The Cornish Connection
Drawing from the Suter’s significant collection of British Modernist paintings and some star loans The Cornish Connection examines the creative links between Cornwall and New Zealand.
On Flora Scales in The Cornish Connection, Julie Catchpole, Director of The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Nelson, 2017-2018:
After showing early artistic promise the young Flora Scales was sent to Christchurch to boarding school so that she could attend the Canterbury College School of Art part-time. By 1906 she had started to show with the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. Her study continued with four years at the Frank Calderon’s School of Animal Painting in England. During this time it was likely she had lessons from Stanhope Forbes in Cornwall.
She returned to New Zealand and after her parents separated Flora, her mother and sister moved to Nelson to try to make a living as orchardists (unsuccessfully!). Upon her father’s death in 1928 Flora received a legacy and she was able to devote herself to art. Seeking further overseas tuition she tried Paris, but found the most fulfilling to be that offered at the Hans Hofmann’s School of Art in Munich in the winter of 1931-32.
Returning to Nelson in 1934, Scales was approached by Toss Woollaston who sought art instruction from her, thus receiving her interpretation of Hofmann’s principles of modernism (which he in turn shared with Colin McCahon).
During the Second World War Scales was interned in France for about two years and afterwards moved to England with her mother and sister.
In the 1950s she must have spent time in Cornwall, where by then her handling of paint is very loose and broad almost to the point of abstraction.
Eventually she was to return to New Zealand and had her first solo exhibition in 1975, organised by Colin McCahon, by which time she was in her eighties.
11 December, 2017
— April, 2018
The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū
Nelson, New Zealand
"When I visited this exhibition it hadn’t yet formally opened, so there was a general sense of improvisation: exhibition labels printed out on A4 sheets and taped to the wall, and some loud banging from the room next door as another exhibition was installed. Despite that, this is a strong show that as far as I can tell the Suter Gallery is underselling.
There are no accompanying curator’s descriptions, no publications, and no logical entry-points into the exhibition (three different entry passages mean there is no implied progression through the space). So you’re somewhat on your own in working out what’s on display and what connections there are between studio pottery and one of Rita Angus’ few overseas watercolours, for instance. That’s why it felt that the exhibition was undersold: as though even the curators were hesitant to push the international influences on NZ artists, or suggest why such disparate works should be brought together.
The tenuous uniting theme is that all works in the exhibition were created by artists working in Cornwall. Some of the oils and watercolours are literal about this: Edith Collier’s An Attic in Old St. Ives from 1920, likely depicting Frances Hodgkins’ flat; Rita Angus’ 1959 Seamen’s Chapel, St. Ives, which she completed on her only overseas trip; or a work by Bill Sutton from 1981 showing St. Michael’s Mount, Cornwall. Others link to the theme merely by where the artists were working: a large number of Bernard Leach’s Japanese-influenced pottery that influenced Len Castle, and a brilliant Barbara Hepworth bronze in the very centre of the room that seemed to energise the whole space.
It presents a more complicated picture of the development of early-mid twentieth-century New Zealand art than we’re used to; but that’s exactly why the show works. There are no easy links or explanations here, but that travel and interaction with international artists in a specific location had a great impact on New Zealand art, we see very clearly.
Interestingly, Flora Scales was perhaps the star of the show. A number of her late oils show the range of influences acting on her, and the kinds of skills and style she passed on to Toss Woollaston and, through Woollaston, McCahon."