Published: March 20, 2024
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‘Verde’ by Barbara Tuck

Microgreens for your mind

Anna Miles Gallery, in Tamaki Makaurau, is showing Barbara Tuck’s exhibition, titled ‘Verde’, until
28 March 2024.

I confess to being a viridiphile. I am also entranced by limestone environments and unseen
energies that swirl around us. This essay is a personal response to Tuck’s paintings which tick all
of those boxes.

In early March I visited Anna Miles Gallery nestled behind the historic Symonds Street Cemetery.
The glazed Eastern wall throws filtered morning light across the room. The view outside a
verdant green. The view inside a verdant green popping off the pristine, cream gallery walls.
Swathed in green with its calm energy, it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate setting for Tuck’s
haunting show, ‘Verde’.

Anna Miles Gallery, Eastern Perspective into Symonds Street Cemetery.
Photograph by Linda Gilbert

This is a series of 6 new works by Aotearoa New Zealand artist, Barbara Tuck, who has been
painting for over six decades. Oil on boards, she chooses a palette that is predominately green
with its varied hues, judicious touches of cool Cerulean blue, lemon yellow, sienna and
smidgens of white. Bold, gestural, vertical strokes, dabs and wayward drips contrast with
delicate brushwork and patterns. Each of these 600 x 600mm paintings results in a dreamy
memory-scape from places around Aotearoa that Tuck fondly recalls.

Absorbing their lush colours, I was rewarded by looking more closely. Look under the leaves, as
the late Elsie Locke would say, and you’ll find all sorts going on. These are not simply illustrations
of particular places - they are portals into a world that painters of Tuck’s calibre can create. She
gives us access to dream worlds that feel just beyond the reach of mere mortals. Oscillating
between past, present and future dimensions, each piece holding facts, mystery, questions and
sorrows.

There is a sentinel Kaka in the centre of ‘Sporangia South’. She glares out. Sporangia, the place
where fern spores are kept and stored. A regenerative notion. But this Kaka is alone in her
habitat, at peril of extinction. She has her eyes firmly fixed on the viewer - like Manet’s ‘Olympia’,
a confronting stare. Kaka to human. A wave of guilt and sadness overcomes me.

Sporangia South, Barbara Tuck, 600 x 600mm, 2024
Photograph by Samuel Hartnett
Courtesy of Anna Miles Gallery

In another I find a solo Ruru. Again she is centre stage, with that gaze. A pool of light is shed
onto the forest floor beneath her. Is this light a signifier of her wisdom? Is that a ghost beside
her? The title gives us a hint. ‘Carbon Memoir’ conjures ideas of time, the carbon cycle and
climate change. It is lush and beautiful, but also a sad reminder about the predicament that our
delicate planet and its inhabitants are in. Tuck collaborates with flora and fauna and her
paintings become advocates for their circumstances.

Carbon Memoir, Barbara Tuck, 600 x 600mm, 2024
Photograph by Samuel Hartnett
Courtesy of Anna Miles Gallery

Paparoa Mystics, Barbara Tuck, 600 x 600mm, 2024
Photograph by Samuel Hartnett
Courtesy of Anna Miles Gallery

I have been painting about limestone and its mysteries for the past 5 years. I am drawn to these
environments and find them strangely calming. So ‘Paparoa Mystics’ and ‘Memory Bank,
Oparara’ inspired by the limestone formations of those regions were of particular interest. Here
Tuck seems to suggest that these are places inhabited by spirits. We see partially formed
humans lurking in the shadows in ‘Paparoa Mystics’. Tangata Whenua who watch, but are no
longer physically present - Tupuna.

The juxtaposed white motifs in the foreground and intricate patterning bring to mind images of
the lace that early settlers brought with them from England. Colonisation and its impact -
another contemporary context raised in this series.

Limestone is a vault that captures death and uses unseen energies such as geological pressure
and time to create life. True alchemy. Other artists including Cezanne, Emma Kunz and
contemporary artists such as Judy Millar, also view limestone as a great source of wonder.
To me it does feel like a place where ancestors dwell. There is magic in these locations and Tuck
has achieved that feeling.

Memory Bank Oparara, Barbara Tuck 2024, Oil on Board, 600 x 600 mms
Photography by Samuel Hartnett
Courtesy of Anna Miles Gallery

The human eye is more sensitive to green wavelengths than any other colour. In the past green
has been considered problematic and was looked down upon in the painting world. The main
concern seems to have been technical. It was said green (a secondary colour), can be jarring
and look unnatural if not mixed carefully.

Thankfully these days that prejudice has faded, (along with the drive for realistic painting). For
those who crave realism, photography is the perfect art form.

This leaves contemporary painters such as Tuck free to transmute their lived experience and
wonder for this emerald planet we share into a kind of magical realism rather than a simple
record of the physical landscape.

In ‘Verde’ we glimpse something real, yet unreal, of this world, yet not. A strange composting of
an imagined reality far more nuanced and impactful than the pragmatic application of green oil
paint on a hard board. One foot grounds us in what we know, while the other steps into the
unknown, which strange as it is, feels just as real.

The artist uses her embodied memory to express these dualities. These are complex works
where looking closely and spending time with them reveals mysteries.

The memories of place and the questions raised in these works offer a contemporary, subtle but
also emphatic commentary on the land, its flora and fauna and human impact.

If you want micro greens for your mind, make time to see this exciting show.