Interview with Mary Wi Repa
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Mary Wi Repa is interviewed by Ted Nepia.
She has been painting full time now for 2 years and part time for about 5 years. Mary started painting fairly late in life. She grew up around paintings but music was her first love. She learnt music until funds were no longer available and she left school to go to a convent.
She then moved to Auckland and found an office job in working for a Native Interpreter called Te Mete. This would have been in 1918. Mary's wages then were seven shillings a week, and she just survived and no more. Mary married at the age of nineteen and thought all her worries were over and she wouldn't have to work any more. However, she found bringing up a family was a full time job. She painted and drew recreationally during this time.
Mary applied for a grant from the Māori Affairs which went towards art tuition, and applied to go to Elam school of Art. However, she spoke to Colin McCahon who told her not to go there because they would 'iron [her] out'. She is therefore self-educated and her ability to blend colours is all natural; her teachers said they could only teach her to draw but there was nothing more they could teach her about colour work.
Mary's inspirations comes from anything that moves her intensely and always starts her paintings beginning with the sky. She feels that this is a Māori law, to always start from the heavens and pay her respects that way before moving down to the earth. She says if you can get the sky correct, the rest will meet it.
Mary prefers to avoid using Māori art forms in her work. She feels that Māori subjects are too personal for her to display. She believes her ancient inheritance should be respected and left as it is, not modernised.
However, she would like to travel around New Zealand and connect with kaumatua in order to paint Māori places to present them to an overseas audience.
Mary says there are six in her family who also show artistic talent, four of whom are her children. Her second son, Arthur, is already an internationally recognised painter. Her daughter Kathleen paints and teaches art in Auckland. Rosemary's house is also covered in her own artworks; Mary praises her use of colour and form. Her youngest daughter Bernadette is a portrait artist and a musician.
[Recorded about 1963].