Drawing from Māori iconography, Western modernist abstraction, and contemporary pop imagery, and often favouring bold vibrant colours, Kelcy Taratoa creates highly personal yet political paintings that examine notions of identity, the globalisation of culture, and the ambiguity of human existent.Read More
The artist spent his childhood between Levin and New Plymouth, in North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. Whilst Taratoa has strong tribal connections to the Bay of Plenty through his hapū, Te Whānau-a-Tauwhao, Te Materāwaho, and Ngāti Tapu, he was not raised within a Māori cultural paradigm, which initially presented some challenges during his ungraduated studies at Massey University's Māori Visual Arts programme in the 1990s. Nevertheless, his studies gave him 'a thirst for knowledge, particularly around history, culture, and identity,' as he told Our Place Magazine, and graduated with a Masters of Māori Visual Arts in 2005.
Taratoa's concern with identity and culture led to 'Who Am I? Episodes', a series of acrylic paintings begun in the early 2000s. Each numbered as an 'Episode', the 'Who Am I?' paintings feature contemporary urban scenes inhabited by the artist himself and superheroes, such as Wolverine lunging towards the viewer in Episode 007 (2004) and spiderman emerging upside down from the upper-right corner in Episode 0014 (2006). Taratoa often incorporates comic book characters for their psychological identity crises, which parallel his own experiences of growing up Māori in contemporary urban society.
Though painted by hand, the precise lines and shapes of Taratoa's paintings easily appear to be prints from a distance—an intentional effect that the artist deploys to challenge the definition of the painting medium. Similarly, he weaves together elements of figuration and abstraction, rendering the extreme close-up of Iron Man's face in Garvis... Are You There? (2009) in jagged contours. Taratoa's more abstract works, such as Whare-kura and Tawhiri-rangi (both 2021), initially establish a dialogue between Māori customary artforms and Western geometric abstraction, yet through the titles suggest meaning is derived from language and cultural fluency.
In 2020, Taratoa unveiled his two-part commission for Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. The two monumental wall paintings, one traversing the outer wall of the gallery and the other inside, draw from the Māori artform of tukutuku, stories of early voyages across the Pacific, including local whakapapa (genealogy) and sites of significance. The artist's commission is in association with the major group exhibition Te Wheke: Pathways Across Oceania, which began in May 2020 and continues until June 2022.
Solo exhibitions include Te Āio, Bartley & Company Art, Wellington (2021); __He Kauhanga Tawhito, Sumer Gallery, Tauranga, (2020); The Grey Space: Te Kore-Te Wiwia, Bartley & Company Art, Wellington (2019); The Who Am I? Episode 001, 20 Year Survey, Tauranga Art Gallery Toi Tauranga (2019); Big City, Nadene Milne Gallery (2017); The Panoptic Tower, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua (2016); Myspace, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna Toi o Waiwhetū (2007); and The Who Am I? Episodes, Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt (2005).
Selected group exhibitions include: Toi Tū Toi Ora, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (2020-21); Te Wheke: Pathways Across Oceania, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū (2020); We Like Catching Fish, Māngere Arts Centre Nga Tohu o Uenuku, Auckland (2016); Mau Āhua, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkena Whakaata, Wellington (2016); Toioho XX: 20 Years of Maori Visual Art, Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science, and History, Palmerston North (2015); Roundabout: Face to Face, Tel Aviv Museum of Art (2011); Roundabout, City Gallery Wellington (2010); New Painting: Digital Age, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua (2007); and Back to Mine: Urban Realities 2x2 Projects, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington (2006).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021