Joanna Margaret Paul

Imagined in the context of a room

7 August 2021 - 14 November 2021

With a multi-disciplinary practice spanning drawing, painting, poetry, photography and film, Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003) was an important artist of her generation. Born in Hamilton as the eldest child of Janet and Blackwood Paul, literary and artistic parents who were advocates of New Zealand modernism, Paul studied languages and literature before embarking on her artistic career. Attending Elam in the late 1960s, she moved to Ōtepoti Dunedin in 1970, establishing an art practice shaped by experimentation and her lived experiences.

The margin between the landscape and the home was a space that Paul constantly navigated through her work. Early works made in ōtepoti, Port Chalmers and Seacliff claim Paul a position as a major painter of the period, asserting her understanding of her context and a faith in her own view. Moving between the coastal landscape, the urban fringe and the domestic interior, this period created a foundation that would underpin her future work. As time passed, and Paul’s life changed, her work came to reflect these different directions. Her home offered an environment where objects, spaces and people acted as markers of memory, identity, domestic life, relationships and time. Photography and experimental film, much of which has only come to light in recent years, created a counterpoint to painting, drawing, and later poetry, reflecting a multi-faceted approach that was distinct from many of her contemporaries. 

Imagined in the context of a room recognises the need for a stronger understanding of the wide arc of Paul’s career. The exhibition traces the key journeys that shaped the artist’s career, from Ōtepoti, to Banks Peninsula to Whanganui and beyond. Her work legitimised her experiences as a woman and a mother, as a pioneering experimental filmmaker, and as a feminist interested in the interior, in intimacy, poetry, literature and religious practice. In doing so, she laid the groundwork for a contemporary generation whose multi-disciplinary approach is foreshadowed in Paul’s career. 


Throughout Imagined in the context of a room Paul offers glimpses into her life and the people she shared it with. Today we are pleased to offer our readers a personal essay written by Pat Baskett, one of Paul’s close friends, reflecting on life, friendship and art – click here.

View the exhibition labels – click here

Developed by Dunedin Public Art Gallery with project partner Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui.


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