Dame Robin White, DNZM, (born 1946, Ngati Awa) is one of New Zealand’s most celebrated artists. A key figure in the Regionalist movement of the 1970s, White’s canvases from this time typically focussed on scenes of small-town and rural New Zealand life, which were executed in a hard-edged realist style, characterised by strong outlining, segments of unmodulated colour and clear raking light. When White moved to Paramata, north of Wellington, to teach art in 1969, she began producing silkscreen prints with the aim of making accessible artworks. Self taught, she continued to focus on quintessential elements of the New Zealand landscape and people. The importance and success of these works can be gauged by the fact that they remain some of the most recognisable pieces of New Zealand art and have taken on an iconic status.
With the success of her editioned work, White’s brief career as an art teacher transformed into full time work as an artist, and she was able to consolidate her practice further when she moved to Portobello, Otago in 1972. Her move to the Republic of Kiribati ten years later significantly changed her art practice in terms of materials, methods, and subject matter, after a fire destroyed her home and studio. Subsequently, over a period of several years, she added woodcuts, tagged fadges, mixed-media piupiu, pandanus leaf-weavings, and tapa works to her artistic repertoire, while also embracing a collaborative method of production. Currently based in Masterton, White continues to collaborate with Pacific artists, which has allowed her to execute her most ambitious artworks in terms of time and scale. The masterwork, Ko e Hala Hangatonu: The Straight Path, is a collaborative piece that runs some 25 metres and took White two years to complete, working in conjunction with Tongan artist Ruha Fifita and a community of Tongan women. It was exhibited at Two Rooms, Auckland in 2013 and Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua in 2014 and a new reiteration of this work, Siu I Moana was shown at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne in 2016.
White graduated from Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, in 1967. She was chosen to represent New Zealand at the 1986 Biennale of Sydney and the 1993 First Asia/Pacific Triennial. In 2002 the Hocken Library, University of Otago, curated a survey show of White’s work Island Life: Robin White in New Zealand and Kiribati that toured nationally, and her collaborative tapa work, A New Garden (2009) was exhibited at the Fifth Asia/Pacific Triennial in 2010. In 2011 White was selected to participate in the very significant Kermedecs research trip and subsequent exhibition projects organised by the Pew Research Centre nationally and internationally. Examples of Robin White’s work can be found in most major collections, both public and private, throughout New Zealand and overseas.