Scott Gardiner, an artist from New Zealand, has a long standing relationship with Sri Lanka and it is for this reason and the immediate connection we felt with his work that Saskia Fernando Gallery decided to present one part of his Three Oceans Project. The works Gardiner will present in his exhibition were all created in Sri Lanka at his home in Hikkaduwa. His semi-abstract paintings on canvas, print and paper present a dialogue between contrasting forms and imagery.
WHAT IS YOUR CONNECTION WITH SRI LANKA AND WHEN DID YOU FIRST START VISITING THE ISLAND?
I first arrived in Sri Lanka at the end of 1998 on a bit of a quest into the unknown. Having grown up in New Zealand,
Sri Lanka was something of a blank canvas, with little known about the country beyond Cricket or tea and in those days, prior to the internet becoming the information juggernaut it is today, the country was shrouded in mystery.
I was living in Sydney and saving money to continue my travels when I began working for a man by the name of Tony Sargent. Tony had spent a couple of years on the south coast at the beginning of the eighties, living with a local family in Hikkaduwa. Once he began to tell me about this beautiful island atop the Indian Ocean I was hooked and bought my ticket with little hesitation. I was very keen to find a destination ‘off the beaten track’ and in the late nineties during the civil war, Sri Lanka certainly was that! I acquired
a one-way ticket to London with a three month stop in Sri Lanka on the way.
That first trip was the most eye-opening and incredible time of my life, I made great friends and surfed great waves, I travelled the island and fell in love with the countries culture and people, a love affair that has continued to this day.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE IMAGE USED ON THE INVITATION FOR THE EXHIBITION?
This painting is a part of a body of work that will make up the first installment of the Three Oceans Project.
The project itself will take in three locations, Sri Lanka (Hikkaduwa), Australia (Sydney) and New Zealand (Gisborne), these locations being chosen as they each represent an important part of my development as
both a human being and an artist. While this is a personal journey the themes and concepts underpinning the work are universal and relate to us all as individuals and as a culture and society.
The abstract forms within the work relate back to the foundations of mathematics and geometry, becoming metaphors for humanities that desire to use logic, knowledge and reasoning to deal with issues and understand the workings of the world. By juxtaposing these rigid forms with the free-flowing movement of light and energy across the surface of the ocean I am attempting to create a dialogue or conversation between these opposing forces.
We, as a species begin to face the consequences of our actions with respect to the environment, as decades of pollution, deforestation and resource depletion begin to take a serious toll on our planet, the earth is fighting back.
What I am most interested in is not just raising awareness of an issue, as I believe we are all well aware of the problems we face, but examining what I perceive as a change in ‘meaning’ around death in the face of potential climatic upheaval. We all know we are going to die, and while this is a fact not altogether
cherished we eventually come to the understanding that we are a small part of something much larger than ourselves, an endless cycle of life and death. However, if this cycle was doomed to cease and the end of civilisation nigh, how would that alter our sense of self and the meaning of life as we see it?
HOW DOES SRI LANKA FIT IN AS A LOCATION IN THE THREE OCEANS PROJECT AND WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF COMPLETING THE WORKS IN THIS LOCATION FOR YOU?
As I mentioned the three locations of the project all represent places that have had a significant impact on my own personal development, centered around and reliant upon the ocean. Sri Lanka had already become an important part of my life prior to 2004, having come three times for three months each trip, December 2004 however, was to change everything.
My wife Bianca and I were staying in a small beach-front guest house on the morning of the 26th of December 2004 when the water came to the land and everything changed forever. We were extremely lucky to survive the tsunami, having to flee to the relative safety of the jungle after being up to our necks in the raging water.
Rather than being evacuated the next day along with the other tourists Bianca and I decided to stay and spent the next six months digging, shifting rubble, working and crying along with the village that
was to become our family. Eventually we were given a small piece of land on which to build a modest residence and spent six months of each of the next four years living in the community.
This was the most difficult but rewarding time of my life, the relationships we forged will last a lifetime and the love I have for this country will never diminish. These are the reasons why the Three Oceans Project would never have happened without Sri Lanka’s inclusion, I could not conceive of a project like this without Sri Lanka being at its center.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME AN ARTIST?
For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to be an artist. Right through
high school I had no doubts about what I wanted to do, so I began a four year visual arts degree on completion of my schooling I travelled for four years after finishing university, at which time I returned to New Zealand to complete a Master’s degree. At the completion of my masters I was very fortunate to acquire the patronage of New Zealand’s most important collector, Sir James Wallace. His patronage gave me the confidence to pursue a dealer gallery and I am now fortunate to have representation in New Zealand and Australia and have been working as a full-time artist for the last eight years.
HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE IN BEING CAUGHT IN THE TSUNAMI AFFECTED YOUR WORK AND IS THERE ANY RELATION BETWEEN THIS AND YOUR FOCUS ON THE OCEAN IN YOUR PAINTINGS?
Five years ago I was asked by a New Zealand art magazine to return to
Sri Lanka and write a piece that reflected on my experiences in the tsunami and examine how those experiences have influenced my work. Prior to doing this
I had not been conscious of a shift in my work in relation to those horrific events
but on closer examination it was obvious that a change had indeed taken place. It is difficult to pin-point exactly how and where those influences have occurred but issues around mortality and the environment have certainly become more important in my work since that fateful day.
WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE OCEAN AND/OR NATURE AND IS THIS PRESENT IN YOUR WORK?
My relationship to nature and in particular the ocean is extremely important to me. Having been a surfer for over twenty five years I spend a great deal of time in the sea, an environment that feels both comfortable and alien to me. It is a place that I have felt both my greatest joy and most terrific fear, the most beautiful and most lonely place on the planet. It is this inherent paradox that has seen the ocean take centre stage in my practice.