Five Māori Painters: Saffronn Te Ratana

Five Māori Painters: Saffronn Te Ratana


Well my Dad’s an artist too and on my Pākehā side my grandmother was a painter and her mother was a teacher and a painter too, so it kind of runs in both sides of the family. Dad saw that in us and really supported the idea of an artist. I remember going with him to Auckland to get these paints, and they were the new Atelier paints. and he let us use them and he’d let us use his brushes and experiement with the thickness and the impasto it was really… my grandmother used to get us paints for Christmas and stuff like that. Really supportive in being an artist. I think my Dad had… he got Art New Zealand magazine and I saw a summer school leaflet inside it and I was like, “What is this summer school for?” “It’s for an art school.” When I was about eleven he said, “Oh, there’s an art school. You can go to art school.” I was like, “What?! I can go and do art? At art school?” So ever since then I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to art school.” When I came here I kind of closed myself off to… …all other types of art apart from Māori art. So I looked, I guess, through narrative, at paint. In basic terms, the whakapapa of paint to some iwi (tribes), you know, the… …the wehenga, the separation of Papa and Rangi, you know the… …the toto (blood) that come out of that. And also the veins within Papatūānuku you can still see, you see with the kōkōwai (red ochre) through the… if they’ve carved out roads you can see the veins running through. All over New Zealand, all round the world, they’ve got different colours. And then to mix it with something, to create a longevity to protect the pigment, and the colour, and then to apply it to something is really meaningful, you know so, it’s something that I guess every culture does, but, I was trying to find out what that connection was for us and then, because I was using acrylic paint, just what were it’s characteristics, and what did it have in common with things that our tūpuna (ancestors) did. People always think of painting in 2-dimensional but because I was seeing it as whenua (land) it was always 3-dimensional and so I started trying to use the paint in in forms 3-dimensional, blobs, or little maunga (mountains), or you know kind of contain it, strip away the layers and just simplify it down to like a a blob form that could be seen as a breast or a curve or just a hint of something that was related, linked us from the whenua (land) to being a tangata (person). so that’s where the 2-dimensional to 3-dimensional came from. I think that’s been my identity for a long time like I’ve been a painter, and I’m still painting objects they just happen to be 3-dimensional You know, I could spray it or I could get… you know, but I enjoy painting, and I enjoy seeing those transitional states that still are simple magic like the alchemy of that. I guess I was thinking about our Tūhoe painted histories, and thinking about how the ngahere (native bush) is so important and how to teach my kids kaitiakitanga (stewardship). Because I guess in lots of spaces kids aren’t allowed to touch or do anything if there’s artworks in. So creating this luxurious, child-friendly artwork must seem quite cool. But also that it says something to them too. It’s going to have a kōrero (message) for them as well. Using te reo (Māori language) in the artwork, and making it a resource for our kids is an important part of art practice now ’cause if you’re not working with wharenui (meeting houses) or something it needs to really be useful to our moko (grandchildren) you know. That idea of that word “art” and what that means, I don’t really understand that anymore That doesn’t have a… I don’t want to be disrespectful, but for me that doesn’t have a… …a use. I’ve got responsibilities. I’m thinking about generations and generations now. I’m not just thinking about myself so it’s an ongoing thing that you just have to keep finding a way for it to be functional and useful to the iwi (tribe).

1 thought on “Five Māori Painters: Saffronn Te Ratana

  1. I love the way she is about the iwi and I respect her point of view— this is very powerful to hear her voice and to witness the now, the present Saffronn. Big love to all these women….

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