Avondale resident, Pusi Urale’s latest exhibition, “A Village in Ōtara,” was an enormous success when it opened at the Fresh Gallery in Ōtara in August. Sixteen of the 18 paintings for sale were sold on the opening day, to which Pusi, a character in her 80s, laughs: “They probably thought they’d better buy a painting because I’ll be dying soon!”
With failing eyesight, the Samoan-born artist was inspired to work most days leading up to the exhibition, and most of each day, to get the work completed in time, each piece taking up to a month to complete.
Testament to the fact that it’s never too late to pursue a passion, Pusi began painting as late as her 50s, taking night classes with her husband. Though she remembers watching her mother create tapa cloth when she was young, and would help by fetching dies from the bush and preparing the bark.
“The concept of art is very different in Samoa,” she says. “Before they used cotton materials from the shop, they made tapa cloth to wear, to sleep on, to cover the table with, and they made mats and fans – creativity was in the work they did every day. There was no separation between the art world and the everyday world, whereas here, art is for show.”
In the ‘90s, Pusi took time out from her teaching job to teach a course on Tapa Art and Culture. More recently, she completed a diploma at The Learning Connexion - the school of creativity and art in Lower Hutt - where she also taught, and was struck by the lack of brown faces.
“In the past, Pacific Island parents didn’t see art as being a steady job,” she says, “But it’s changing. More and more young people are becoming artists.”
In 2016, Pusi gained notice for her Blonde Maidens exhibition, featuring Pakeha nudes adorned with Pacific flowers. It was a commentary on Gauguin’s and others’ fixation with naked Polynesian women.
Last year, Pusi was invited to exhibit at the NZ Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington, and has also had her work accepted into the Wallace Arts collection touring the country.
Planning her next exhibition, Pusi says she would like her work to perhaps be “freer and more abstract!”