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Dame Robin

White DNZM

Robin White

Image credit: Lynda Feringa 2017

Dame Robin White DNZM’s Biography

Last Updated:
12/11/2022, 10:54 pm
Arts Foundation Icon 2022, Arts Foundation Laureate 2017
Ngāti Awa
Robin White (born in Te Puke, 1946) was told by Colin McCahon that she needed to get out and paint instead of trying to stay at Auckland University’s Elam School of Fine Arts for a better qualification than her Diploma. So she did.

She attributes her confidence, determination and hard-work ethic to the stern encouragement of her parents, especially her father Albert Tikitu White with his very large kumara patch that needed a lot of attention. Her first steps on the road to a life of art-making were encouraged by an art teacher at Epsom Girls Grammar School, May Smith, after early years at Raglan District High.

But when you’d been studying at Elam on a Ministry of Education studentship, you had to spend time as a teacher yourself. Teaching art at high school was an opportunity for Robin to learn screen-printing, a craft not taught at Elam in the 1960s.

Robin’s brief career as an art teacher at Mana College soon morphed into full time work as an artist when she went to live on the Otago Peninsula and by 1972 Robin was becoming known as one of a group of New Zealand regionalists characterised as the hard-edged realists. After a ten-year career as a distinctive painter and screen-print maker in New Zealand Robin moved to Kiribati, where the different nature of the physical and social environment introduced some changes in the works that she produced from her studio beside the Tarawa lagoon.

Her love of Pacific culture took a new direction into collaborative art-making after a fire in 1996 unexpectedly destroyed her home and studio. With nothing to work with and nowhere to work she found ways to merge western art practice with Pasifika ways of getting the job done.

Robin’s subsequent collaborative works have traversed a range of unexpected materials, beginning with woven pandanus-leaf images made with the help of some Kiribati women. Back in New Zealand since the end of 1999, she has collaborated with local experts in producing images including tagged fadges, mixed-media piupiu and even a series of fruit-bats made from “tapa-mâché,” but she is most recently regarded for a range of large works on tapa (known as ‘masi’ in Fiji) with the help of Tongan and Fijian collaborators and their meticulous observance of best traditional practice.

Robin White has been living back in New Zealand since 1999. Robin received an Arts Foundation Laureate Award in 2017.

Milestones & Awards