Neal Palmer | Under The Surface
When our borders re-opened in 2022, I took the opportunity to travel to Europe and the UK to reconnect with family and friends and to visit as many galleries and exhibitions as I could get to. Big shows in big galleries. Scale was the thing that really jumped out. It changes the way one views work, evoking a visceral, emotional response.
I came home to NZ, inspired to go big. I’ve worked at scale before and had been planning a large works exhibition for some time. The time had come.
‘Under the Surface’ brings together themes and processes I’ve been developing and playing with for 20+ years. I started this body of work as a way of visually acclimatising to a new country.
Having moved from London to Aotearoa and being naturally inclined to the great outdoors I started drawing and taking photographs of the fascinating forms of native plants like Nikau and Harakeke. The resultant paintings were very much about the underlying form of those plants, the way the shapes repeat through scale and relate to each other and how I can represent the essence of those subjects in a way that also relates to painting more widely.
Over the years I’ve developed personal stories around the subjects I’ve studied. The titles reflect the stories I tell myself. ‘Crossing Paths’ references the many possibilities we are faced with, different directions taken, the leaves on their trajectories representing interactions, connections, the intertwining of people’s lives.
I have been taking pictures of magnolias for many years and one of my favourites is in London at Saint Patrick’s church near the Royal Academy of Art. They’ve followed me here on an emotional level, representing the idea of successful migration, my own and more generally a symbol of diverse communities putting down roots. It’s a positive spin on relocation in a modern context, not to be confused with the injustices of the colonial era and the complications involved with that.
I aim to produce work that relates to nature in a positive and enlightening manner, to generate protective feelings towards increasingly stressed ecological environs.
Which brings me to my Kauri work, mega scale personified. A giant born of the gods and a precious piece of the puzzle that is Aotearoa’s complex ecology under stress. With very few of these giant trees left after most of the forests were felled, the remaining Kauri are now threatened by Kauri Dieback Disease which has spread widely and kills quickly.
Dieback spreads through the soil infecting trees via their roots. There’s a lot going on under the surface that we need to understand before it’s too late.