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About Rick Edmonds

Rick Edmonds

in the beginning...

1959, the year I was born, and my parents were faced with the prospect of continuing the family camping holidays with not only two soon-to-be-teenage daughters, but now a new-born infant as well. They determined to forsake the trusty tent in favor of purchasing a holiday bach somewhere close to where they lived in Nelson City, New Zealand.

Their advertisement read, “Wanted: Bach within 1 hour of Nelson”. That parameter could have resulted in a riverside retreat in the Riwaka or Motueka Valleys, or a bush-clad cottage in the mountains of Nelson Lakes. That bach at Moenui profoundly influenced my life, and my art. How different the outcome, if it had been mountains, river or bush? And Moenui, in those days, was a 90 minute journey from Nelson.

So I had a 17 year routine of weekdays in Nelson, and weekends/holidays in paradise. I tolerated the town, and lived for the latter. Moenui Bay is a group of almost 50 houses situated in the inner Pelorus Sound, of the Marlborough Sounds, and accessed off the Queen Charlotte Drive. Because of its safe sheltered water, and cul de sac road end, Moenui provided a safe enough environment for my parents to allow me a wonderful degree of freedom. The hillside behind, and the seaside in front, became my extended backyard. Experiencing, exploring, analyzing, and eventually interpreting my world, became early formed habits.

I was given the use of an old aluminum punt my father had made. Dissatisfied with paddling, a manuka pole and old canvas sheet transformed it into a noble sailing ship. My voyages were limited by the vessels lack of ability to sail upwind and I continually wanted to explore further than the punt was capable of taking me. Occasionally large trees would wash down the Pelorus River and drift past our place on their journey to the open sea. I remember clambering aboard one, eager to embark upon a Huckleberry Finn-like voyage to far distant destinations. Distraught parents thwarted my endeavors, plucking me to safety before nightfall and seas overwhelmed me.

Studying maps of the Marlborough Sounds convinced me of vast inland seas and uninhabited islands just waiting to be explored. I longed for vessels and wisdom to carry me there. As I grew, the seaworthiness of my boats increased, as did my nautical judgment. My parents continued to be supportive and generous, providing me with freedom and resources, and my backyard grew.

If weekends and holidays in the Sounds provided me with the
inspiration and content of so much of my artistic language, then weekdays in Nelson provided the tutoring and nurturing.

Early in their lives, some kids find they excel at something. With me it was art. At the age of 10, I produced the painting. During an art class at school I somehow managed to make the standard issue poster paint flow in a watercolour-like manner to produce my master piece. It was a classic sea-scape of empty sky bleeding down to an open horizon, with crashing waves in the foreground.

The teacher was significantly impressed to frame the painting and hang it in the school assembly hall for a year. I looked at it every morning. So did 400 of my peers. That sense of recognition sparked something within me. So much so, that much of my artistic journey has been a direct development of that initial theme. And I was no longer going to be a sailor, or an astronaut. I was going to be an artist.

I was further encouraged by our neighbour in Nelson. She was an artist. I’m still not sure if she produced art as a hobby, or as a career, but Dora Gilbert painted watercolours of the Nelson region. My mother would periodically ring and arrange an audience for the boy next door, and I would shyly present myself and gaze in awe at a whole wall filled with framed art. I started taking over my sketches, and she made appropriately encouraging noises. Mrs Gilbert never taught me to paint, but she exposed me to a way of life that captivated me.

The other influence at this time was Irvine Major. Mr Major was the art master at Nelson College, and as such, had raised art to a level envied by most schools in New Zealand. He influenced a whole generation of artists and art educators. I was extremely fortunate to learn from him. I was by no means his most talented student, but I was enthusiastic; he recognized my enthusiasm, nurtured it, and turned it into a passion that has never diminished. I did a Fine Arts Prelim course in my final year at college; I got to do art just about all day. Seventh formers doing that course were the envy of the school. I enjoyed the distinction, and won the coveted Senior Art Prize. I consider that year to be my first full time year as an artist. I left college with a Preliminary Diploma in Fine Arts; an idealism of being an artist, and giving to the world images of significance.

My father was an engineer. His father had been an engineer. I was the only son, and I wanted to be an artist. There was some tension.

My noble mission of adding to the world’s great art was seen by my parents as the romantic idealism it probably was. “Have art as a hobby,’ was the oft repeated refrain. “Secure a trade for your income.” A compromise of sorts was reached with my attending art school with their support and blessing, on the proviso I then trained as a teacher, and became an art teacher. My short term goal was achieved, but the future looked bleak.

I left home, and weekends at Moenui, and settled into the University of Canterbury. It was not a happy time. Christchurch was flat and uninspiring, and the sea seemed a long way away. I was pursuing art full time but my idealism was immediately at conflict with the self-discovery culture of art school. Others came to learn. I had come to be.

Amongst this angst, I was fortunate to have the guidance of Bill Sutton. He was to Canterbury what Irvine Major was to Nelson, and I was privileged to have been impacted by them both. I wish I had heeded them more.

I counted the days until the holidays, and I could return to the Sounds, where I filled sketch books full of details of bush, hills and water.

After completing my Fine Arts degree, I exhibited the body of work I had amassed in the CSA gallery in Christchurch. Full of over labored pieces, the Press critic at the time referred to me as a “zealous little gadfly on the rump of the massive body of 20th century art, who occasionally rises above the maudlin to produce work of undeniable competence.” I was pleased. I was noticed. I was making ripples.

The best work sold for $700. I considered this a good price until I calculated the time I had taken. At less than $1 per hour I determined to either sell for more, or work faster. I eventually did both.

1980: I turned 21, attended Christchurch College of Education, and discovered the Southern Alps.

Duty bound by my parents wishes, I began to train as a teacher. It was a time I had been dreading. Although I was a Fine Arts graduate I was accepted into the Outdoor Education program. I suspect my sailing experience helped, as I eventually led the sailing course.

I had a wonderful year; sailing, diving, canoeing, tramping and climbing. I still disliked Christchurch, but found a redeeming feature in it’s accessibility to the mountains. I did very little painting.

Instead of heading to the Sounds for weekends and holidays I headed for the hills, especially the Mt. Cook region. I became a confident and capable climber, and gradually what art I did produce reflected this exposure to new subject matter.

I still climb, and love being in the mountains. But they don’t compel me to interpret them the way the sea does. I can be high on a huge mountain under empty silent skies and find myself thinking how nice it would be out on the Sounds. But I never go sailing, and wish I was up a mountain.


 It was an escapism thing really. I started painting the sea because it  was where I wanted to be. My life was dividing into two. I was either out sailing, or painting the sea and wishing I was. Ripples grew out of that obsession. And fed it.

Initially, I was content to focus on the water alone. My first sea paintings appeared almost abstract in effect, with the viewer forced to consider the texture, colour, and composition elements in their own right. Yet they were carefully rendered depictions of actual water. My preference today would still be to paint only sea.

I’ve produced hundreds of Ripples. Some from photos, some from sketches; many are made up. But they are all from indelible memories.

Memories of halcyon days, of sun-scorched seas, and lazy land forms softly seen through a haze of heat. Or crisp, clinical hills strangely foreshortened by winter’s clarity, when morning’s first breeze etches patterns of silver across a mirror sea. Or the times when the air is full of a cacophony of wind whine, the sea is whipped white in frenzy, and the land hides behind white sheets of salted spray. 

I developed many pictorial motifs and symbols synonymous with the Sounds; hill forms echoing each other as they fade into obscurity; the sea weaving a network of swirling sparkles as the tide moves about the headlands and bays; patterns of blue and silver as the breeze moves serendipitously over calm water; the clear sky fading from blue to white; the distant island levitated above the calm ambiguous horizon.

But always the interaction of land and sea; creeping fingers of water curling lovingly about the long, tuatara-like ridges of land like an intricate koru; I’m never sure which is invading the other.

In some, I included my boat in the picture, but gradually I would merely allude to my presence by the disturbed water of my vessel’s wake. Ripples. My signature upon the sea. The acknowledgement of my passing, fleeting and transient.

By1987 I was tired of life in Christchurch and determined to move closer to the Sounds. I began working with the newly created Department of Conservation in a Nelson-based, nation-wide role of producing artwork for DOC Visitor Centres. It was dream employment for me, and my first full time job. As an artist.

I enjoyed being only an hour from the Sounds, and continued to produce my visual interpretations of that region. But the majority of my creativity went into producing art for DOC. I travelled extensively throughout the country, though most of the artwork was produced in purpose-built studios in Nelson. I created large-format murals, displays, photographs, models, , and installations, and worked with many talented, creative people. My art work is now a permanent feature in over 30 visitor centres throughout New Zealand, and viewed by over 3 million people annually.

One day in I was in my boat off Titirangi, in the outer sounds, at the end of a long hot summer’s day. The atmosphere was so charged with the warmth it seemed you could actually see the air. The sea was mirror-flat calm and I was enjoying the patterns in the water behind the boat. Here was this wonderful natural reflective surface, which I had just intruded upon and left a rolling broken wake. I remember thinking then, that it was the marine equivalent to footprints in the sand.

I was engrossed with my own impact upon this amazing scene, when suddenly the setting sun cast long fingers through the salty air to hit the hill behind. My own intrusion had just been graphically contrasted with something far bigger and more majestic.

The next day my Dad drowned in front of our house at Moenui.

 Those sunbeams took on an even deeper meaning.

I could not bring myself to paint the sea again for a long time. For years it had been my inspiration and my model. Now it was no longer my friend.

The catharsis came by setting sail. I spent several weeks sailing in the Pacific; enduring the lash of storm tossed tropical seas and long nights sailing under star filled skies.

I eventually found the emotional resources to paint ripples again, and it was that evening at Titirangi that drew me. It took some courage to paint Fingers of God (Ripples # 15); I could not help but dignify it with a spiritual title. There are those that say it is my best work. I have no opinion about that, but reproductions of it have sold in their thousands.

I bought out my sisters’ share in the house at Moenui. It became my family’s holiday home for several years until the Conservation Design Centre, where I worked in Nelson, closed. I moved to live at Moenui.

From my studio I look out upon water, bush, hills and sky.

And I paint.

I have an almost inexhaustible supply of impressions and memories  to draw and paint upon. And if I run out, I just go sailing again.