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Unconscious pursuit

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

Rosie Ralph is a painter living in New Plymouth. Here she talks of memory, materials, motivation, and how to break the ice with a blank canvas.

What’s the most memorable response you’ve had to your work?

There have been a few. From: 'All I can see are penises and horses' to 'I see something new each time I look at it' or 'How is this chaotic and peaceful at the same time?'. There is a particular expression that I love to see on people's faces, it's somewhere between confusion and familiarity. There's something that they see that tickles a memory or a feeling but they can't put their finger on it. That's the sweet spot, that's when they keep looking. The more time someone spends with a painting, the deeper the impact it's going to have on them and that's all I ever want. To slow down your adult, logical thinking and tap into your imagination and wonder even for just a moment.

What themes do you pursue?

It's an unconscious pursuit I think. I tend not to seek out particular themes, more they make themselves apparent to me through the colours and composition. Once I notice that the painting is giving off a certain theme, then I can just play with it, enhancing it to my best ability. The only thing I have to do from there is try not to squeeze the narrative too tightly. I don’t want to tell the viewer what to see. I want there to always be room for the viewers' own influences to make their mark. That’s the beauty of abstract art I think, it allows you to be who you are when you look at it, there's no judgement, no right or wrong. If I can remain authentic in my approach then I think this bleeds through to the viewer. I'm constantly keeping myself in check, making sure I'm staying playful and honest.

What research do you do?

Most of my research comes in the form of just looking with intent. This is something my dad taught me. How to see through an inquisitive eye. I've been doing this for so long now that I can't help but see relationships in form and colour wherever I go. I'll see a brilliant red bike zoom by and wake up the green in the grass. Or a fleeting frame created through the windows of two cars passing each other. All these visual snapshots are loaded into the back of my brain somewhere, into a pool of research, ready for me to subconsciously swim in later.

What’s something your brain tries to make you do and you have to will yourself not to do it?

Sleep. I've always had a weird relationship with sleep. I've never really figured it out. I'm currently going through a semi nocturnal phase. Living in this way is kind of insightful but also really inconvenient. My brain is always telling me to sleep but sometimes I just have other things I need to do.

You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?

I'd be some variation of a grey blue. For me this shade is calmness and stability. It doesn't need to be in the spotlight but can be vital in bringing a palette together.

In 5 words, describe the colour yellow to somebody who is blind.

Obnoxious but has good intentions.

Who are your biggest influences?

Ultimately, my biggest influence in how to build a creative career has always been my Dad. He is an incredible photographer with a brilliant creative eye. I grew up seeing the ups and downs of balancing business and creativity, I feel this prepared me for some of the realities that hit when you turn your passion into a career. Thanks Dad. Other creative influences are Vasily Kadinsky for his composition and balance, William de Kooning for his freedom, El Lissitzky for his architectural composition, Amy Sillman for her grit, rawness and tension, Hilma af Kilnt for her storytelling, Marc Rothko for his colour exploration and minimalism, Joan Miro for his playfulness of characters, Helen Frankenthaler for her tenderness and Cy Twombly for his pace and honesty.

What materials are integral in your work?

Charcoal, chalk pastel, pencil, a really long, fat bristly brush – all of my tools I use at the beginning of a painting. I start each piece the same, with intuitive drawing and loose brush marks. Big movements, often a tool in each hand, most of the time with my eyes closed, non thinking just action. Movement trumps thought at this stage and it's pure bliss. This breaks the ice between me and the blankness of the canvas and we can stop being shy with one another. It’s not very often we get to surprise ourselves, I feel like this process allows space for something else to move through me, as if I am a puppet. I'm forever invested in the show, waiting to see what happens next.


Gallery shot at Te Auaha Gallery, Wellington. Photography by the artist's father.

Rosie Ralph, tenzeroseven

Rosie Ralph, Whiskey

Rosie Ralph, X -Ray

Rosie Ralph, Sierra


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