Jacqueline Fahey


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A lot of my work is simply [about] what is there …
not searching for it, but perceiving it

In this episode of Cultural Icons Denys Trussell interviews Jacqueline Fahey (recent recipient of the Arts Foundation’s Icon Award, an accolade given to a living circle of 20 stellar New Zealand artists, the Arts Foundation’s highest honour) about her life, times and ideology and how that has come to shape her as a painter and writer (“I always felt like I’m betraying painting when I write,” she says as a sort of disclaimer).

Fahey delves into some of the stories and geographies that form part of her recent and acclaimed memoirs “Before I Forget.” She fuels this interview with anecdotes and oral histories from: her Irish ancestry, creative friendships and collaborations (including Colin McCahon and Tony Fomison), as well as from a wealth of memorised aphorisms ranging from Joyce (both James and his brother Stanislaus… whom she prefers), Wilde, Max Beckmann, Marx, Jesus and many others.

Woven by an honest warmth and an infectious laughter, this interview transports the listener to the many places she’s lived in – Catholic school, Timaru, Elam art school, New York, and various mental institutions (due to the work of her late husband – the highly influential psychiatrist Fraser McDonald). Yet, more than a biography of landmarks Denys (whom Fahey has painted) keeps the interview mainly in the realm of ideas.

Although a self-confessed socialist, Fahey is cautious – if not completely disdainful- of the many labels that have often been thrown in her direction, she manages to define herself by not subscribing to any but recognising the influences and importance of those many intellectual strands. Domestic painter (a way to “keep me in the kitchen!” she says) feminist painter, political, flamboyant, “foreigner”. Throughout this interview she explores how she is none, and all of the above, and, as many of her works, re-creates psychological, and social landscapes and portraits through colourful and varied props and symbols.

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