The art of tracing history

21 December 2022

Ray Stoddart and cat, Lady Gaga

Ray Stoddart and cat Lady Gaga amongst Ray's recent work.

Painting the story of New Zealand’s complex early history is no easy feat, but is something renowned local artist Ray Stoddart takes great pride in.

Using a unique technique of bamboo engraving to create his prints, Ray’s stylised work speaks to our nation’s colonisation, conservation, and relationship with the land.

“The inspiration for my work comes from my fascination with New Zealand’s prehistory, Māori settlement and tangata whenua.”

Ray’s latest series of work intricately details the entrance to the Manukau Harbour, winding around the windswept west Auckland coastline.

Collecting bamboo sheaths from Te Henga (Bethells Beach) and other nearby beaches, Ray ventures around the coast with his portable chair and sketch book, drawing on the knowledge of those who have come before us.

“It’s important to me that these stories are not misrepresented and that I respectfully engage with iwi to tell the rich history of their ancestors. For this series I have sought guidance from several sources including a local kaumātua to share the narrative of mana whenua.”

Spending up to 25 hours a week in his quaint studio at Waitākere Gardens Village, Ray’s creations have always been a passion project.

“I dedicated my career to art, but not my own. After attending Elam School of Fine Arts and graduating from Auckland Teachers College, I went on to become an art advisor assisting teachers with their art programme in schools, which was incredibly rewarding.

“I remember asking one of my students the question ‘what is art?’

“It’s something that lights up a room and makes your world sparkle, he replied.

“It is that, and much more. Art can take you places, it can connect you with a time and place or a memory, and it can teach you something new.

“For me, my artwork has always been about my own personal journey. And if someone else connects, or relates to it in some way, even better.”

For the Waitakere Gardens resident, creativity runs through his veins.

“Growing up I always had a pen or paint brush in my hand. My grandmother and father always encouraged me to pursue art and my grandfather was a water colourist. And it was through my grandparents that I learnt Margaret Stoddart, a highly renowned New Zealand artist, is a distant relative. So, I guess you could say it’s in my DNA.”

And although the 76-year old’s official teaching days are behind him, his unique skill set is still highly sought after.

Running two workshops in the New Year at Otitori Bay (French Bay) and Huia planned by the nearby Corban Estate Arts Centre, Ray is looking forward to seeing how his new students interpret the world around them too.

Latest news.