1. You're 85 - how does that feel?
I feel good but I don't want to live past 90. I've seen people do that and I've thought, "Uh-oh, that's no fun." I had to have a small medical procedure about six months ago. The anaesthetist told me it would be fine - and it was, it was extraordinary, it felt really good. The next day I asked him, "Was that the stuff that Michael Jackson got addicted to?" and he said, "Yeah, it was." I said, "Look, when I'm ready to go, could you do another small operation and somehow mess it up?" That's how I'd like to go, it was perfectly pleasant.
2. What was it like going to art school in Canterbury in the 1950s?
It was the 40s! I went there after the war in 1946 with all the returned servicemen. There were pilots who had been made partially deaf or part mad by their experiences. I was in love all the time. Constantly. I wanted to shop around. I liked going out with all different guys - which you could do in those days because they would be lucky if they got a kiss goodnight. I took a long time to actually get around to having intercourse. But I wasn't going to wait until marriage, no. I made up my mind that I would choose when that happened. Not have it imposed on me by society.
3. You've written that there was a prejudice against Irish Catholics - what was that like?
Christchurch was very first-four-ships, it was absurd. My name was sufficient for the Christ's College boys to see me as Irish, not a New Zealander, even though my people had been here since 1850 and that infuriated me. The Irish were thought of as dirty, less intelligent, not good-looking. Just think of the colonial process and you can apply the attitude to Maori, Irish, Indians.
4. Would you have called yourself a feminist at that stage?
Oh yes, I genuinely believed I was equal and I was always arguing about those issues. I was 21 when I read Simone de Beauvoir's America Day by Day and that perfectly slotted into how I was thinking. When I married [psychiatrist Fraser MacDonald] I kept my name specifically because I didn't want to lose my identity. I thought I could get married and have children and get away with it, and I was wrong. I had no training for domesticity. I tried so hard but I genuinely had a block. I wasn't a cook or a cleaner. And I was obliged to be, especially when I had children.
5. Do you believe in a sisterhood?
No I don't. I think women are just as vulnerable to greed and stupidity as men are. We are part of the human race.
I feel I've arrived at some sort of personhood now. I don't identify as female or male in a sense. I'm a person.
6. How did you meet Fraser?
After art school I moved to Wellington and my aunts put me up in what you would call an upper-class Catholic girls' flat. They were respectable, decent women who lived there and I came as a nasty shock. I used to wear bright green, tight corduroy ski pants, a very fitting black top, hoop earrings, hair piled up, lots of make-up, red lipstick. Other girls were wearing cardies and pearls. One of them, Dorothy, had a crush on Fraser so she asked him to a party at the house. He brought along his friend Crawford. They'd been told that I was pretentious about literature, so they started out talking about Joyce Cary's book The Horse's Mouth, which was making a bit of a rumble at the time. And I thought, how stupid, as if I wouldn't know more about it than they would. They were two doctors after all and I was a painter. Plus an Irishman had written it. So I got drunk and wiped the floor with them, really savaged them both.
7. You used to waitress at Harry's coffee shop. What was that like?
It was where all the poets went. Harry Seresin was a Russian Jew. He served pumpernickel bread with cream cheese and half a hard-boiled egg. James K. Baxter would come in. He was a bit pretentious, very prophet-like. When I was pregnant he came up and said, "And you are pleased?" and I said, "Well, if I wasn't I'd get rid of it, wouldn't I?" He was becoming a Catholic then you see, very sanctimonious. He would sit in front of the pie he was about to eat and cross himself. But as my father would say, you don't become a Catholic, it's a racial burden!
8. Because Fraser was a psychiatrist you lived in a mental hospital. What was that like?
I've lived longer in mental hospitals than anywhere else: Porirua, one in Australia, Kingseat, Carrington. Anyone who did the garden or came to help me in the house had either murdered someone or done something frightful. Doctors don't live on site any more, which is a pity. There are still mentally ill people who recognise me on the street. I actually think the whole of the human race is stark staring mad. There are the inept who can't look after themselves and they're the ones who go to the hospital, while others keep on functioning and become politicians, pulling hair and running everything down.
9. Is it true that Fraser coined the term "suburban neurosis"?
I coined it! I thought of it myself in terms of my paintings like Woman at the Sink (1959). Sue Kedgley attributed it to Fraser because he was a psychiatrist. Women in poor domestic circumstances do break down. Isolation, powerlessness, the burden of kids, of course. It's bad for their brains, they stop functioning, they lose self-respect. Housework is such a killer.
10. Are you planning to have another art show?
I don't know if I want one. I don't really enjoy the gallery scene, I enjoy talking to separate people but I'm not a networker. I'll be talking to the wrong person. Nowadays artists are trained to be networkers, to promote themselves, which I find pathetic.
11. How do you live these days?
My youngest daughter Emily is living with me at the moment and she's a Buddhist so we leave all the cobwebs and don't eat any meat or fish. It has meant that for the first time in my life I've had to learn how to cook. On a good day I go into the studio and paint for two hours. I've always been a slow burner, I take a long time to catch fire creatively. The major thing is to keep doing it. What you're doing is revealed to you through the painting, not through your head. It is in the process.
12. What do you think of the current state of the nation?
I think it's appalling. That gap between rich and poor will be very hard to close. My badly built cottage is worth over $1 million. That is ludicrous.