THIS IS THE biography of a painting I’ve known my whole life. At least, there hasn’t been a time when I can’t remember the painting that used to hang in the long, darkened hallway of my grandparents’ house on the farm in northern Hawke’s Bay. This was the farm we used to visit as children for what felt like the endless weeks of school holidays. I knew the farm in all its seasons – from its calm, elegiac autumns through cold dark winters, and into the halcyon heat of summer. Because the farm is now only remembered as a fragment in a happy childhood, the richness I’ve remembered has surely deepened with the years. So the winters of recall are probably colder and more dramatic than they really were, the summers probably longer and hotter, and the magpies waking us in the still mornings more melodic and otherworldly.
How then, I wonder, has the painting which used to hang in the hallway deepened with the years since I last saw it? How have the years I’ve lived away from her watchful gaze influenced my recall? The shape of her thickset body emerges from the gloom of the spare landscape she stands against; her slab-like feet and hands and her solid, impassive stare; her dress and hat and bag, clearly the accessories of another, previous time. Even then, to the small boy I was, she was a woman who obviously belonged to a bygone age: a woman of some mythic, and in our case, settler past.
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