Star Gossage

There is rawness to Star Gossage’s work, both in the unblinking gaze of the figures as well as the expressive application of paint – thin layers of colours as if consumed in a passing moment or feeling, not restricted by a premeditated idea.

Maori artist Star Gossage lives and works within her ancestral land, the coastal landscape of Pakiri, north of Auckland. It is from here that she draws her inspiration, painting dreamlike figures in shifting landscapes that explore emotion and memory, journeys of loss and endurance, and her relationships to family and her Maori heritage. There is no promise to depict reality, rather the viewer is invited into Gossage’s inner world.

In her recent exhibition, Piki Te Ora, at Niagara Galleries, Gossage returned with her characteristic dreamlike figures to paint a personal homage to her parents. Emotion laden, she wrote of the inspiration, “To me, these paintings are really special, but I won’t realise till later after they have gone. They are all about my journey of losing my mum and dad, the journeys of life and death and living – to keep going after you lose your loved ones, from a Maori perspective. They are just all of my feelings.”
Feelings are the way into Gossage’s evocative paintings. Figures are consumed by swirling and shifting landscapes, creating a sense of time standing still and time passing – the women might be depicted in the present yet they are caught in moments of reflection. Their distinctive elongated arms and hands are suggestive of a prayer state between the spiritual and real worlds.

Intrinsic to Gossage’s world view are her intertwined Maori culture and Ratana belief system. The Ratana religion is a 20th-century faith adapted from Old Testament scriptures, offering an alternate focus that envisions spiritual connectedness to place and people and healing through prayer. The presence of these principles is embedded in the exhibition. The exhibition’s title, Piki Te Ora, was chosen by Gossage because “it was my mum’s favourite saying, a Ratana saying which means ‘to seek a good, well, healthy life’.”

The interchanging of languages in the titles of the works continues this expression of culture and beliefs, with Gossage providing hints to the narrative of loss and healing. Three titles – ‘Piki te Ora’, ‘Piki Te Kaha’ and ‘Piki Te Maramatanga’ – are interlinked, collectively read as a Ratana prayer “To seek a good healthy life, to seek strength and to seek knowledge”. This mantra of prayer echoes throughout the series, creating an exhibition that is about the process of healing through remembering.

Key to Gossage’s compelling practice is her intuitive use of colour. The blue and yellow tones throughout the series create an emotive landscape of melancholy. Distinctions between the land and figures are blurred, with some figures appearing to be at a point of emergence or disappearance into the surface of the canvas. While calm in expression, the different landscapes range from realist to lyrical abstraction – suggesting a raging torrent of emotions underneath the surface.

While introspective in its outlook, anchored by the artist’s personal journey, it is Gossage’s unflinching honesty that builds images of depth and intensity. Tapping into the human experience of loss, Gossage’s use of bright, colourful ornaments and clothing produces an expression of finding strength in loss – an energy that Gossage draws from her Maori ancestry. A series that doesn’t need an ultimate outcome or conclusion, Star Gossage’s work embraces the cycle of loss through her cultural and spiritual lens, resulting in a vulnerable and delicate exposition of passing human emotion.

Star Gossage is represented by Niagara Galleries, Melbourne; and Tim Melville Galleries, Auckland.

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