Joanna Paul

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Joanna Margaret Paul
Born(1945-12-14)14 December 1945
Hamilton, New Zealand
Died29 May 2003(2003-05-29) (aged 57)
Rotorua, New Zealand
EducationElam School of Fine Arts
Known forPainting, poetry, film

Joanna Margaret Paul (14 December 1945 – 29 May 2003) was a New Zealand visual artist, poet and film-maker.


Paul was one of four daughters of pioneering New Zealand publisher Blackwood Paul and artist and writer Janet Paul.[1]

Paul attended Marsden College from 1959 until 1962, then Waikato University in 1963, studying History, French and English. In 1964 she travelled to London with her family for a year, studying at the Sir John Cass School. On returning to New Zealand she completed a BA at Auckland University in 1968; in 1967 she enrolled at Elam School of Fine Arts, studying under teachers such as Colin McCahon, Greer Twiss and Tom Hutchins, and alongside fellow students Christine Hellyar, Marte Szirmay and Leon Narbey. She graduated with a Diploma of Fine Arts in 1969.[1]

After graduating from Elam Paul moved to Dunedin, where in 1971 she married fellow artist Jeffrey Harris.[2]:10 In 1973 Paul and Harris spent a year in Wellington, where their first daughter was born; in 1976 a second daughter was born, who died of a heart defect at the age of eight months.[2]:11 A son was born in 1978 and a fourth child in 1982. Art historian Jill Trevelyan notes that 'Although Paul faced practical difficulties in reconciling the roles of mother and artist, she refused to see them as mutually exclusive. ... Paul was able to turn her domestic situation to her own advantage in her art, as her many tender and exquisite studies of her children attest.'[2]:11–12 Paul's first solo exhibition was held in 1968.[3]:214 In 1975 she was included in the exhibition Six Women Artists in Christchurch. In the publication accompanying the exhibition she stated:

As a woman painting is not a job, not even a vocation. It is a part of life, subject to the strains, and joys, of domestic life. ... Painting for me as a woman is an ordinary act – about the great meaning in ordinary things.[3]:213

In 1983 Paul received the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship at the University of Otago. The following year, after the end of her marriage, she moved briefly to Wellington and then settled in Whanganui, where she lived for the rest of her life, not discounting time spent working in various New Zealand cities, including a year in Wellington when she held the Rita Angus Residency in 1993.[2]:12[4]

The first major survey of Paul's work was shown at the Sarjeant Art Gallery in 1989.

In 2003 Paul collapsed while bathing in a thermal pool in the Polynesian Spas in Rotorua.[5] She died in hospital two days later. Jill Trevelyan writes 'An inventory of her studio revealed some 5000 artworks, many of which had never been exhibited, drawings, photographs and films. She also left a body of work as a poet and prose writer, including a wealth of published material.'[2]:13

Paul's obituary in the New Zealand journal Art New Zealand noted that 'she worked for love-not for money, neither for status nor fame. And so, during her public life as an artist – just on 34 years – Paul existed on the margins of the art world: where she lived, how she practised, and what she believed in.'[1] The obituary also commented on the range of her work and interests: 'painting and drawing, photography, film-making, poetry, publishing, architectural history and critical writing, as well as related commitment to the women's movement, human rights, building preservation, environmental protection and a fierce opposition to laissez-faire genetic engineering.'[1] Photographic historian Peter Ireland, writing on an exhibition of Paul's photographs in 2013, noted

Apart from a few dedicated collectors her work was never much sought after, and for several reasons. It was usually small, often on paper and domestically related. She worked across a range of mediums – painting, drawing, photography, film, poetry, publishing – and in the market’s view that’s not versatility but a perceived lack of focus. And she was her own worst enemy in terms of promotion. Although she exhibited regularly she shied away from any promotional endeavour, and, typically perversely, seemed to actively discourage it.[6]

A tribute exhibition, Beauty, Even, was organised by the City Gallery Wellington the following year and toured to other North Island locations.[4] A survey focused on her drawings was organised by the Mahara Gallery on the Kapiti Coast in 2006 and also toured.

The Hocken Collections at the University of Otago staged an exhibition of Paul's work paired with poet Cilla McQueen, Picture/Poem: imagery of Cilla McQueen & Joanna Paul in 2015. The exhibitions focused on works produced in the 1970s and 1980s when the two were resident in Dunedin; most of the works by Paul were drawn from the Hocken's collections.[7]

In early 2015, three of Paul's films featured in a two person exhibition with contemporary artist Ziggy Lever commissioned by Ramp Gallery Hamilton. Curated by Paula Booker and titled 'Thinking Feeling' the moving image exhibition considered the affective dimension of Paul's detailed and often dream-like non-narrative film works. The exhibition occasioned an eponymous catalogue by Ramp Press and also travelled to The Physics Room Contemporary Art Space, Christchurch.[8]

In 2015 Solomon Nagler and Mark Williams curated Six Artists respond to the work of Joanna Margaret Paul, a collection of short films responding to Paul's poems, by artists Nova Paul, Rachel Shearer, Sonya Lacey, Miranda Parkes, Shannon Te Ao and the collective Popular Productions.[9] This programme of work was screened at the Artists' Moving Image Programme of the BFI London Film Festival 2015.,[10] where curator Mark Williams also gave presentation about Paul's practice.[11]

Paul's work was included in Fragments of a World: Artists Working in Film and Photography 1973–1987, curated in 2015 by Dr Sandy Callister for the Adam Art Gallery.[12] The exhibition brought together the work of artists (Paul, Alexis Hunter, Jane Campion, Rhonnda Bosworth, Minerva Betts, Popular Productions and Janet Bayly) who early in their careers explored photography and film, from a feminist perspective.[13] The exhibition travelled to Michael Lett Gallery in Auckland in 2016.[14]

In December 2016 Peter Todd of the BFI curated a screening of her films 'Through a Different Lens' at the Close-Up film Centre in London.[1]


  • 1989 Joanna Margaret Paul: Chronicle/Chronology, Sarjeant Gallery
  • 1995 The Figured Landscape, City Gallery Wellington[4]
  • 2004–2005 Beauty, Even, City Gallery Wellington, Sarjeant Gallery and Rotorua Museum of Art and History[4]
  • 2006 Joanna Margaret Paul: Drawing, Mahara Gallery and Whangarei Art Museum
  • 2009 Joanna Margaret Paul, Brett McDowell Gallery, Dunedin
  • 2010 Joanna Margaret Paul: The Colour of Candour, Brett McDowell Gallery, Dunedin
  • 2013 Joanna Margaret Paul: Photographs 1976–1985, Robert Heald Gallery, Wellington[6]
  • 2015 Picture/Poem: imagery of Cilla McQueen & Joanna Paul, Hocken Library, University of Otago, Dunedin
  • 2015 Thinking Feeling: Time-based works by Ziggy Lever and Joanna Margaret Paul, curated by Paula Booker, The Physics Room and RAMP Gallery, Hamilton, New Zealand[15]
  • 2015 Lunch Poems: Kate Newby and Joanna Margaret Paul, Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland[16]
  • 2016 Light On Things, Brett McDowell Gallery, Dunedin
  • 2017 Six views of Rangitoto, Brett McDowell Gallery, Dunedin
  • 2017 Not Nostalgia, Bowerbank Ninow, Auckland.
  • 2018 In This Sensual Music, Brett McDowell Gallery, Dunedin
  • 2019 The Real Bird, Brett McDowell Gallery, Dunedin


Paul published a number of small chapbooks, in addition to pieces of critical and observational writing in various New Zealand publications.[2]:138

  • Rilke's Life of Mary, 1970
  • Unwrapping the Body, Bothwell: Dunedin, 1970
  • The Lone Goose, John McIndoe: Dunedin, 1979
  • With Mary Paul, Gestures of Prayer, Bothwell: Dunedin, 1981
  • As I Sat ..., 1985–1986
  • Ago, 1985–1986
  • Rose, handprinted by Brendan O'Brien, Rita Angus Cottage, Wellington, 2000
  • The Cherry Now, Ferbank Studio: Wellington, 2001
  • Forbidden Apple, 2003

Further information[edit]

  • Ian Wedde, 'Resisting Foreclosure: Joanna Paul', in How to be nowhere: Essays and texts 1971–1994, Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1995. ISBN 086473249X
  • Paula Booker 'Affect, embodiment, and the power of the glimpse in the films of Joanna Margaret Paul' in Thinking Feeling: Time-based works by Ziggy Lever and Joanna Margaret Paul, Hamilton: Ramp Press, 2015. ISBN 9780473324834
  • Peter Dornauf, Review of Joanna Margaret Paul and Ziggy Lever: Thinking Feeling EyeContact, 19 June 2015
  • John Hurrell, Review of Kate Newby & Joanna Margaret Paul: Lunch Poems, EyeContact, 9 July 2015
  • David Eggleton, 'Illuminations: Cilla McQueen & Joanna Paul at the Hocken', Art New Zealand, no 155, Spring 2015, pp. 58–61
  • Alice Tappenden, Inside, looking out: Photographs by Joanna Margaret Paul Circuit, 2 February 2016
  • Films by Joanna Margaret Paul hosted on the Circuit website


  1. ^ a b c d "A Shape to Part the Space Joanna Margaret Paul (1945–2003)". Art New Zealand. 108. Spring 2003.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Trevelyan, Jill; Treadwell, Sarah (2006). Joanna Margaret Paul: Drawing. Auckland: Auckland University Press and Mahara Gallery. ISBN 1869403681.
  3. ^ a b Kirker, Anne (1986). New Zealand women artists. Auckland: Reed Methuen. ISBN 0474001814.
  4. ^ a b c d "Joanna Margaret Paul: Beauty, Even". City Gallery Wellington. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  5. ^ Brown, Jo Marie (1 December 2003). "Rotorua hot pools charged over artist's death". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  6. ^ a b Ireland, Peter (16 November 2013). "Joanna Margaret Paul Photographs". EyeContact. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  7. ^ "Picture/Poem: imagery of Cilla McQueen & Joanna Paul". University of Otago. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  8. ^ "Joanna Paul and Ziggy Lever". Eyecontact. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  9. ^ "Six artists respond to the poetry of Joanna Margaret Paul". Circuit. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  10. ^ "Artists' Moving Image Programme of the BFI London Film Festival 2015". LFF Experimenta 2015. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
  11. ^ "Experimenta Archive Talk". Circuit. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
  12. ^ "Fragments of a World". Adam Art Gallery. Retrieved 12 December 2015.
  13. ^ Callister, Sandy (2015). Fragments of a World: Artists Working in Film and Photography 1973–1987. Wellington: Adam Art Gallery.
  14. ^ Hurrell, John (29 January 2016). "Seventies Feminist Photography & Film". EyeContact. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  15. ^ "Thinking Feeling". RAMP Gallery. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  16. ^ "Lunch Poems". Hopkinson Mossman. Retrieved 2 August 2015.