Ra Gossage - From The Sea To The Sky

Clouds layer the sky, hills swell and undulate. Toi tois line the dusty road, houses and farm buildings are scattered amongst vivid green paddocks. The bridge that connects the road to Pakiri village and beyond, to the whanau property that Ra Gossage calls home, feels symbolic somehow - there is a crossing over of the sea that is required to span from one to the other.

Ra is kind and welcoming. A distinct feeling of connection to place can be felt, a sense of being grounded. The land, nestled against the scrub-lined banks of Pakiri beach, belonged to her mother’s side, and Ra has lived here since she was ten years old. The late Peter Gossage, famous New Zealand reteller and illustrator of old Maori myths such as ‘How Maui Slowed the Sun’, was her father and a great influence on Ra’s creative expression. “He made traditional Maori kowhaiwhai patterns. When I was younger I’d find them in his studio and copy them. That symbolism has been part of my subconscious growing up. He was my main teacher when I first started painting; he still inspires me now.”

Kowhaiwhai are traditionally painted in whare tipuna (meeting houses), pataka (storehouses), on the prow of a waka or on many forms of carving. As well as being decorative, kowhaiwhai patterns also help to tell a story. Ra’s first commission as a traditional kowhaiwhai painter was for her marae, in Omaha. Since then, between raising her family, she has continued to paint and develop her own style of this form of painting. 

Ra’s current body of work is largely based on koru and kape designs. Kape means ‘crescent’, and is a traditional motif. The colours she uses are contemporary and complementary. Whiti Mai Te Ra’s ochre, mustard and black koru patterns reference the sun’s rays, while Kape Whetu’s kape and star motifs in black and white invoke the heavens, the cosmos, and the gods above. “As I paint them, the meaning comes through. The depth of meaning is the most beautiful thing about kowhaiwhai. I’m inspired by the patterns I see in nature, and more recently in mythology, the gods and the elements, too.”

Ra Gossage’s first love though? Music. Inspiration has flown in the last couple of months especially, seeing her write a lot of new material and recording her first EP with a band in Auckland. “It’s always been a dream of mine to record. It’s a challenge but it’s exciting - it’s so good to get moving again.” The EP’s working title is Ra Gossage - Real. “All the songs are really personal - things that have happened, that I’ve felt.” A black acoustic guitar straddles her knee, fingers begin to strum; Ra begins to sing, “Hand in hand beneath rainbow skies...sweet darling lover of mine, soul to soul since the beginning of time…” Her voice is soulful and sincere, with sweet lilts which dance across the lyric’s melody. 

On 24 June at Whangateau Hall, Ra will be performing her own original music, plus a few soul/jazz covers. “It’ll be largely me and my guitar, pretty raw, plus guest vocalist Jessie Rose Chapman - my cuz from the other side of Pakiri river, and guest guitarist Jimmy Larkin will play a few with me, too.” Expect another excellent night of music at the hall - doors open 7pm with $10 entry.

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Waimarie Dashper