Glenda at Portobello
Robin White (b. 1945)
Glenda at Portobello 1977
watercolour on paper
Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection
is a prime example of the works Robin White has become well- known for. An exemplar watercolour, the subject of this work typically fills the foreground of the painting, who gazes thoughtfully out past the viewer. Behind her are the hills of the Otago Peninsula where White was then living when she produced this work. As White has said; ‘My work arises out of the situation I’m in’. She makes simple images which convey an acute awareness of ordinary human situations.
Yet this work is not as ordinary as it may appear. It is both a realistic portrait of ‘Glenda at Portobello’ but it is also a realistic portrait and functions as symbolic image similar to her forbearer the regional realist Rita Angus. Angus’s vision of New Zealand was based on seeking the underlying truth of the eternal that lies latent below the image. Glenda wears a pendant bearing one of the central symbols of the Baha’i faith, of which White is an adherent. In fact in 1982 she moved with her family to Kiribati to work from within the Baha'i community. The calligraphic symbol on the pendent signifies a map of existence, where humankind and God are linked via an intermediary messenger, emphasised by the subject’s gaze out of the picture frame into an elsewhere, and a realm beyond the visible.
Robin White was born in Te Puke in 1946, and in 1967 graduated from Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland. The following year she moved to Paremata to take up a teaching position, and in 1971 to Dunedin to work full-time as an artist. The artist now lives and works in Masterton.
Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection Inventory September 2011 [PDF]