'TALL WHITE POPPY'
224,000 1mm squares on New Zealand Gormak graph paper make up the foundation for Moxham’s latest artwork.
‘Tall White Poppy’ is a remarkably detailed, information laden and symbol dense artwork, that speaks from the heart about identity, value, and definition.
Moena introduced us to her technique of ‘ink stitch’ grid drawing with her artworks ‘Thought in Formula' and 'Thought in Formula II’ in 2015. Created using different symbols and marks they incorporate her knowledge and techniques in embroidery and sewing with line, composition, mathematics and the use of positive/ negative space and tone, to create depth and layering. In 2016, Moxham developed the artwork ‘Brainstorm’ using her handwriting to create pattern and form while expressing a narrative message. This artwork amalgamates all of these previous techniques in order to investigate and unpack the notion of a New Zealand ‘Tall Poppy’.
Talking about the material and process selection Moxham says: "When I was a child, my Father was a cartographer and draftsman and had very special sets of Staedler pens, French curves, set squares, splines and a special drawing table which I loved. I was fascinated with the precision, the skill and the creativity that was required within rules and frameworks to create imagery. Along side my Spirograph, this mathematical way of making patterns and variation fascinated and entranced my mind. Plus, the Staedler pens were off bounds so I didn't muff the nibs, and that’s a sure fire way to draw any curious beings attention!".
Like examining a cell under a microscope, the viewer is taken on a visual journey of discovery, exploration and enquiry. ‘Tall White Poppy’ stands out from the page with poppies growing in the background and the word ‘White’ shimmering as if on fire. As the viewer gets closer, they see that the image is not dense in line rather made up of thousands of marks and handwritten text. The image is playful and requires the viewer to engage their curiosity by changing their perspective- sometimes quite literally to cock their head and follow the text onto strange angles and to find the ends of sentences. Moxham invites us to make our own opinion, to think about different definitions and interpretations rather than the literal. The marks are not by accident, and illicit connotations of gaming, computer programming and digital language alongside cross-stich, embroidery and needlework patterns. Clouds, poppies, change in gradients and lines made from play, rewind, forwards, backwards, up, down, stop, start, kiss, hug, equals symbols, and the relative scale and direction of these, adds another layer of data.
Exploring further the themes of ‘individualism v group’ and ‘beauty in imperfection’ are perfectly suited to this method of drawing. Moxham sees the grid as like the framework of life, the individual squares as us, the picture as the collective beauty and message. Every single square is treated with a mark or character and is unique unto it’s own. What looks like perfection or pattern, on closer inspection has contrast. Her execution is extraordinary in that there is very little planning involved. With the image in her head, she begins to draw while developing the work as she goes along. This emulates Moxham’s life ethos of getting going; getting out, going forwards; no matter how small the step, one millimetre in the right direction builds over time to create a bigger picture and the momentous. It doesn’t matter if one square is different, together they work as a whole.
Moxham notes, "This work belongs to a new passage of my artistic expression. It comes from love, from passion and from positive emotions rather than from being out of my comfort zone, dealing with pain or working through a conundrum. These notions and thoughts are pertinent to my personal identity but are filaments belonging to a greater social and environmental strand. This work is provocative, designed to instigate dialogue and is potentially controversial- and that’s great, because all of that makes us think/ act/ grow and change".
The text ‘Tall White Poppy’ initially confronts and talks of ‘tall poppy syndrome’. It is brazen statement and sticks it’s finger onto a sensitive topic that has conflicting and negative connotations within a culture that promotes achievement yet, has challenges accepting or supporting it. It is a derogatory term primarily used in New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and other Anglosphere nations to describe a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements distinguish them from their peers. This is similar to begrudgery, the resentment or envy of success. A similar saying occurs in Japanese and Asian culture that translates to "The nail that stands out gets hammered down”.
In Moxham’s eyes it is a term we should be proud of and celebrate. However, Moxham is saying far more than provoking a categorisation. A ‘Tall Poppy’ is made of much more than an individual component. Collective merit and credit where it is due; societies affirmation of value; recognition of value in variation, cultural division based on ancestry and appearance, the collective support of our unique identities as New Zealanders- an ethnographic culture unique in its own, and the impermanence of existence are a few of many topics highlighted by this work.
Language is personified; words and ideas are humorously conceptualised and played with through literal and abstract fragmentation. Sometimes intentionally arranged to instigate a mental image or bring the reader back to seeing patterns, repetition or the actual shape and construct of the words and marks. The text is as a stream of conscious from the artist, drawing out ideas, concepts and thinking things over. Talking to herself, talking to others or just stating and re-evaluating ideas- some makes sense, some follows absurd tangents.
Click on the letters above to read and see enlarged
Tall is surrounded by symbols directing up and down and is unpackaged though text:
‘You are so beautiful shortie because you are tall, tall mind, tall heart, tall soul, tall spirit.’
‘Reach higher shortie, I’ll give you a hand, because I am a little taller until you can reach, because one day shortie you will be tall tall tall tall..’
‘…shortie becomes tall tall tall grow baby towards the light tall tall tall tall tall tall keep looking up not down you gotta look towards the stars’
‘…shortie stop worrying, who's measuring? To someone else you are tall tall tall…’
‘…tall tall tall tall in my eyes not tall in yours, tall in your eyes? what are you measuring me against?…’
‘…tall tall tall you exclaim: Too tall!!- Pfft- whatever you wouldn't explode with ‘Too wide!’- hahaha silly tall tall tall…’
‘…tall tall tall you are not going to topple, I have got you grow tall tall tall… tall tall black white wide narrow short tall left right wrong up down tall tall tall tall tall tall…’
‘It’s all perspective. When I am lying on the ground everything looks tall tall tall change your perspective…’
‘…dream think act tall.. make your mind tall…desire to be tall..everyone can be tall. You shortie are already tall tall tall…’
‘Shortie where you get worried you aint tall- you grow baby grow and reach the stars, baby, your time to shine will come- keep looking past the moon tall tall tall..’
Click to enlarge
‘White’ appears to not be marked, but up close the viewer sees that even the absent mark has been created with white ink. It seems as if on fire and yet at the same time as if snow is collecting in the corners; both dualities of fire and ice, hot and cold, rigid and kinetic. It is unpacked initially with definitions of the word which then change to the definition of black. The word itself is made up of both black and white colour and this dichotomy is precisely what Moxham is addressing. War, love, ethnicity, government policy, race, skin colour, identity, heritage, absence, presence, past, future, yin/ yang, language, culture, definition, and division are addressed through comments, poetry and questions.
‘…White, counter-revolutionary or reactionary- contrasted with red…’
‘…I am black, I am white; I am good I am bad; I am love, I am hate…’
’What is my Whakapapa, can you tell from my grey grey grey?…’
‘White, pristine, unblemished, they say it is not a colour. I love white mists and clouds lingering on the mountains; land of the long white cloud. Aotearoa.’
‘What is my whakapapa? White is European? I am not from Europe. Black is New Zealand? White is New Zealand? Aotearoa- the land of the long white cloud. Would you denounce my mana?’
‘I claim allegiance to my tribal roots
I claim allegiance to my homeland
I claim allegiance to my whakapapa
I claim allegiance to my heritage
I claim allegiance to my history
I claim allegiance to my people’
Two poems speak through prose in correlation with Moxham’s concepts:
‘White- Black AWOL- black absent without leave, white where have you gone? Your former presence is undeniable, have you departed or are you yet still to arrive?
Who said white; absent without light was good? Black you got the short end of the stick being nominated the naughty and mysterious, the blanket which underneath allows myself to play and scurry, softening the blow on irises not wanting to absorb the uncomfortable truth. Velvety plush, absorbent and full of layers of subtle complexity. Soft edges, subtle smudging, fluffy focus deliciously encouraging indulgent activities which in clear and defined daylight would be sharply inappropriate and tightly covered. Night you change my perception; broken and expand limitations- opening opportunity for shifts and allowances.
‘White you are an impossible ideal, unmaintainable within the modern world, and perfect in thus being so. I need permanent Nappysan- even then is it ever black to white? The memory of an act, an adventure, an experience always there just need to get a little closer to inspect. I like that. Investigate a little further. Take solace in what is or isn't there. You may see, others may not. Everyone does it differently. Rub, soak, dryclean, remove, dispose, burn baby burn, Quick- get rid of it. Be done with it to be sure.’
‘…white white white black white white…white a fly is in the cream white…’
‘…white white white black white white black…’
And at last being filled with ‘…grey grey grey grey grey…’
Click to enlarge
Finally, ‘Poppy’ is the most playful of the words, the outlines irregular, the centres floating away and the symbols of love X (kiss) and O (hug) playing with the links to opiates ‘ Poppy pop pop pop poppy down the rabbit hole we go’. A snake approaching a prize lives in ‘Y’ - eluding to the game of life and the confines and parameters of this- ‘Why in Y?’ asks the artist for there is no exit from that box…
Poppy is unwrapped through Oceanic identity, colour, the impermanence of life, death, blood, nature, war, drug trade, religious connotations, sleep and dreams, the power of words, positivity, productivity and finally the proclamation to ‘life to the fullest as you need to, to write your life.’
‘Pop pop pop poppy- symbol of war, love and unity pop pop poppy you bring relief, grief, fortune, demise. Wars fought in minds, with money, power and ego. Drugs, camaraderie, community; pressing together and simultaneously pulling apart’
‘Poppy poppy poppy your beauty cant last. I cut you and put you in glass but you wilt and sombrely droop, alone and singled out from the field. You are meant to be enjoyed; fed with light and sunshine. Until when the time is right you return to the earth again’
’…Anzac Anzac Australasian Attitude…’
‘Anzac unity, respect and definition. Poppy you stand for love and war, bloodshed battles, lessons written in lives. So much beauty, so much pain.’
‘…Fragile, temporary, beauty, shine in your time…’
‘…remember, remember, remember…resurrection, resurrection, resurrection…life cycle, cycle life, life cycle, cycle life… ’
‘Death blood on the fields red river of souls. Lessons learnt and not forgotten. Death… lessons important and vital.. lessons written in blood and lives of men and women driven to fight for good and a better life for generations to follow… death death life life life death fight for life, white and black, white and red, death…’
‘We are here for such a short time- make it extraordinary. Make it beautiful, delicate, authentic, filled with passion and life and bolstered by camaraderie and love…’
‘The power of words, of dreams, of opinion, of conversation, discourse; of discussion and re-evaluation; of learning; of respecting opinions where personal views are different. To learn how to be consciously uncomfortable and within this grow and develop through participatory education.’
‘Paint your life with the dreams of your mind. What you desire and how you put the pieces of the puzzle together is painting your existence. Your thoughts drive your actions and they shape your existence.’
‘Why? You owe it to your soul. Follow the Pied Piper of your Heart. Why why why why? Why not? Pop pop pop poppy grow taller you will shine pop pop poppy you are tall tall tall tall tall poppy tall poppy…’
‘You are beautiful just the way you are. Grow as you are meant to and reach towards the sun as you so desire. Tall white poppy…’
‘Red white black green blue pink mauve orange red grey purple pink…’
Ultimately Moxham finishes with the following words:
‘Make your mark on life like blood onto the white page. Your blood, your page, your life, your terms, your decisions, your responsibility- your story’
Photography Sean Aickin Photography