b. 1929, Timaru, New Zealand
Jaqueline Fahey’s paintings collide portraiture with suburban landscapes to create riotously colourful compositions that revel in the chaos of domesticity. Married and a mother to three early in her painting career, the stifling gendered society of 1950s and 1960s New Zealand saw Fahey adopt unconventional colour, technique, and subject matter to reflect and actively challenge the status quo of the gender divide. Yet embedded in the artist’s pugnacious approach is a great level of affection for the women and relationships portrayed, evident in the careful detail bestowed on traditionally ‘female’ interests – clothing, interior textiles, bouquets- elevating the decorative female space above the austere settings more familiar to portraiture.
Her distinctive painting style is recognisable for a raucous use of colour, with often haphazard use of perspectival space to force the viewer into the claustrophobia of the female experience. You can hear Fahey’s paintings. Expertly realised portraits are candid in their expressions – characters are shown mouth open, mid argument, or gazing off absentmindedly into the distance. Glimpses of TV sets, record players, and radios are combined with closely observed wine glasses, cups of tea, and bottles of gin. The clamour of crockery and conversation rings through the paintings and spills out into our space as they do into the painted gardens visible through open windows. Later bodies of work see Fahey applying her distinctive flare to urban environments and urban characters; translating domestic politics to their manifestation in the public environment.
Born in Timaru in 1929, Fahey began her painting education in earnest at sixteen, at the Canterbury College School of Art, now Ilam. During this time she became friends with notable members of the Christchurch collective of exhibiting artists, The Group, Rita Angus and Doris Lusk. Of these friendships and the impact on her practice, she says, "It wasn't so much that they influenced the way I painted. What they did was allow me to be professional, to think of it as my life."Not content only painting her feminism, Fahey has been instrumental in promoting female peers, organising the first actively ‘gender-balanced’ exhibition with Rita Angus, which was staged at Centre Gallery, Wellington in 1964. Her contribution to feminist art is recognised here and internationally, and two of her paintings were featured in the major exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution (2007) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, which toured to MoMA PS1 the following year.
In addition to painting, Fahey is a novelist, having published a novel and two volumes of memoirs. In 1997 she was named an Officer of New Zealand Merit (ONZM) for her services to art, and in 2013 she was granted an Arts Foundation Icon Award, the organisation’s highest honour and restricted to a circle of twenty living artists.
1945 Canterbury College of Art (Ilam)
2021 Defences against the Void, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland
2019 Jacqueline Fahey's Suburbanites, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata, Wellington
2018 Jacqueline Fahey: Say Something!, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu
2017 Where my eye leads, Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, Auckland
2007 WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
1993 Alter/Image: Feminism and Representation in New Zealand Art 1973–1993, City Gallery Wellington and Auckland Art Gallery
1988 Brooker Gallery, Wellington
1983 Artist in Focus, 1983: Jacqueline Fahey Some Paintings, Auckland Art Gallery
1983 RKS Art, Auckland