Artist to unveil secret series

Gisborne Herald, Thurs Nov 13, 2008, Kristine Walsh


THERE has been a state of lock-down at the old Gisborne Club and it has nothing to do with the odd boarded up window. Rather, the secrecy has been around a new series of artworks.


The paintings are the work of Gisborne artist Jess Jacobs who has for the past four years used the building as an expansive, somewhat rambling, studio.

Jacobs has for six months been sequestered in her airy, upstairs workspace creating the paintings, not allowing even her closest friends and family so much as a glimpse.

But all will be revealed when she this weekend tears off the shrouds and unveils the show in her newly-renovated gallery.

It all seems a bit cloak-and-dagger but Jacobs says it was the only way she could have completed the series of 13 works. An adherent to the Baha'i faith, she has focused on creating a visual biography of the life of the movement's founder, Persian nobleman Baha'u'llah, who was imprisoned and then exiled after abandoning his Islamic background.

To do so she felt she had to avoid the well intentioned opinions of others, ignoring furtive taps at the windows and bundling any inquisitive visitors out the door.

"I saw it as such an important subject, and it raised so many issues for me, that I felt I had to do it with no outside infl uences," said the 25-year-old, a Baha'i convert of six years. The series was going to have 19 parts - 19 being a significant number within the faith - but Jacobs says that by the time she'd completed 13 large-scale works, "I felt I had got to the end of the story".

Jacobs is probably best known for commercially-viable work such as her garden pieces, and the large-scale paintings that were until recently installed in the Portside Hotel. "Every artist has to make choices about what they need to do to survive," she said. "But these paintings are different . . . these paintings are for me. And it feels great to produce something that is so personally inspiring."

Inspirational they may have been, but the completion of the works did not signify the completion of the job at hand. Once they were finished Jacobs picked up a paintbrush of a different kind, renovating the club's former billiards room into a light, bright exhibition space.

The work has been done with respect to the history of the building - false walls, for example, provide hanging space while protecting the century-old mantelpieces underneath. Meanwhile, talks regarding the future of the building - which was earmarked for removal - are still going on between its developer owners and the Historic Places Trust.