GERDA LEENARDS, born 1946 Nijmegen, Holland
Leenards emigrated to New Zealand in 1956. After a career as a draughtswoman and a graphic design assistant, she completed a Diploma of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts, in 1970.
She first exhibited in Wellington in 1981 and in 1985 she won the Whitcoulls Award for Drawing. Three years later she exhibited for the first time in Auckland, and was given a solo exhibition at the Wellington City Art Gallery, entitled ‘From Pillar to Coast’. In this exhibition comprising eight large canvasses, she focussed on the shoreline at Moa Point outside Wellington. In 1989, Leenards again conveyed the voice of the land in her depictions of the Maori and European defence works around Spirits Bay in Northland. During this period she was using a sombre and restricted palette of oil stick or acrylic on canvas, and a brushy expressionist style.
Leenard’s intention has always been to convey the inner qualities of the land, such as the facts and effects of its history, rather than its overt characteristics, and to capture a sense of shifting climatic conditions. She uses photographs to record changing weather patterns so that she can evoke them later in her paintings. At times she has painted works in sections, to give the effect of a series of snapshots, or of the fractured images a traveller sees from a train window.
In 1992, Leenards returned to the Netherlands to take up a 6-month residency at Studio Elba in Nijmegen, and to immerse herself in the artistic traditions of her homeland. She had a great interest in the paintings of the old Dutch masters and their correlation to the local landscape, and in the early paintings of Mondrian. Returning to New Zealand, her paintings took on a more moody and poetic style, claiming a sombre, romantic beauty with an unmistakeable sense of European painting tradition. By the late 1990s, her atmospheric depictions of mist-enveloped headlands and soft, ghostly, cloud-wrapped landscapes had earned Leenards a reputation for depicting the New Zealand landscape in a new light – one in which eerie wilderness areas are brought into closer proximity and the traditional representation of the land is replaced by the vision of one who prefers the unpredictable and uncompromising rawness of nature.
Leenards travelled with DOC into Doubtful and Dusky Sound in 2004, and into Fiordland and Dusky Sound with Real Journey in 2006. Her exhibition at Campbell Grant Gallery that year was called ‘Fiordland’, and at Diversion Gallery she exhibited ‘Kenepuru’, resulting from a residence in the Portage in Malborough Sounds. In 2007 and 2008, she travelled on an Asia NZ grant into Southern China.
Leenards at City Gallery Wellington on Scoop website
Mark Amery reviews Leenard’s show at City Gallery Wellington, November 2009, on Eye Contact website
‘Fjords, Mists and Vapour’ exhibition at City Gallery Wellington, 2003
Art New Zealand 47:29 (illustration – title not given), 1988
Art New Zealand 59:76-79 ‘Three Women in the Subantarctic’, Marion McLeod, 1991
Mana Tiriti: The Art of Protest and Partnership Haeata Project Waitangi. City Gallery, Wellington City Council. Daphne Brasell, Associated Press, 1991.
Art New Zealand 70:61-63 ‘First Light’, Jane Sayle, 1994
100 New Zealand Paintings, Warwick Brown, Godwit Publishing, 1995.
Lands and Deeds: Profiles of Contemporary New Zealand Painters, Godwit Publishing Ltd, Auckland, 1996.
The Food of Art: New Zealand Painters and their Food, Keith Stewart, Craig Potton Publishing, 2000.