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New home for powerful painting

More than the forces of nature can be felt in Wairoa artist Joanna Tokona’s large scale painting The Face of My Space, which has now been given a temporary home in Hawke’s Bay Hospital’s Education Centre.

The scale of the unframed work over four big canvases near envelops the viewer as much as the turbulence in the river that seems almost to both touch the little house at the water’s edge and leave it unharmed as great whorls rush by.

The animal rawness of the gouged hills, ridges, gullies and Chagall-like cloud forms flow together in wodges, slashes and rips of paint with such muscularity, the physicality in the painting as both product and process is felt as much as seen.

Wairoa local Paul Olsen bought the opus, which was part of Tokona’s recent exhibition at Wairoa Museum, and has now loaned it to Hawke’s Bay DHB for 12 months.

The Face of My Space now takes up most of a large wall in Hawke’s Bay Hospital’s Education Centre.

Having moved in 2011 from largely portraiture-based paintings to working on “land portraits”, Tokona painted The Face of My Space as she struggled with the unexpected death of her husband, Tane, in Hawke’s Bay Hospital’s intensive care unit in January last year.

The artist describes losing her husband as “like being chopped in half and cut down from two to one”.

Tokona painted several Wairoa and Mahia landscapes in which she incorporated cloud and landforms Tane had photographed as they drove around the region.

That output culminated in the exhibition Behind The Face of My Space.

Olsen saw Tokona’s large work as it evolved and felt a connection with the land, and the house depicted at the river’s edge which he sees as a safe place despite the turmoil around it.

“My life has been a path of ups and downs,” he says.

“As a child I was abused and institutionalised and became completely disassociated. Even if turmoil is all around you, as long as you have a safe place you’re safe.

“That is why this painting is so powerful for me. It evokes all these emotions.”

Loaning The Face of My Space to Hawke’s Bay Hospital’s Education Centre was an opportunity to express his concern about mental health and tell his story because 10 years ago no-one heard, he says.

“I wanted to share my story. There are a lot of issues around mental health and no one is listening. If you get experts to do their part and support you, you have a reason to move forward.

“The painting is about safe places. It couldn’t have gone to a better place. It’s a beautiful work and it needs to be viewed by others. By putting that painting there — and I know Jo is already an accomplished artist — it puts her right up there.”

SAFE PLACE: From left, Hawke’s Bay DHB consumer representative and Wairoa Museum manager Angela Smith, Hawke’s Bay DHB kaumatua Hawira Hape, artist Joanna Tokona and the painting’s owner Paul Olsen welcome Tokona’s large artwork to the Hawke’s Bay Hospital’s Education Centre. Picture supplied