories, 1880’s (Joel Chandler Harris) have been iconised and enhanced by compelling illustrations over the course of their enduring careers. Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox (from the Uncle Remus stories) have come under scrutiny by some more recently, but despite this, a larger than life statue of Brer Rabbit stands proudly in Harris’s Home town of Eatonton, Georgia.  While in some cases the first editions of these books were sparsely illustrated (eg. The House at Pooh Corner) many such as Alice in Wonderland (illustrated by John Tenniel) and Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter) were beautifully illustrated. The books have not only become the very genesis of toys, games and blockbuster movies but have provided unbounded inspiration for book illustrators and artists.

Rieko Woodford-Robinson attests to the significance of the history behind the “Aotearoa” exhibition stating… “These wonderful birds, their beauty, intelligence and mana, seem like the guardians of New Zealand. My anthropomorphic animals and birds take on characters inspired by Māori and even suffragette influences which became apparent after colonization.  As an artist originally from another country I have found this history most inspiring”. (2) 

The artist here has raised the bar considerably where each character or anthropomorphic animal has been finely portrayed in oils on canvas.  While creating her very own characters, props and settings, the paintings have been executed with exquisite detail and endearing personality. The characters in this new series of works are largely based on New Zealand native birds including the Morepork (Ruru), Wood Pigeon (Kererū), Tui, Kiwi, Huia, Takahē and Kakapo.  The distinguished poses and compositions bring to mind two famous early NZ portrait artists of Māori, Charles Goldie [1870-1947] and Gottfried Lindauer [1839-1926], and more specifically where the artist has celebrated and referenced traditional Māori Taonga such as Hei Tiki, Korowai Kaitaka and Kahu Huruhuru (cloaks and flax weaving). The birds here are depicted as Kaumatua, leaders and decision makers discussing history and the future, and more particularly the ramifications for native bird life which remain under serious threat.

A significant work in the exhibition “Lord Fox” refers to European colonialism, where the learned and sophisticated (perhaps cunning) gentleman fox sits, writing an important document with quill in hand, in his lavishly furnished study.

There is no doubt this latest exhibition establishes Rieko Woodford-Robinson as a perceptive and highly skilled practitioner of this captivating genre.

1.Warwick Henderson, The Fascinating History of Toys and Games Around the World upcoming book, pub New Holland 2018

2.Rieko Woodford-Robinson – email to Warwick Henderson Gallery, July 20




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