It is impossible to escape the mesmeric qualities of Sylvia Marsters flower paintings. Brilliant colour and realism demand your attention, the composition of the artist’s flower works designed to draw you into a powerful space filled with a wealth of sensation.
Born in New Zealand, to a Cook Islands (Aitutaki), father and Kiwi mother, Marsters grew up in Otara, attending a Seventh Day Adventist school in Mangere. Obsessed with drawing from a young age, she once described her school art classes as “inadequate”, with the prospect of a career in the arts an unlikely course of events.
“When I left school I worked in a clothing factory as a machinist, it was so boring” Marsters stated in an interview with the New Zealand Herald. Evening art classes, including painting sessions with veteran artist Lois McIvor invigorated Marsters resolve. Captivated by her perceptions of the Cook Islands, Marsters renowned flower works first emerged in 2000, the art works bold arrangements defined by a personal longing to experience her heritage. This is in stark contrast to the “Kiwi-ized sub-culture of her parents, her father having left Aitutaki in 1952. “A lot of his generation didn’t want to know about their culture when they got here,” Marsters states. “Church became the most important thing and they never talked about their culture. Now the next generation is reviving it.”
Marsters dream was realized in 2003, when she was awarded the Creative New Zealand Artist in Residence to Rarotonga. For Marsters, her arrival in Rarotonga was a universal moment in her personal and artistic journey and it proved to be hugely inspiring, generating two local exhibitions (O’Ora Te Moenga and Te Ruperupe O Toku Ipukarea) and a fresh resolve. Since then, Marsters has continued to exhibit in Rarotonga and New Zealand and, with BCA Gallery Rarotonga, exhibited a 33 foot installation of 9 Hibiscus paintings at the 2014 edition of the VOLTA – NYC art fair. While it would be easy to interpret Marsters canvas’s as ‘pretty flowers’ – if you transcend the aesthetic realism which initially captures your attention, a new world full of impossible optimism emerges. This is a realm born of three elemental experience’s, the child of a contemporary New Zealand upbringing fused with the back-story of her father’s Eden-like origins ultimately confronting the pungent reality of Island life in the 21st century.
For her most recent series of Gardenia paintings, the artist has said that she has looked to the tradition of 19th and 20th century Viennese flower painting, from Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller to Gustav Klimt. Marster’s work is exceptionally detailed. Grand cycles of life play out in glorious detail across the canvases. They are beautiful, yet pensive. Dark, moody backgrounds draw the viewer past the obvious fragility of the flowers into a void of heightened emotion, they are spaces and experiences yet to be encountered. Stand in front of a Marsters painting and allow the colour, texture and form to propel you into a state of fantastic hyper- experience, a rich blend of fantasy, reality and experience.
New Yorkers Don’t See Flowers, VOLTA Art Fair, NYC, March 2014.
New York City, city of folklore and legend. The Big Apple, the city that never sleeps. Home to 8.4 million, its name an allegory of excitement, impossible opportunity, an irresistible lure. An art capital of global status.
In 1946, artist Georgia O’Keefe stated in a New York Post Interview, “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”
It was a statement that had long fascinated artist Sylvia Marsters and, via well timed opportunity, the BCA Gallery/ Sylvia Marsters exhibition ‘New Yorker’s Don’t See Flowers’ was developed and delivered to the VOLTA Art Fair in New York City, March 2014. Inspired by O’Keefe’s quote, Marsters’ original flower paintings conveyed an eruption of colour, form and dimension against the harsh reality of an east coast winter. Mesmeric in there detail and structure, the 30 foot installation demanded and received much attention from many of the 20,000 plus visitors whom attended the VOLTA art fair.
Recollecting photographer Alexander Liberman’s impressions of a serene vase of flowers amongst the chaos within Augusto Giacometti’s Paris studio in 1950, it was Marsters’ intent to convey a sense of psychic relief. Bright tropical flowers set against a stark cityscape easily engaged the viewers’ attention, to offer (if ever so briefly) a chance to re-focus and re-frame our daily outlook and perhaps question what is significant and not so significant in our multifarious reality.
This notion is reinforced when considering Marsters’ up-bringing in working class suburbs of Auckland, New Zealand where she bore witness to the harsh economic realities of the 1980’s and suffered the loss of a parent. A former student of renowned art tutor and New Zealand artist, Lois McIvor (McIvor herself was a student of artist Colin McCahon), Marsters fascination with flowers developed as a response to her Cook Islands heritage and was further enhanced as a result of multiple art residencies and exhibitions undertaken by the artist in Rarotonga (2003,2012).
Following the exhibition ‘Island Fever’ (BCA, 2012), Marsters and BCA Gallery embarked on the epic journey to repatriate O’Keefe’s statement from Rarotonga to New York, an inspiring blend of conceptual ideals and environmental settings. If chaos was the desired backdrop, then New York was indeed the perfect backdrop for Marsters flowers. The presentation was accompanied by a catalogue and limited edition screen print. Ben Bergman.
Sylvia Marsters, b.1962.
- 2022: Te Atuitanga – Between our Cloak of Stars, Bergman Gallery, Auckland.
- 2021: Utopia, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga; Auckland Art Fair, Bergman Gallery.
- 2020: Tempest, Group Show, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga; Tatou 2, The Story of Us, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga; Sunday Girl, The Corbans Estate, Auckland.
- 2019: Tiare Taina, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga; Kia Maeva Tatou, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
- 2018: Auckland Art Fair, Bergman Gallery, MPA#1, Group Show, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
- 2017: Hibiscus Hedge, Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga.
- 2016: The Auckland Art Fair, Bergman Gallery, Auckland, NZ; Divergence: Bergman Gallery Group Show, Rarotonga.
- 2014: New Yorkers Don’t See Flowers with BCA Gallery at the VOLTA Art Fair, March 6-9, NYC, USA.
- 2012: Artist in Residence, Island Fever, BCA Gallery, Rarotonga, Cook Islands.
- 2011: This is not a Vitrine this is an Ocean, Waikato Museum, Hamilton; Kia Ora Aus Aotearoa, Ziegel Oh Lac, Zurich, Switzerland; Pacific Showcase ‘Cloud’ Queens Wharf, Auckland.
- 2010: Braveheart, curated by Elizabeth Caughey, Auckland Show Grounds; Flora, Koloa, Kap Kap, Okai Oceanik Art Gallery, Auckland.
- 2009: Pacific Paradise, The Poi Room, Auckland; 5 Women, 5 Journeys Exhibitions Gallery, Wellington; Shades of Summer, Matakana Art and Design Gallery, Matakana.
- 2008: Long, Hot Summer, Group Exhibition, Waiheke Community Art Gallery, Waiheke; Crosscurrents, Matakana Design and Art Gallery, Matakana; Flat/White Black Pearl, Te Karanga Gallery, Auckland; Paradise, Reef Gallery, Auckland; Vauxhall School Fine Arts Auction, Group Exhibition, Wakatere Boating Club, Auckland.
- 2007: Crosscurrents, Matakana Country Park Gallery, Matakana; Pacific Rhthyms, Waiheke Community Art Gallery, Waiheke; Artsist on Broadway, Mercedes Coutts Showroom/ Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland; Botanica, Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland; Vauxhall School Fine Arts Auction, Wakatere Boating Club, Auckland; Te Manea O Rarotonga, Solo Exhibition, Reef Gallery, Auckland.
- 2006: Frangipani Lush, Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, The Edge-Aotea Centre, Auckland; Inter Islands, Waiheke Community Art Gallery/ Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, Auckland; Artists on Broadway, Mercedes Benz showroom/ Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland; New Zealand’s Favourite Artists, Book Launch, edited by Denis Robinson, Fishers Fine Arts Gallery, Wellington; Journeys Duo, Reef Gallery, Auckland.
- 2005: Genetic Pasifika, Workshops & Exhibition, Community Event, Artstation, Ponsonby, Auckland; Auckland to Raro, Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland; Pataka Pasifika, Sofia Tekela-Smith, Lonnie Hutchison, Niki Hastings-McFall, Chris Charteris, Jenny Fraser, Shigeyuki Kihara, Pataka Museum, Porirua; Found, Curated by Dr. Carole Shepheard, Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland; Inaugural NZ Art Fair, Morgan Street Gallery Stand, Britomart, Auckland; Blooming Lovely, Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland; Te Vaerua O Te Vaine, The Art Studio, Rarotonga.
- 2004: Sons and Daughters of Polynesia, Uxbridge Gallery, Auckland; Flourish, Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland, Artists on Broadway, Coutts Mercedes-Benz Showroom/ Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland; Te Manea O Rarotonga, Solo Exhibition, The Art Studio, Rarotonga.
- 2003: Summer Hanging, Grantham Gallery, Auckland; Pacific Blooms , Solo Show, Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland; Pacific Islands Visual Arts Residency, Rarotonga, Cook Islands/Creative NZ – Te Ruperupe O Toku Ipukarea, Solo Exhibition, Cook Islands National Museum, Rarotonga; O’ora Te Moenga, BCA Gallery, Rarotonga.
- 2002: Summer Hanging, Grantham Gallery, Auckland; Pacifically Yours, Inaugural Solo Exhibition, Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland.
- 2001: Matou Atua – We Are, Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, Auckland; Summer Hanging, 800 Paintings, Chiaroscuro Gallery, Auckland; Pacific Reflections, Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland; Winter Selection, Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland.
- 2000: Ko Ai Au? Who am I?, Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, Auckland; Archipelago, Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland; Fresh Horizons, Workshop and Exhibition, Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, Artstation, Ponsonby.
- 1999: First Birthday Celebration Exhibition, Adele Dallimore Gallery, Epsom, Auckland; Water, Water Everywhere, Morgan Street Gallery, Auckland.
- 1998: Paringa-Ou, Cook Islands National Museum; Fiji Museum, Suva; Fisher Gallery (Auckland); Testing Traditions, Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, Aotea Centre, Auckland; Exploring Duality, Group Show, Adele Dallimore Gallery, Epsom, Auckland.
- 2012: Artist in Residence, BCA Gallery, Rarotonga.
- 2003: Creative New Zealand Artist in Residence, Rarotonga, Cook Islands.
- Cook Islands National Museum, Rarotonga, Cook Islands.
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade, New Zealand.
- Pacific Trade Invest, New Zealand.
- Pasifika Medical Association, New Zealand.