The Votive Image: Contemporary Responses to Traditional Ex-votos and Retablos (with Tony Lane and Terry Stringer)
Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington
20 May - 13 June 2009

My first experience of an ex-voto was a small, blue-background painting on a wrinkled and crinkled piece of tin, all rusted around the edges too. It was attached to the wall with a piece of frayed string, looped through a puncture wound, suspended by a nail. Hanging among contemporary paintings and photographs, the small image of a Mexican woman kneeling before a vision of the Virgin of Guadalupe held it's own on the wall - it 'pinged'! I think this was about a decade ago, in a private collection exhibition at the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui. I was at art school at the time and it was the aesthetic similarities and the use of symbolism in the ex-voto that resonated with my own paintings.

Now I paint and collect ex-votos and retablos. I've been painting in the ex-voto format since mid 2006 when I shifted back to Whanganui from Wellington for the Tylee Cottage Residency. I started doing them to provide an appendix to my professional practice and a diary of my daily comings-and-goings. My explanation at the time for doing them was "… I'll usually paint one as soon as I get into the studio. It helps to free up my hand, ready for the day of painting ahead and clears my mind, especially if anything has been niggling at me…"1

I bought my first retablo in April last year in a thrift-store in the partly devastated suburb of Bywater, New Orleans. It depicted Veronica's Veil. Then I bought and swapped several ex-votos in Santa Monica and splurged out on some retablos in San Francisco.

I think I like them because there's no cult-of-personality tied up with these works, in fact the artists were really artisans just doing God's work. No politics, no egos, what a great way to earn a wage! The creators were known by names such as The Bee-Stung Lip Painter, The Almond Eye Painter, The Red Bole School or the trusty Anónimo. This, for me, helps focus on the depiction of the visual narrative with a little description at the bottom to say who commissioned the devotion. It's simply a vehicle between the faithful and their Deity.


1. Artist's statement for the group exhibition Tylee Cottage: 21 Years at the Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, May - June, 2007

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