Wellington artist sees double

23 April 2015

A group of Kiwi friends coming face to face with characters out of the Venice Carnival, violent eruptions at Mt Ruapehu, and winning the eight-hour working day are all subjects for Sally Griffin’s life-size drawings in What We Saw.

Sally Griffin's drawing

Sally Griffin's drawing "We Are Not in London Now."

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The large drawings on heavy brown paper with layers of different coloured pencils cover the gallery walls. They show the artist’s interest in socio-political events, mixed with her own artistic language developed over decades.

“I started the drawings for What We Saw as a way of developing new language but also taking some of my past images and combining them with present day realities.

“When I arrived in Auckland from Melbourne in 1974, I set up a studio in Devonport and started an ‘apprenticeship’ of large drawings, which a couple of years later I exhibited. Confronted by such a large piece of paper and one small pencil does something to you. It is a challenging proposition,” Griffin said.

“Current events and having an historical framework partially informs and motivates my practice but, as well, I have always been a compulsive drawer of strange and wonderful creatures and places. I don’t know how many kilometres I covered of lead pencil drawings as a child on a long laminated counter in our open plan house, but every evening they were wiped off with Ajax so the family could have dinner.”

Well-known in Auckland for her art, this is Griffin’s first solo exhibition in Wellington. Running simultaneously is another exhibition, at Photospace Gallery, also called What We Saw. The photos on show are from her personal collection of black and white images from the decade after she arrived in New Zealand.

“It has photographs of well-known, and not so well-known, artists and political figures such as Phil Clairmont, Tony Fomison, Jim Anderton, Merata Mita, Odo Strewe and Tim Shadbolt. They were such interesting people - and times - that I absolutely had to record these experiences,” Griffin said.

What We Saw – Life-size Drawings opens at 5.30pm on 7 May at Toi Poneke Gallery, 61 Abel Smith St. The show runs 8–30 May. There is a drawing workshop on Saturday 23 May, 2pm–4 pm. Registrations are essential. To book, please contact Sally Griffin on 021 242 8713 or email 

What We Saw – Photos from a Decade opens at 5pm on 8 May at Photospace Gallery, 1st Floor, 37 Courtenay Place. It runs 9 May–6 June. There is a floortalk with stories about the photos on Saturday 16 May at 2pm.