Erica van Zon: Making Waves

Erica van Zon’s latest luscious works hail from the resorts and gardens of Upolu in Western Sāmoa, borne from what the artist calls a recent “non-art holiday”.

Words: Lucinda Bennett

FOR WELLINGTON-BASED ARTIST Erica van Zon, 2018 was the year of green. Commissioned to make a series of sculptures to be shown in the neoclassical conservatory in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens during the SCAPE Public Art Season, van Zon chose to continue in this verdant vein for her solo exhibition Peppermint Twist, the final show of the year at Millers O’Brien, Wellington.

While her SCAPE works were robust, geometric, free-standing sculptures made from metal, glass and mirror, Peppermint Twist was an exhibition of modestly-sized wall works crafted in a range of mediums, from embroidery and beadwork to tapestry, photography and textured glass. Here was the medicinal green plastic of a bottle of the herbal drink CH’I, painstakingly embroidered on cool white linen. An iridescent turquoise kidney-shaped swimming pool beaded onto a back- ground of grassy cotton. A Resene colour swatch reimagined with thread. The elegantly pleated leaves of a tropical plant placed behind mottled Flemish glass. Modest though they may be in scale, they are small in the way of jewels, their richness concentrated and clear.

As with most precious minerals, van Zon’s works are not made overnight. Each wall work takes somewhere between two and half weeks to a month to complete – a figure that seems shocking until you look closely, counting rows upon rows of stitches, hundreds of tiny, seed-like beads held tightly together in undulating shades to become a crystal swimming pool, to become the Pacific Ocean.

It is in her most recent works, made especially for Auckland Art Fair 2019, that we are given the ocean. These works are lush in a different way, hailing not from the gardens of Christchurch or the drink aisles of Wellington, but from the resorts and gardens of Upolu in Western Sāmoa. Van Zon explains how these works were borne out of what she terms a “non-art holiday” during which she became interested in the way she was experiencing the place as a tourist, framing her environment in a particular way, including through the lens of her phone camera. She tells me: “There’s so much beauty in the local art of Sāmoa, and also in the work that artists and craftspeople from there have brought to Aotearoa. However, the things that I was faced with was more the everyday encounters of a beachside resort environment; that tourist experience which is a very surface experience, a kind of veneer.” The resultant works echo the square format of an image taken on a phone and are a record not only of a place but of a particular way of experiencing place; as a visitor and a spectator, sensitive to the ways in which it is different, and the ways it is the same. Dealers Jhana Millers and Laila O’Brien are excited to be showing van Zon at AAF 2019 and tell me that “collectors can expect to see more of her clever, playful and recognisable observations of the world around us, rich with humour, pastiche, and texture”.

Other recent exhibitions from van Zon include Opal Moon Local Lime, shown at the Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, in 2017 and Objectspace, Auckland, in 2018; and Coffee Perhaps, mounted at the Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt, in 2016. Van Zon was also the 2011 recipient of the Asia NZ/Wellington City Council WARE Residency, Beijing, the visiting artist at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 2014 and the Artist in Residence at Tylee Cottage, Whanganui, in 2016.

This article was originally published in Auckland Art Fair Special Edition Art Collector, 2019. 

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