Monday, July 14, 2008

The Aviatrix

The Aviatrix was painted by Rita Angus in 1933. It is in the breathtaking book Rita Angus An Artist's Life by Jill Trevelyan (Te Papa Press) which I got for my birthday today from my parents'-in-law.

The plates of Angus' work reveal her considerable talent for portraiture. I picked this one because an earlier post here about Jean Batten attracted some interest from Australian writer Gondal-Girl who likes aviatrices so I hope she sees this.

The painting is of Angus' sister Edna who was one of the first women in NZ to own a pilot's licence.

And serendipitously, I was invited to visit Angus' former home in Thorndon Wellington this evening. I am involved with the Randell Cottage in Thorndon which is a residency for NZ and French writers, and we are in the early stages of building a relationship with the other artists' residencies in the area: the Rita Angus and Douglas Lilburn, as well as the Katherine Mansfield birthplace.

So in the still of the evening, a small group of writers (including the current Randell Cottage writer-in-residence Jen Compton) and other devoted Friends of the Randell Cottage walked around the small but perfectly formed Rita Angus cottage with its pocket-handkerchief balcony and huge magnolia tree.

We stood in the art room with its paint-spattered floor boards, admired the duck-egg blue kitchen cupboards and looked down from the lush garden bank at the way the magnolia tree grew like the thorns around Sleeping Beauty's castle.

Rita Angus lived here from 1955 and loved its tranquillity and closeness to the city. Her painting above is called Garden with Magnolia Tree.

And here's the book with one of Rita's stunning self-portraits on the cover. I love the way her people take full possession of the canvas and resolutely hold the eye. Even the Aviatrix is bolder and more audacious than Angus' sister in her aviatrix garb.

The paintings can be seen in their full glory in an exhibition at Te Papa now, and if you can't get there the book is the next best thing.

The text is fascinating too. I've learnt, for example, that Angus was a minimalist who kept her cottage very tidy, and always had a self-portrait above the fireplace in the living room. The room she painted in was also the room in which she ironed.

Which links to a previous post here about writing in the midst of things.


Rachael King said...

Snap! Happy birthday. It's mine today!

I got three lovely new moleskin journals, so I may have to forsake the old 1B5s after all!

Gondal-girl said...

That is a fab picture Mary, wish I could look as good in such an outfit ( love the look in her eye). I am working on something around this time/theme a little so thanks for letting pointing it out to me - these paintings remind me a bit of Tamara De Lampicka a lot - nice and bold.

Happy Birthday again Rachael, hope you having a productive and happy day. I have to say I am a bit distracted by the wierdly warm weather - 23 yesterday and some jasmine bushes were out so early, so I pinched some and now my flat is smells all spring heady - it makes it hard to concentrate...but smells divine

Mary McCallum said...

Yes it's weirdly warm here too and terribly still. The water was so clear and the sun so bright I almost felt like jumping in for a swim.

The aviator theme is very compelling isn't it? And the fact of those women getting up in the sky in those early flying years. Remember that wonderful Yeats' poem about an Irishman airman forseeing his death? And the lines: 'A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds.' I love Yeats.

Gondal-girl said...

Yes, is it global warming or just a freak weather pattern - nice to see some perfect blue skies though, they give me a certain push forward, 'a lonely impulse of delight' cannot think of a better description either for writing ( which to my mind is word flying)

you win the best quotes prize today, I also love Yeats ( and use one of his poems in the novel I am working on) - a really interesting character

Vanda Symon said...

The Rita Angus book looks incredible. I have a feeling a copy may have to find its way to my home.

Gondal-girl said...

while on this theme just read an interesting article in the Literary review about a book called The Balloon Factory: The sotyr of the men who built Britain's first flying machines by Alexander Frater...looks very intriguing....