Mysterious people, creatures and patterns emerge from the shadows in the latest exhibition from Whanganui artist Rachael Garland.

I'll come follow you is on display at the WHMilbank Gallery until December 13.

At first glance the works - paint on wood panels - appear to be layers of dark paint and muted patterns. However, a closer look reveals painted faces and creatures swimming in and out of view.

The works were made by layering paint, sanding it back and layering more paint. She used wood stain, sandpaper, paint stripper, wallpaper and house paint to create the works.

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"It was more like a building project than a piece of art," Ms Garland said.

The ideas behind the exhibition are equally layered. The works are Ms Garland's submission for her Masters of Maori Visual Art at Te Putahi-a-toi, Massey University.

As a Pakeha doing a Maori-focused course, Ms Garland found herself challenged in ways she hadn't expected.

"Being the only Pakeha [on the course] it was way out of my comfort zone. I was confronted with my own ignorance; it meant I had to do more research.

"And it meant that I wasn't confident in my work for the first time in a long time."

During her two years of study Ms Garland had to delve into her own family history and New Zealand history.

"I was trying to find connections, trying to find where I belong."

There are references to European architecture, visual culture, mythology, Victorian mourning rituals and family stories. The works are displayed like Maori tukutuku panels.

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"The more I delved into my family history, the more I found ancestors stepping out of the shadows. That's what I was trying to show visually with these works," she said. Ms Garland studied for a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Whanganui UCOL and spent 10 years as a working artist before enrolling in a Masters.