Essay

At Home and in the Studio: Alexis Neal

My practice brings together weaving and printmaking to create new forms of expression.  The fusion of the printed Hahnemühle paper combined with raranga whakairo is the perfect marriage of these two mediums in my mind. The act of pattern making is repetitive, a process or formula played out to create a striking design, and in both of these mediums the systematic method of making allows for a unique exploration of materiality and form.

I am currently working on two bodies of work.  The first is a small edition of four prints titled Ka mua ka muri; looking back in order to move forward. Reflecting on previous bodies of work, I am reminding us that the past is still relevant, looking back at what was lost, in exchange for more loss.  

Old, scratched and upcycled plates have been reshaped and made to look over-handled… made to look like they carry history. They are honouring the past, reaching ever more forward to where we stand today.  Dark shades of sap green give the feeling of pounamu (greenstone), and dark sepia brown combined with bone coloured chine-collé paper allude to whalebone adornment. Elements of blood red feature as a reference to Hei tiki; in human form.  It is often the material culture that we leave behind, personal items, fragments of history, dense with memory and stories once told.

The second body of work, The direction of the weave moves, comes from a need to recreate one’s own interpretation rather than to appropriate an original.  I am exploring the similarities between raranga whakairo (patterned weaving) and herringbone patterning. These works are directly influenced by the aesthetics of interior spaces and textile design. The Māori name is whati and is described as a broken step pattern by the diagonal line which interrupts the right angle.

The installation of work will be based around flattening the hierarchies of display, celebrating the materiality foremost within the placement of the objects. Architecturally creating a space within a space, where art works could free hang as room dividers or partitions in a domestic setting.

A number of key works in this series include a new suite of woven whāriki (floor mats), kakahu raranga (cloaks woven similar to mats), whatu taaniko cloaks in the style of rapaki (shoulder cloak or kilt), whatu taaniko kete and personal adornment. This body of work is strongly informed by Maori weaving techniques, but using modern day materials, exploring my dual heritage within a contemporary context.

In one of my photos is the first completed section of a kahu raranga konunu (black woven cloak); based on a kahu raranga puputu, thought to be the oldest styled Māori rain cape in existence. It is plaited in the same way as a whāriki (floor mat), and the main pattern of the weave across the surface is torua whakatakoto, a horizontal twill pattern that passes over and under two strips at a time. My interpretation will be constructed in two panels displaying a whati raranga and will have three decorative fringes top, middle and bottom.

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Alexis Neal graduated from Auckland University, Elam School of Fine Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Post Graduate diploma in 1997, and went on to complete a Master’s degree in Fine Art Media at the Slade School of Fine Arts in London where she also worked in summer schools as a teaching assistant in etching.

Since returning to New Zealand, Alexis has continued to develop her professional practice as a contemporary artist. Her work has predominately looked at the duality of artefacts in terms of addressing a sense of identity. Her practice is interdisciplinary, combining components of print, weaving and installation, to address tikanga Māori traditions within a contemporary context.

Alexis Neal weaving

Inside Alexis Neal's studio

Alexis Neal working detail

Kahu raranga konunu, woven section

Upcycled wooden cloak pin with whiri

Close up lithography press

Edition prints in blotters

Ka mua ka muri mezzotint plates

Upcycled plates in progress - Alexis Neal