On the heels of an exhibition titled House of Divinity, locally based contemporary Maori artist Tawhai Rickard is headed for Wellington to represent the Bay of Plenty region at the Maori Art Market in March.

"As soon as I revisited my cultural roots and an early painting style I once practised everything just lifted to another level," Rickard said.

This all began in 2014 when Tawhai claimed the grand prize for the Gate Pa 150-year commemoration art exhibition. The artist's prize winning work titled Pekerangi was celebrated during this time and eventually purchased by Holland Beckett Lawyers who proudly display the historic piece in their workplace.

Rickard describes his work as "old worldly" and "other-worldly", referring to the aesthetic look which has a retrospective, spiritual quality.

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"I work within what I call the Hinetapora style, being the 18th century Maori folk art paintings within my ancestral meeting house of the same name located east of Ruatoria."

He grew up with these images and has allowed the paintings and carvings of his tribal meeting house to both teach and inspire his creative process. "I began experimenting with this style in 1996 only to drop it like a hot potato two years later for a sort of pop art style; why? I just don't know."

Nonetheless, to express his cultural views, Rickard at that stage dabbled with an oddly contextual, dialogue rich style. Eventually looking to the iconic American Coca-Cola brand as a symbol of Western culture and its impact upon Maori and New Zealand culture.

"I felt I had a lot to say about the cultural landscape of our country from a Maori viewpoint which for the most part appeared somewhat disenfranchised from the rich Maori culture and way of life belonging to previous generations. Things like land, te reo, customs and protocols."

Contextually speaking, Tawhai sees his work as spiritual, as well as culturally and intellectually challenging. Aesthetically speaking, he reclaims native wood sourced from old furniture and uses machinery to create shape, background patterns and textures as a format to lay down his figurative rich imagery.

"I draw upon the education and experience of being both Maori and Christian while applying skills and techniques I've attained over the years to create my work. I believe much of it has to do with DNA as oftentimes the creative process unfolds in a natural way that connects directly to ancestral style."

 Tawhai Rickard's Land or Continent of Great Extent is now part of the Sir James Wallace Collection. Photo/supplied
Tawhai Rickard's Land or Continent of Great Extent is now part of the Sir James Wallace Collection. Photo/supplied

One of Rickard's works is titled Colonial Slave Ship, which visually draws upon 17th century folk style illustrations of African slave ships.

"I've done this to express the suppression, manipulation and control of government and crown over Maori culture that took place in our history; not to compare ourselves to the atrocities of slave trading but to reflect a parallel impact and effect on indigenous culture."

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Rickard enjoyed recent success with his show House of Divinity at the Paul Nache Gallery in his hometown of Gisborne, selling works to both New Zealand and Australian art lovers and collectors alike. Rickard also managed to have four works accepted into the Sir James Wallace collection.

He draws upon history and often fuses his work with contemporary social commentary. For example in a work titled Kapata Kai reference is made to Sonny Tau and his breach of the 1954 Wildlife Act. His work can be found locally at Zeus Gallery, 35 Chapel St Tauranga.