Where Is My Home
With Miriam Cameron, painting and political issues merge to convey a concern with history, its injustices, its on going effects. Her work is a moral construction that identifies the powerless, the dispossessed, the alienated, both in New Zealand and her ancestral Scotland. There is for her a continuum that joins the plight of her Scots forebears with the present lives of un-privileged citizens surrounding her here.
All this is done in works that seldom show the human face or figure. Rather, they resonate in their almost abstract forms, with the sense of an unquiet world, a world where it is difficult to be at home; where even animals, as in her Last Wolf, are somehow fugitives, refugees. This feeling is carried by her style. Her land and seascapes, her building and monuments are irregularly geometric, strongly formed, broadly Cubist. They are also Expressionist and have Expressionism’s sense of a profound emergency besetting modern humanity.
When she commits to a directly figurative painting like The Last Man or Runnable Stag her intention remains the creation of a moral symbolism, a symbolism of figures that represent protest against social and ecological violence. Her sources are often literary. The Scots poet, John Davidson (1857-1909) or the playwright, John McGrath, whose play ‘The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil’ (1973) is rich in contemporary reference, are both writers who show Scots people their common history of exploitation.
Is this then simply political painting – part of the socialist tradition strongly defended by her father, Robert Cameron, in twentieth century New Zealand? Or is it given equally to social issues and to the language of art? Mainly the latter. The social messages are absorbed into the texture and rhythm of the images. Art and the political are co-extensive in these works. Neither didactic nor aesthetic, they are somehow quite vibrantly both.
This can be seen in North. Here is the theme of the journey to a place of origin. Here is a disturbed landscape of giant, crystallised Cubist forms, its atmosphere not unlike that found in the surrealist/romantic painting of Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). And here is the human - a fragile but doughty figure walking through an environment of world-historical fate. The wanderer is real enough to cast his own shadow, but is also menaced by the aerial forms of the surveillance state that lie cast along his path.
It is also to this depiction of threat, hope and survival that Miriam Cameron’s painterly language seems particularly adapted.
By Denys Trussell