Kiwi-ana: Off the beaten track

BY CHARLES ANDERSON
Last updated 12:34 24/06/2009
Kiwi
MARION VAN DIJK

KIWI MADE: Roger Griffiths with the painting Awephitipha Tennis Club at his Kiwi-ana exhibition at Reflections Art Gallery.

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It can only be Kiwi-ana if it's Kiwi. It's not thongs, it's jandals. It's hokey pokey, Buzzy Bees, swannies, gumboots, paua shells, L&P, pavlova, kiwifruit, buzz bars and pineapple lumps. That's what Roger Griffiths reckons.

His exhibition at Reflections Gallery celebrates all those things that can only be found in New Zealand. And to find them he spent two months motoring around the South Island, stopping in small towns, the under appreciated towns - the Haasts, the Blackballs.

"Mate you have got to go to Blackball, you wouldn't believe the stories I heard."

He heard them by setting himself up at each town for a few nights. The first night at the pub he would have a beer and start talking with the locals. The second night he would see them again. "And by the third night it's like you have known them for six months."

Griffiths saw some pretty interesting aspects of New Zealand life. The people, the places, the history and the yarns. He is pretty used to those, having worked in advertising. That was until about 20 years ago when he gave it all up. "Had enough of it," he says.

Two years ago he moved to Mapua, bought a Winnebago to live in and set up a studio with the help of some friends.

"It's the most beautiful place in the world mate." And you believe him.

"I guess it's my background, I know how to talk to people. You can't just walk into a small town and say `here I am, tell me everything about you'. It's about trust. I get along with most people, that's the easy part."

In Haast, a woman took him to a place a little bit off the beaten track, to "Quitchi Town".

"We came across this gate and then to this paddock and then another gate and then to all these old houses the whitebaiters use. There was a different sign on every one of them."

One said "Quitcha whining" another said "Quitcha bitching", another said "Quitcha nagging". You get the idea. For Griffiths that was pure Kiwi-ana. "You wouldn't find that anywhere else in the world."

He says there is a brilliant practicality about New Zealanders. After living in London and New York he sees Kiwis as particularly ingenious.

"In Europe and New York if something is broken you take it to a garage to get fixed. Here you ring someone and 99 per cent of the time you know somebody who knows someone with a special tool who can fix it."

Griffiths says New Zealanders might end up breaking whatever they wanted fixed but that's not the point. At least we had a crack.

He is having a crack. Through the people he has met, family and friends, his work will soon be exhibited in his old stomping grounds, New York and London.

Ex-pats love his work because Kiwi-ana is what all New Zealanders eventually come back to. It's nostalgia, Griffiths says. It's what we used to do on holiday; it's the simple things in life without the complications. Living in a Winnebago in Mapua campground sounds pretty uncomplicated - it seems Griffiths embraces and embodies his subject matter.

And there is still plenty left. "Mate, I've got hundreds of ideas in my head, hundreds of photos from my trip, I have to do them all."

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  • Kiwi-ana an exhibition with paintings by Roger Griffiths.
  • At Reflections Gallery, World of Wearable Art complex until July 26.

- Nelson

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