Paris Kirby conveys the fundamental forms of our arboreal environment. A painted invitation into its leaves and branches is a translation of nature’s wonder, first sensed at the forest floor. Past the crackling static of urban foliage, forgoing interaction mediated through a screen, each of Kirby’s works serves as a remedy for the isolation of the digital age. Kirby’s paintings attempt to bring the viewer to where the artist has stood; whether at the foot of Te Matua Ngahere, or caught below a snowscape’s canopy, the scenes enfold their onlookers.
Mere minutes from Kirby’s studio, a glade of soaring Kauri stands sentinel. At first encounter, I was baffled that their secret was so quietly kept from the surrounding suburb. The sanctuary is bounded by residential predictability, but a trail through the forest leads down to the shelter of giants. More than any tutor or textbook, these elders of the forest are Kirby’s teachers – she feels it’s her responsibility as an artist to give a voice to the environment. She bears witness to the guardianship of the trees and, in return, elevates the awe of their presence.
Environmental awareness should be no stranger to local consciousness, but New Zealand has an image cleaner than most to maintain. Tourism promotes the image of a raw oasis, with an invitation for world-weary urbanites to experience a ‘greener’ existence. Aotearoa’s forest tracks and mountain streams are well traversed, and a flurry of flashbulbs store the experience – perhaps for social merit over safekeeping. Captured images that might once have been a keepsake now add to the slipstream; the majority shared and then forgotten from our screens. Are we accelerating the disposability of our environment?
Kirby rejects contemporary immediacy. In an image-saturated society it might be asked why, when driven to stem this overexposure, Kirby would seek to contribute to the melee. But these works are slow, deliberate, sacred. Free from the shackles of disorder, she works in a near-meditative state of purpose. Decisions are made, Kirby says, “depending on what’s best for the painting” but the final image is known from the outset. It is a matter of dedication and devotion that enacts the form onto the picture plane. A goal to turn the tide of social consciousness has, in Kirby’s case, been undertaken with calm determination. The unrelenting progress of these branching forms is not bound by the necessity of speed; it is the pace of Kirby’s painting that pays homage to her subject.
Kirby tells of her childhood, where the artworks that are marked in her memory were of intricate detail and dizzying height. She recognises the same largeness and loudness that will inspire children and adults alike in her own paintings. And while Kirby’s work is remarkable for its elaborate techniques of creation, it is the all-encompassing scale of each scene that invokes fascination.
Kirby’s involvement in the fashion industry brought her to the realisation that a garment wasn’t nearly as interesting as the textile itself. Surface texture rather than folds and seams drew Kirby into flatness over form. She might well claim sisterhood of Sonia Delaunay; both drawn to the idea that art can infiltrate so many different surfaces. Kirby’s studio is draped in the many forays into expression of her cause, but the elevation of nature has remained constant.
Kirby borrows romanticism from mid-century advertising; where the posterised coastline sold nostalgia of a reality just out of reach. Her own works spurn the throwaway qualities of the souvenir, instead remaining vitally connected to their original setting, designed to weather the years alongside the forest itself. Owners of Kirby’s paintings are encouraged to visit the site at which their piece was imagined, to be bewitched in front of the majestic trees, just as their painted images bring a part of this majesty into the midst of everyday life.
An unbridled fascination exists in fractal form in Kirby’s works. Each magnified corner is a new world, another microcosm revealed with every glance. Kirby’s painted realms manage to silence the restless clock that tethers our consciousness, slowing time to allow us a moment of sanctuary. Lost deep in the forest, Kirby’s worlds are an embrace, a refrain, a prayer.