Jane Zusters is a teller of stories, often veiled in metaphor and camouflaged with ambiguities, but always deriving from her own relationships with people, places and events.
In the 80s a need to communicate more with paint than abstract theory and purely aesthetic values motivated the Italian artists of the Transavante-gardia. (1) Zusters was initially exposed to these postmodern, Neo-Expressionist works during her first visit to Italy in 1984. The vital manner in which they portrayed personal concerns about the human condition has remained an important influence on her own practice. Traces of Cubism, Expressionism, and Surrealism float to the surface in the Transavante-gardists’ melting pot, along with elements from Renaissance art and classical antiquity. Like the Transavante-gardia, Zusters’ work references the continuum of western culture, the accumulative layering of generations over centuries and the constant process of adaption and revision of the past to meet the needs of today.
The symbol of a small rowboat with its connotation of journeys and rites of passage is one of Zusters’ frequently used motifs. She has drawn, painted, scraffittied, photographed, collaged and constructed boats for nearly three decades. Like the clinker dinghy in her painting Vada Italia, her winning entry in the 1984 Montana Art Award, they represent physical as well as intellectual or spiritual journeys. The title, the Italian translation of ‘Italy I am Going’, proved to be prophetic when Zusters used the prize money to finance her first trip to Italy. The experience was transforming, opening her eyes to the past and empowering her with the means to express her vision with contemporary originality.
Her painting Renaissance Refuge won the Tokoroa Art Award in 1988, enabling her to revisit Italy and visit Etruscian tombs and Giotto’s fresco cycle of the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. (2) An exhibition of contemporary Italian art proved to be revelatory. Mimmo Paladino’s success in ‘establishing connections between disparate elements’ (3) a modernist, colour field painting combined with a primitive face on an oval shaped painting and an iron cart covered with small bronze busts provided confirmation for Zusters’ own recent experiments.
Once back in her Waiheke Island studio she began following the example of the Transavante-gardists. She had tentatively been adding painted images cut out of plywood to the surface of her canvasses and now felt encouraged to combine photographs and other material liberating her work from the confines of the flat-framed rectangle.
Taking Giotto as her model, she sought to convey personal narratives within her contemporary art practice, using elements of the past as tools for the present. The construction paintings of canvas, acrylic and plywood in the late ’80s developed in the ’90s into luminous oils which were often painted on rimu ovals, headboards or combined with timber found objects.
Her responses to the wider western cultural heritage have always been mediated as a twentieth century artist from the other side of the world. By the late 1990s Zusters was drawing the majority of her subject matter from visual memories of life in the Southern Hemisphere. Cook’s Observed Latitude (Black and Blue Art Cross, 1999) conveys notions of distance in time and space. The dark ovals within the arms of a ‘Southern Cross’ suggest separated worlds divided by vast oceans alluding to cultural as much as physical disconnection of the post-colonial.
Zusters encoded abstracting imbues her art with an intriguing, enigmatic quality. The works revealing meaning over time, provoking reflection and personal interpretation of the images.
Mark Hutchins, Wellington, 11/02/03
(1) Transavantgardia; Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi: a contemporary Italian school of postmodernism who drew inspiration for their multimedia works from historical and contemporary art
(2) Giotto: Fresco cycle on the life of his contemporary St Francis, Upper Chappel, Assisi, 1290
(3) Zusters: conversation with the author, May 1998
I am as addicted to making art as I am to drinking coffee
Jane Zusters was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1951. In 1973 she finished a BA in English and was working as a teacher at Navua High School in Fiji, when she decided to be an artist instead. She has spent her adult life painting and taking photographs. She studied at the Canterbury University School of Fine Arts for two years and in 1975, while still a second year painting student, exhibited her photographs in the “Six Women Artists” show curated by Allie Eagle at the McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch, NZ. In 1978 she was awarded a major Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council Grant and moved to Auckland. In 2003 Jane completed an MFA (First Class Honours) in photography at Whitecliffe College of Art and Design.
Highlights for Jane have been winning first prize in the Montana Art Award 1984, another Arts Council Grant in 1986, winning first prize in the Tokoroa Art Award in 1988 and being a joint winner of the Lilian Ida Smith Award in 1994. Important experiences for Jane have been visiting Italy in 1984 and again in 1988, being the Rita Angus Art Trust artist in residence in 1991, and visiting Berlin on a Goethe Institute Scholarship in 1992. In 1986 she had a studio home built on Waiheke Island and she has done much voyaging from there since. In 1999-2000 she lived in London for 10 months. At present she is living in Christchurch.
Jane Zusters is an experienced art tutor who has facilitated numerous painting workshops, including classes at Artstation, Auckland University Extension Studies, E.I.T. Taradale Hawkes Bay and Wanganui Polytechnic. She was a guest artist in residence at Canterbury University in 1995. In 2004 she was the William Hodges Fellow in Southland.
Jane Zusters is a painter and photographer who has recently moved into the areas of installation and DVD. In 2001 her art practice underwent a fundamental change when she was invited by Miranda Playfair to be part of Xerart, artists explore digital technology at the ASA gallery in Auckland. The ensuring exhibition ‘Stratum’ comprised work by Billy Apple, Carole Shepheard, Martin Ball, Harvey Benge, Stephen Lovett, Miranda Playfair (working as Girlie Pics) and Jane Zusters. Her show at Te tuhi – the mark in 2004 comprised found objects, painting and DVD. In 2004 she was the William Hodges fellow in Southland. Zusters most recent exhibition was at Pataka in 2005 and used the device of creating a 70s lounge to look at albums of photographs shown in conjunction with a continuously looped 20 min DVD.
. Zusters” work mediates the personal and the intimate and the environment and the local. She articulates relationships between nature and culture. Her work explores some of the central issues of our time namely that uneasy edge ecologically where natural worlds are threatened when human beings channel the whole eco system into themselves. Her video works juxtapose the manmade with the natural world often figuring birds and water. She is passionate about our endangered New Zealand birds and water issues and co founded Artists for save our Water which initiates art projects that draw attention to local water issues. Her practice manifests itself in various forms including painting, photography, installation involving found objects and short continuously looped video pieces. Zusters is represented in major public collections in New Zealand. After twenty years coming and going from her studio house on Waiheke Island, she returned to live and work in Christchurch in 2005.
Recent Solo Exhibitions Jane Zusters has had 45 solo exhibitions and the most recent being:
2014 Sanderson Gallery, Auckland, Unruly memoirs ; nature bites back
2012 Forrester Gallery, Oamaru, Where the home is
2012 Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington, Seventies Silver
2012 Aigantighe Gallery, Timaru, Quakers
2011 Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington, Singing in the lifeboat
2010 Quikcorp Gallery Christchurch, The return of the moa
2009 Timaru, Aigantighne Gallery, Quikcorp Gallery Christchurch Wall Talking
2008 Christchurch, Campbell Grant Galleries, Birdtalk
2007 Oamaru, The Forrester Gallery, C/-Te Karita Rd, First Kaik
2005 Southland Art Gallery and Museum, Who can say...
2005 Christchurch, Campbell Grant Galleries, Blossom
2005 Porirua, Pataka, Where did you go to my lovely…
2004 Pakuranga, te tuhi – the mark, Out of the Woods-Te-Wao-Nui- a-Tane
2003 Christchurch, Campbell Grant Galleries, Alien Adventures of the Astrolabe
2003Wellington, Tinakori Gallery, Crossing
2002 Auckland, MFA exhibition, Where did you go to my Lovely…
2000 Christchurch, Campbell Grant Galleries, Happy Birthday to Me…
2000 Auckland, Lane Gallery, Landfall in known seas
1998 London, New Zealand House, Moeraki, Dream Space1998
1998 Auckland, Lane Gallery, Hastings, Hawke’s Bay Exhibition Centre
You know what you know you know
Recent Selected Group Exhibition
Jane Zusters has been in numerous group shows starting with: 1975 Christchurch, McDougall Gallery, Six Woman Artists
2012 PaperGraphica, Christchurch, Where the home is
2011 The University of Newcastle Gallery, Australia, The Murray River Matters with Ramonda Te Maiharoa
The Eastern Gallery, Southland, Seaward Bush
2010 New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. Artists as Activists
2007 Taiwan. New Zealand Contemporary Art Exhibition, Art Taipei
2006 Christchurch, Te Whare Roimata, Our Mothers Ourselves,
2006 Auckland, Artstation, Christchurch Coca, Wetware
2006 Dunedin, Blue Oyster, Some Morphology, Playfair and Zusters
2004 Manukau City, Te Tuhi -The Mark, Out of the Woods-Te Wao Nui a Tane
2001 Auckland, ASA Gallery, Stratum, Artists explore digital technology-
Auckland, ASA Gallery, Gender Tasting
2001 Photoforum / The Serjeant Gallery, Update//The Active Eye
Publications Sue Fitchett and Jane Zusters, (1999) Charts & Soundings- some small navigation aids Spiral
1991 Artist in Residence Rita Angus Cottage, Wellington
1992 Visited Berlin on Goethe Institute Scholarship
1995 Artist in Residence, Canterbury University
2004 William Hodges Fellow, Southland
2011 Artist in Residence, Lochmara Lodge Wildlife Recovery and Arts Centre
2014 Artist in Residence, New Pacific Studio, Vallejo, Ca.USA
Awards and Grants
1979 QE II Arts Council Grant
1984 First Prize Montana Art Award, Gisborne
1986 QE II Arts Council Grant
1988 First Prize Tokoroa Art Award
1994 Joint recipient Sarjeant Gallery’s Lilian Ida Smith Award
2003 MFA prize Whitecliffe College of Art and Design
Auckland War Memorial Museum
Auckland Art Gallery
Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Puna O Waiwhetu
College House, Christchurch
James Wallace Collection
Lincoln University, Canterbury
Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North
Museum of New Zealand ,Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington
Sarjeant Gallery, Wanganui
Southland Musuem & Art Gallery, Niho O Te Taniwha
Suter Gallery, Nelson
The Forrester Gallery, Oamaru
University of Auckland
University of Canterbury
University of Victoria, Wellington
Waikato Museum of Art and History, Hamilton
Dunn, Michael: Contemporary Painting in New Zealand, 1996
Brown, Warwick: 100 New Zealand Paintings, 1995
Kirker, Anne: New Zealand Women Artists: an update, 1992
Dunn, Michael: A Concise History of New Zealand Painting, 1991
Dunn, Michael: Painting since 1970: Update to 200 years of New Zealand Paintings, 1990
Spiral group: A Women’s Picture Book, 1988
“I have spent my life as an art voyager, refusing to be confined by one medium or a signature style.”