I had the great fortune last week of bumping into renowned artist Rita Angus.

She was all business in a tan jacket, dark gloves and a forest-green scarf that matched her earrings.

She leant up against a shop wall, sultry and smouldering like the cigarette in her hand.

Thing is, of course, she's long dead, but it was stunning to see her larger than life portrait on Warren St.


She's one of eight Hastings "Icons" introduced to Hastings CBD by Hastings District Council. The welcome series "celebrates the people and things which have helped make Hastings the place it is today".

It's a great initiative for many reasons, but of all the chosen subjects, Ms Angus is by far and away my favourite.

Not just because of the clout she wields in this country's art history, but because not many in this region know the lauded painter was born in Hastings, on March 12, 1908.

She was later to live and work in the bigger cities. Her biographer Jill Trevelyan wrote she struggled with marriage, due in part to being unable to reconcile the conflicting roles of wife and artist.

She wrote Angus' art from the late 1930s and early 1940s was described as "regionalist", because of its realist style and its apparent celebration of a specific time and locality.

In other words, the Hastings old girl had a strong pride in place. She accepted a mural commission for Napier Girls' High School and made annual visits to her parents in Napier, culminating in her work Fog, Hawke's Bay (1966-68).

She died in 1970, and without doubt, is the Bay's most highly regarded artist.

Which is why her sudden inclusion on the Hastings' streetscape is a cultural masterstroke.

She may have painted about 55 self-portraitrs in her life, but I'm happy to have just this one.

A leading figure in 20th century New Zealand art, she once wrote: "As a woman painter, I work to represent love of humanity and faith in mankind in a world, which is to me, richly variable and infinitely beautiful."

She well deserves her new spot.

Kudos to council for reintroducing this formerly lost, provincial treasure.