“Here, as with all Helen’s past rented rooms, boarding houses and flats, the immediate environment provided her with subject-matter. In Mt Eden, the view out the back door off the kitchen towards the green lawn and lemon tree [Untitled [Lemon Tree] [BC086]], was available to paint in summer. And, when it got too cold to keep the door propped open and winter set in, the view from the dining room window, framed by white nylon curtains, of three macrocarpas [Untitled [Three Trees] [BC089]] and the Dominion Road flyover, was tackled. The neighbour’s Siamese cat [Untitled [Cat no. 1] [BC082], Untitled [Cat no. 2] [BC083]] luxuriating in front of the small electric heater bar produced some fine paintings, and, always, there was a still life or flowers being worked on. These paintings were all small in size, done on commercially primed pieces of canvas and painstakingly fastened with drawing pins hammered in around the edges of the wooden frames, which she re-used constantly, removing the finished painting and tacking on a fresh piece of canvas.”
[Cat no. 2]
High viewpoint overlooking a cat lying with front and back limbs extended to the left in a slightly curled position. Back of head at lower left corner. End of spine at upper right. Touches of blue paint between pale and dark areas of the body and a swirly smudge at right margin.
LR green brush point Flora Scales
LL green brush point 1977 (barely legible)
This work and Untitled [Cat no. 1] [BC082] are both painted on prepared boards of the same size, presumably painted at the same time.
Touches of green paint visible on the mount where the brush work of date ends, suggests the inscriptions were added by the artist after framing.
Artist Gretchen Albrecht recalls, “two neighbouring Siamese cats who took over the kitchen in her tiny flat in Mt Eden, soaking up the warmth of the radiator she put on for them.” – excerpt from A Meeting Between Two Women Painters, a photographic essay compiled by Linda Gill, 1984 (unpublished)
Excerpt from Toss Woollaston's essay for B. de Lange, 1992, on Scales's later work of the late 1970s and 1980s, “...these works are, in my view, very perfect of their kind. There is not a brushstroke but that gives us the feeling of a bird having just alighted on a bough that is still quivering from the impact. Because the hand had to do so much for the failing eye, there is a greater immediacy in these works than in any before. The hand touches, whereas the eye is at a distance from what it sees.
There is a cat, dated c.1976, in which the hand has its say as much as, if not more than the eye. It is much nearer to us than those competent horses of the first period of the artist’s life, parading so properly in their appearances which fit them like tight tunics, jerseys – or even wet-suits! This cat is lying so relaxed, hind feet away from us, that we hardly think of its appearance at all; or, if we do, only as an effect of the pulse of all creation. That its life and its appearance coincide so beautifully and easily, gives the latter a quality of comfortable, loose-fitting clothes being worn casually and yet with consummate style. Bravo, Flora! You were on the way, in these last paintings, to where life flows without interruption or impediment – even the impediment of having to paint it.”
Images taken from 6x4 photographs.
‘A Personal Reminiscence’ by Gretchen Albrecht, Art New Zealand, issue 37, 1985, pg 52
Essay by Toss Woollaston, 1992, reproduced with the kind permission of the Toss Woollaston Trust, May 2021