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Rachel Hirabayashi

Rachel is a well-known artist in our local area. Based in Cromwell, Rachel is always creating. Wanaka Fine Art Gallery has asked Rachel to join the gallery with her paintings, beginning with an exhibition on her latest theme called Foreshore


Rachel Hirabayashi
Rachel Hirabayashi - Artist

Rachel Hirabayashi

A self-taught artist, painting and drawing have been life-long activities for Rachel, her father’s painting activities ‘normalised’ the occupation for her and his work continues to inspire. After leaving school she worked as a children’s book illustrator and graphic designer in Auckland – her hometown – before heading overseas. Extensive travel included time spent living in semi-rural Japan with her then husband’s family. Here she was constantly drawing and painting in watercolours. Rachel was impressed by the high regard in which artists are held in Japan, where it is normal for full-time artists to be members of artist’s guilds.

On returning to New Zealand Rachel completed a degree in Art History and Theory at the University of Otago and continued to develop her art, shifting to acrylics. Travel beckoned again, this time North and South America, particularly Mexico, where she lived for some time. Here she remembers the impact of viewing paintings and murals by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, as well as the intensity of Catholic imagery with its Latin American pagan realism. Learning Spanish and return trips, most recently to Bolivia, continue to refresh her imagination.

studio image

Since establishing herself in a 100-year-old cottage in Cromwell, Rachel’s travel journals, the surrounding landscape, and her interest in Central Otago’s history have been starting points for a number of series of works in acrylics, both large and small.

Rachel does not work from life: her finished works are images or ideas filtered through ‘emotional memory’. She values the imagery, colour, detail, scale and light to which travel has exposed her. Recent series, such as Pioneers, Flood and Gold Town have shown Rachel’s strengths with colour, texture and composition. Fields of luminous colour are held in balance by skyline, horizon line, or fence line, with dark and light working in harmony. Rachel’s technique of layering pigment and washes on the surface evokes a sense of veiled stillness and of timelessness. Each series shares compositional themes and repeated motifs such as early settler’s dwellings, humble churches and stone buildings, water, and – occasionally – goats. Her recent themes include landscapes, settlement within a landscape, and landscapes lost or changed through human’s land-use. Her palette evokes arid plains, the diverse qualities of light and the forceful yet sinuous nature of water.

Over recent years Rachel has formed a distinctive visual language and her work is admired and collected by locals and international visitors alike. She has won numerous awards and regularly exhibits around the region. In addition, she has created a fascinating and idiosyncratic garden that she describes as ‘a work in progress’.

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