• Jon Tootill

The hero painting for Jon Tootill’s upcoming exhibition at Sanderson Contemporary is a full-spectrum colour study. Piwakawaka (2010-2020) completes a decade-long series that studies the rau, or plumage, of native birds through colour sampling.

Tootill’s works act like an index, mapping colours found in nature. He selects colour using Adobe Capture, he processes those samples digitally and arranges them in combinations. Then, he creates delicate watercolours, patient studies that elicit the nuances of nature all over again. The inherent colour irregularities of these works seep into the fibres of absorbent Fabriano paper. Lastly, he scales up into meticulously painted acrylic linen. Throughout the whole process though, he says, “Titling these works indicate the origins of the colour combinations, rather than a narrative.”

His works are a blend of art, technology and observational science. Tootill’s innovation is to bring to those western knowledge systems, indigenous knowledge and Māori visual culture. Tootill is a bookish artist, one who studies, who likes history and does research. In talking about his research, he reveals that, “The patterns were developed from drawings of whakairo (carving), specifically, areas that might fill-in the background, behind more dominant features.”

Like a carver, “I am interested in the flow of light across a work’s surface, and the changing of colour value”. His paintings look abstract but also reflect the patterns and repetition found in Te Ao Māori, such as those in tāniko or tukutuku. Clearly too, like a botanical illustrator, they reference the observable world where Tootill is charting and cataloguing taiao or the environment.

The piwakawaka is frequently understood as a messenger, living on forest edges and in scrub habitats. Tootill refers to this bird as the anchor for his fourth exhibition Kahukura with Sanderson Contemporary. In so doing, he subtly speculates that parallel, inclusive systems of knowledge are portals to take new directions, with both ancient and new knowledge creating an optimistic future.

–Hanna Scott, 2021

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