Member Profile: Michael Barker

We are told that the image is visual language and that language enables us to communicate and connect with one another. Moreover, we know too that the image can be powerful, an idea best expressed in the notion that ‘a picture can speak a thousand words’. The artist then, whether visual or performing, is in a fortuitous position being able to connect and communicate with people in a most powerful way. Whether it be found in stunning landscapes or townscapes or the everyday intimate human interaction of family and friends, the inspiration to evoke images can be found everywhere.

For myself, inspiration often comes from nature and often in the most ordinary things, such as a simple daisy or small creature. All are worthy of respect and recognition and all can be powerful images. As an educator and artist I have come to reflect too, on nature’s ability to teach. As William Wordsworth evoked: “Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher”. Be it her ability to teach and instruct us about interconnectiveness and diversity, and structure and design, nature is indeed powerful, awe-inspiring and worthy of reverence.

In 1991 the opportunity presented itself to undertake a special project and create a protected reserve under the auspices of the Queen Elizabeth the Second National Trust, a non-governmental organisation especially created to protect significant natural areas of New Zealand through a covenant scheme.

And so our property, ‘Te Mara’, The Garden, was born and has continued to develop on the slopes of beautiful Te Aroha Mountain in the Hauraki district, at the bottom end of the Coromandel peninsular and adjacent to the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park. This is the place I now call my home with my wife Judy, including garden, gallery and importantly studio. The project has been especially satisfying as Te Aroha mountain - and much of the Coromandel - was at one time the subject of severe exploitation in the form of logging and mining. This was especially true for us here.

The notorious Tui Mine is located above our property and was, at one time, the most contaminated toxic site in New Zealand. Only after considerable public pressure was an acceptable outcome achieved, the State and local authorities finally accepting their kaitiaki responsibilities, and undertaking a complete rehabilitation of the mine and its environs at a cost of over 25 million dollars.

Properties such as ‘Te Mara’ and thousands of others throughout New Zealand with covenant status are tangible reminders that as New Zealanders we can and should all take our responsibilities as ‘kaitiaki’ seriously and that the work of conservation is the work of everyone. So the environment my wife and I live in has become a place of respite and calm as well as a primary source of inspiration and creativity.

Creativity is never a simple process however and often involves hours of preparation before the product is delivered. For myself this involves considerable research and fieldwork often in the most difficult of places be it steep mountain slope, or snowfield. But photography is a great tool offering quiet reflection with the focus on detail of the captured image. Then there is the choice of materials with personal preferences for Hahnemühle papers, Da Vinci brushes and Reeves watercolours. Working at a big oak table with attendant adjacent tables for organisation of materials I begin with a full-scale drawing of the image which is then transferred to the paper through the impression of pencil lines. The work of painting then begins with paper suitably stretched on an old hardwood board until completion. In the event of crinkling the reverse of the paper is dampened with water spray and then placed between two large pieces of perspex and weighted down for up to two days. On completion of the work an image is captured digitally as a record (photographed). This is ‘cleaned up’, if necessary, on Photoshop as a file for display in the web gallery and/or printing as cards, prints etc.
The original painting itself is framed for sale and/or exhibition.

The watercolour ‘Hope Rising’ is inspired by the desperate plight of many in warzones such as we have witnessed in such places as Aleppo and Mosul and is a reflection on the idea that when the world says ‘give up’, hope whispers to us ‘try it one more time’. It is also an allegory on personal lives and the often unseen struggle many of us confront on a daily basis. Hope is the message I wish for you!

Michael Barker

Watercolour NZ
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