Star Gossage

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Star 1 It's a warm morning when we drive out to meet Star at her Pakiri home. She's watering her garden – wild masses of scarlet poppies and geraniums beside orderly rows of potatoes.

It's been a year since she was one of the winners of the 'New Generation' Arts Foundation awards. Along with the likes of Eleanor Catton and Taika Waititi, she gratefully, if rather bemusedly, received $25K to sustain her art. She didn't make it on to the stage to receive the award though – she was too nervous. "I had a speech written, hair and makeup done, everything," she remembers. "But when it was time to get up in front of those 800 people I just couldn't do it – I sneaked out and went and sat in a Chinese restaurant down the road!" Her cousin happily accepted the award on her behalf.

Star Gossage (Ngati Manuhiri, Ngati Wai) is not that shook on being described as one of our most important Maori artists. She's extremely modest, despite the fact that her work hangs in the Auckland Art Gallery and Te Papa, as well as overseas. A couple of pieces in the prestigious Niagara Galleries in Melbourne are on sale right now for between $13K and $18K.

Star initially trained in theatre, scriptwriting and poetry – as a painter she's self-taught. Her often dark, dreamlike oils can create initial uneasiness in the viewer, but the intense eyes of the women she paints are haunting. The wild landscape of her ancestral home is ever-present in the back of Star's mind. In fact, she literally puts the landscape into her paintings, grinding local clays to mix with oil and glue to make some of her pigments.

"I just try and get feelings on to the canvas," she tries to explain. "Some people say they experience a kind of recognition – some even cry in front of the paintings. I think it's really important to draw out these emotions. There aren't enough of them about these days."

How has getting the award affected her? Mainly, for the first time in well over ten years, she's been able to stop painting, relax and recharge her creative batteries. She sighs happily. "It's made a huge difference, to have that space. I've been working so hard for so long… and it also made me think, wow - these people take me seriously so maybe I should, too!"

After her much-needed breather, things are starting to move again now. Star's excited to be doing a cultural exchange sponsored by Creative NZ – she's swapping places with an artist in Hawai'i for ten days. There are whispers of a trip to China in May, and she's co-curating a show at the Vivian Gallery in August with contemporary Maori artist Alexis Neal. Her next exhibition – showing the results of her Hawaiian trip – opens at Tim Melville in Grey Lynn, Auckland on March 8.

It seems 2016 will see Star Gossage refreshed – and on the rise.

TIM MELVILLE GALLERY  | 4 Winchester St, Grey Lynn |  timmelville.com

Photo credit: 'My Aroha' by Star Gossage, courtesy the artist and Tim Melville Gallery  |  Photo credit: Kallan MacLeod

Photo credit: Sandy Meharry