Salome Tanuvasa's Swirling Visual Language Invokes A Sense Of Joy

By Ginny Fisher
Artist Salome Tanuvasa. Photo / Babiche Martens

Salome Tanuvasa looks diminutive in her black painter’s apron, standing above her 7 x 2 metre canvas that lies fixed to the floor with tape. The squiggles and swirls of colour oxblood red, lemony yellow and viridian green dance a giddy gig across the floor.

“I use a stick, or anything I can find really (in this case a broom) and tape it to my brush, so I can reach the parts in the middle,” she says, pointing to a far-reaching part of the canvas lit up by licks of sky blue.

Salome is one of six artists showing at From Our Beautiful Square, a new show at Gus Fisher Gallery, asking them to reflect on their time in lockdown.

For Salome, intuitive mark-making, colour and composition are the key tools in her arsenal as an artist and she’s unafraid to dive into the empty canvas, letting her instincts guide her through.

Since graduating with a Masters in Fine Arts from Elam in 2014, Salome, who is of Tongan and Samoan descent, has developed her own visual language, one of colour, rhythm and weight, a language that transcends the boundaries of painting into a meditative art form.

Apart from the huge acrylic-covered canvas that graces the back wall of the entry foyer to the gallery, Salome has, for the first time, used fabric to create two large hanging works that champion bold colour and shapes. “In this case I’ve been cutting, instead of mark-making,” she explains.

She made these works on the gallery floor with two large expanses of fabric, the various colours echoing her love of nature leafy greens, sandy yellows and rich reds reminiscent of an autumn day in Albert Park just across the street.

Salome called on her mother, a seamstress, and her brother, who works in fashion and pattern making, for advice during the process which was a journey in experimentation.

“Back in the 70s my mother, who came to New Zealand from Tonga to make a better life, worked for [sailing brand] Line 7, so I thought about this while working on these pieces.”

Salome used butcher’s paper to make the patterns for the shapes she sketched on paper and spent many hours at home in her bedroom, hand sewing the works together. “I can’t wait to get my bedroom back!”

The artist has, up until now, worked entirely from her sleeping abode. She recently found a studio and is looking forward to delineating work and home.

Photo / Babiche Martens
Photo / Babiche Martens

The work for this show has been made almost entirely on-site and this experience has guided her creative choices, particularly of scale and colour, which would not have been possible in a domestic setting.

She points to the remarkable art deco dome in the foyer with resplendent stained glass glinting subtle pastel hues of soft yellow, lilac and blue, all of which she references in the canvas work.

The repeating arches that appear throughout the gallery will be mirrored in Salome’s large-scale wall painting in the gallery’s alcove wall in the foyer.

The gallery has a colourful history in its own right; erected in 1934 it was once Auckland’s first purpose-built radio station, complete with double brick sound-proof walls, and impressive neo-Romanesque arches.

Thirty years later, it housed Television New Zealand’s first broadcast in 1960, and later in the 1990s went on to attract a swathe of popular musicians to the recording studios on the lower floors.

Auckland University purchased the building in 2001 and today the building houses Gus Fisher Gallery on Shortland St, while below the studios are still used for music recording and practice.

The acoustic qualities of the building will inform another artist, New Zealander Amy Jean Barnett, who has taken audio snippets from Leigh’s Marine Observatory recordings of the Hauraki Gulf and compiled her own sonic composition in response to the gallery’s location on the original shoreline of Auckland Harbour.

Other artworks in the show include films by Polish artist Jozef Robakowski, who captures a snapshot of life viewed from his apartment window in Lódz, Poland, over a period of 20 years.

British artist Lucy Gunning's video work Climbing Around My Room features a woman in a red dress traversing the confines of her room; while Jeremy Leatinu'u's installation draws on his experiences of warehouse labour by creating a series of changing sculptural configurations depicting shipping containers.

Another film by Japanese artist Hiraki Sawa looks at global movement and depicts a fleet of miniaturised aeroplanes gliding around the confines of an apartment. Reflecting on her own experience over lockdown, Salome says she struggled to make a great deal of work, but instead created many smaller studies.

“There’s only so much you can do with small kids in the house! I feel like this is my breakout moment. We are so lucky to be in New Zealand and to be safe there is so much joy in this work. You just need to look at nature to appreciate what we have.”

• 'From Our Beautiful Square' runs until September 4 at Gus Fisher Gallery, 74 Shortland St, Auckland CBD

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