• Peata Larkin
  • Alexis Neal

The inaugural exhibition at Pop Up Toi Tauranga showcases the visionary works of Peata Larkin (Tūhourangi, Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) and Alexis Neal (Ngāti Awa/Te Ātiawa). Their artistic collaboration marks a momentous occasion, bridging the realms of old and new, heritage and reinvention, and the burgeoning cultural precinct of Tauranga.

Both artists boast successful substantive careers, and Whaka-aho is a transformative moment that heightens our awareness of the remarkable contributions made by these two artists to contemporary art practice and the Māori art tradition.

Whaka-aho is a symbolic representation of their ancestral connections to raranga, or Māori weaving. This powerful exhibition is likely the result of profound personal conversations between the artists, where Whaka-aho, meaning to shine radiant light or illuminate, provides a platform to shed light on each other's artistry. In turn, they collectively amplify the historic Māori weaving tradition.

The term ‘Aho’ signifies lines of descent and genealogy, a concept deeply relevant to the practice of weaving - the aho tāhuhu being the first row which sets the weaving pattern. The intricacies of weaving are echoed in the layers and complexities of the artists' works, where materiality becomes a vehicle for profound meaning and complex technical expertise.

Alexis Neal is primarily known for her mastery in printmaking, and her previous printed works display a remarkable sensitivity to her subjects, often inspired by Māori artefacts or explorations of abstract weaving-based rhythms. Her artistic approach is both diligent and soulful, showcasing her evident dedication to the materials she employs in etched printing, through which she achieves sublime results with her chosen subjects.

"I will never forget the feelings I have experienced when in the presence of certain taonga … the strong tingling feeling that engulfs you and spreads down your spine," says Alexis Neal in 2023[1].

Neal's choice of hahnemühle papers, with a German tradition dating back to 1584 and crafted with a combination of ancient paper-making recipes and modern technologies, reflects her deep respect for the artistic process[2]. This sensibility allows us to recognise the underlying significance of paper, which shares a methodical production process with weaving. Just as stripping bark reveals the fibres for paper creation, the haro technique softens and prepares harakeke for Māori weaving.

On the other hand, Peata Larkin's early exploration of a unique paint process laid the foundation for her thoughtful deliberation on the medium's qualities. Often incorporating abstract Māori woven designs as structural and symbolic foundations in her works, she skilfully juxtaposes sparse white backgrounds with more expressive bursts of colour. These distinctive features, often showcased to monumental scale, have led her art to be described as being 'binary' in nature.

“I was always interested in positive and negative spaces and I love paint, the plasticity of it, what it can do”. Peata Larkin 2018[3]

The transformational relationship between paint and surface is where Larkin's mastery shines, exploring the limitless possibilities of this intersectional space instinctually. Her hand to paint gives the sense of blobs suspended momentarily, toying with the forces of gravity, to become carefully coerced to relax into place on their respective sides of the mesh. Her art weaves together complex surface and technical qualities, resulting in an elaborate kinetic tapestry of patterns, colours, and textures[4]. This exploration, however, represents only one layer of meaning in her process, deeply connected to the interweaving of customary Māori practices, the concept of whakapapa connections to those who passed on, and the enduring continuity of Māori art. Larkin has created her own specialist unique process that captures the deep nature of Māori art production as interwoven with all aspects of the Māori world, the connector of generations and in turn she has challenged the heart of painting.

In essence, both Alexis Neal and Peata Larkin demonstrate an unwavering reverence for the connection of artist to tools and the natural world which embodies the magic of Māori art creation and weaves a profound connection between seen and unseen energies. Their respective approaches reflect not only skillful artistry but also a profound appreciation for the cultural heritage and continuity of Māori artistic traditions.

Māori weaving, such as tukutuku lattice wall panels, raranga woven mats, and tāniko finger woven cloaks, hold profound ancestral stories and lifeforce connections to people and places, all of which are explored in both Neals and Larkins works.

Alexis Neal explores the integrity of each weaving process and pays tribute to their technological ingenuity through artistic innovations. Recently delving into the art of making woven customary items, Neal translates her attentive detail from harakeke to printed paper, meticulously cutting and weaving it into three-dimensional works. Her careful consideration to print and weave pays homage to the dedicated workflow involved in flax preparation.

Seamlessly combining her principled approach to print media and contemporary weaving, Neal creates ‘artefacts’ like Kete Moana: Tāniko thread kete and Mariko braided necklace with careful attention to their wider cultural connectivities. Her large architectural paper woven drops hung in kapa haka format, command presence and demand inspection of their inherent qualities. These pieces harmoniously come together across time and space, turning Neal into a cultural storyteller, weaving materiality back together with its spiritual essence. The three dimensional fine interlacing details become impressions in paper, imbuing the artwork with a profound understory, a deliberate transformation according to whakapapa Māori with a new appreciation for printing as a spiritual practice that echoes ancient Asian printmaking and paper cutting arts.

On the other hand, Peata Larkin's paintings instinctually explore the boundless possibilities of the intersectional space, amplified through the use of light in works like Pike Ake_Rise Up, 2013. LED illumination from behind reveals countless glimmering cells, resembling star patterns reminiscent of tukutuku design purapura whetu, or star seeds, representing the vastness of our ancestors.

While Larkin's technique is often associated with binary and digital technology, there is a more compelling connection to Māori conceptual notions of duality[5]—of people, mind, and matter. Her language of geometric abstraction and patterns delves into qualities of paint and space, deeply influenced by Māori cultural concepts of past and present, material and immaterial, the sacred and profane. This is exquisitely revealed in the ethereal triptych Between Two Pou 2018 with the delicate suspension of acrylic on embroidered silk[6].

Neal's monumental whāriki artworks, each a separate work but hung in groups, almost become the weavers themselves sharing knowledge and techniques as they form their own personal designs and tributes to life stories. While Larkin’s works are the souls of the people gathering, occupying the seen and unseen spaces, where the fulfilment of their dreams coalesce within the colours. Both artists clearly articulate transformation of media to express Māori meaning, with awareness that art represents the space in-between celestial and terrestrial domains, where humans continue to connect and create.

1. Alexis Neal Holding Space, Māngere Arts Centre 2023 (2022)
2. acc August 2023
3. acc August 2023
4. ibid
5. acc August 2023
6. Maree Mills Painting Sacred Codes Māngere Arts Centre 2023 (2022)

Opening Hours

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  • Daily 10.00am – 5.00pm
  • Closed Christmas Day

Address: Tauranga Art Gallery POP UP

  • 42-44 Devonport Road
  • Tauranga, 3110