Allie Eagle since 1980

After a decade of feminist art and activism, Allie reevaluated her postion after a life-changing spiritual experience and took a new path in her life and work. On one hand this was a radical new direction, but it can also be understood as a homecoming of sorts – it re-established a connection with her Christian mother, also an artist (see Allie’s Bio) and Allie’s early up-bringing. It also meant a movement away from the separatist community that she had belonged to. This was a big change in lifestyle. Allie sees this shift in perspective as partly due to the challenges of being involved in the parenting of her partner’s boys and needing to set them spiritual and moral standards. Being a parent eventually provoked a return to the Christian ethics of Allie’s upbringing. In Allie Eagle and Me Allie also describes being positively influenced in her re-evalutation of men through the example of Jesus, and the men in the spiritual communities of which she became a part. This drew her away from her previous political position and eventually caused her to re-evaluate her thinking on a number of issues, including abortion.

During the 1980s Allie’s painting and art practice were informed by her wider experiences in a number of different communities. Teaching in a boy’s school meant she revisited her drawing practice and developed both her own and her students rigour in Life drawing and the treatment of the human form. This lead to a number of exhibitions, including two at Janne Land Gallery (see Broadsheet review Allie Eagle: a Survey exhibition of works on paper in reference list) and two with Aberhart-North Gallery in Auckland (see Gallery poster photo) In these Allie’s new-found sense of connectedness with a larger (both male and female community) can be seen expressed in powerful studies and paintings that record her autobiographical relationships. Her art sources were often now from the male painters that she had formerly ignored, including Rembrandt, Goya, Roualt and Picasso.

This turnabout from an idealogical feminist to a more inclusive position in her artmaking provided a fertile artistic ground for Allie to produce works that could demonstrate and draw on her love of the painting of the deep past and art making skills that she had learned from her artist mother (see Allie’s Bio).

Her own environment at Te Henga, a reasonably remote spot on Auckland’s West Coast, meant that she became very quickly involved with the environmental concerns of her artistic forebears and the seeding of an environmental protection movement which was to spread throughout the country. Powerful painters such as Don Binney and Colin McCahon had inhabited the same landscape just prior to Allie taking residency and this meant that she was aware of herself being both in the iconic landscape they had referenced but also a need to visually notate her own experiences of it and to protect it. She was involved in leading community action to get involved in local politics and revegetate and enhance the local environment, and has made painting, scultpure and installations that have addressed her responses to this environment.

The Sudden Imperative series made in 2003 and addressed in Allie Eagle and Me consists of five large wooden panels painted in watercolour, oil, graphite, gesso and encaustic wax. The works are based on the five symbolic colours (black, red, white, gold and green) found in the Wordless Book. In the Wordless Book, each colour stands for one of five core concepts of Christian faith. As each colour symbolises one part of the message, it can be easily understood and remembered by literate and non-literate audiences alike. Allie has interpreted elements of the Christian message in each panel of The Sudden Imperative while referencing and reinterpreting some of her earlier feminist works (see interview with Allie).

One of Allie’s preoccupations as an artist is the high profile that her feminist art has enjoyed and the continuing attention paid to these early works, including This Woman Died I Care. Part of the reason she agreed to be part of Briar’s film was a desire to show where she had changed her position as an activist and how that spiritual change had altered her approach to her work on some feminist topics. While second-wave feminism called for government provision of abortion, Christian groups, particularly SPUC (Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child) sought to limit the number of abortions performed. By revisiting the issue of abortion in the red panel Tough Call as part of The Sudden Imperative, Allie is expressing a belief that while women are no longer vulnerable to backstreet abortionists, they are still vulnerable to pressure to have an abortion from peers, family and their financial situation. For Allie, the issue is about challenging the conditions that promote a fear of motherhood and family and encouraging a conversation about “the creation and wastage of so many embryos” (Germaine Greer, The Whole Woman). For Allie, women who are pregnant should be supported in their roles as mothers, so that the need for abortion is reduced. She is also talking about the spirituality of humanity. She feels that Christians and feminists talked past each other during the 1970s and that her own position on abortion at that time was very black and white. Allie feels now that she had little appreciation for the difficulties faced by women in choosing not to abort and wonders if the comparative availability of abortion now is healthy for women. She would like to see more support and appreciation of women who choose the challenging path of carrying a pregnancy to term and raising a child, particularly single mothers.