Photo: Sophie Saunders (left) with exhibition curator Vicki Robson in MAHARA iti.

Pilgrimage of colour and light in new Sophie Saunders exhibition


The use of simple geometric shapes has been a career-long characteristic of work by accomplished Waikanae artist Sophie Saunders.
In her new MAHARA iti exhibition, Pranam, she combines these with a respectful bow to Indian culture, Hindu tradition and a reaffirmation that she sees her work as an ongoing “pilgrimage”, with colour and light as her steadfast companions.
Pranam, a Sanskrit word meaning a reverential salutation or gesture, has meaning for Sophie Saunders because meditation, in the context of ancient Hindu texts and rites, was part of her growing up.
“It was a family thing,” she says. “Our whole family learned to meditate when I was seven and I was basically brought up with this outlook.”

“Mostly I just try to make the paintings that I would like to see and to convey a visual record of shapes I see fleetingly during meditation.”
“I'm really interested in the way simple geometric forms are common in Indian Ritual Art without having to be rigid. There is a difference between rigidity and a kind of simple purity.”
When she first went to Elam School of Fine Arts she was attracted to the art of the New Romantic movement as well as Futurism and German Neo-Expressionism.
“But my work went totally abstract when I was about 20. And it’s never gone back really.”
She says initially she was inspired by early European abstractionists such as Mondrian, Malevich and Kandinsky – followed by the abstract expressionists.
“That whole idea of making a genuine mark when you are painting, and being in the moment, and the work coming out of the work greatly appeals to me.
“At the moment I feel drawn to circles and triangles and am fascinated by the infinite possibilities for combining them compositionally.”
Sophie Saunders has exhibited widely over 30 years and has taught at various institutions including Massey University and for the last 18 years at The Learning Connexion. Her work is held in a large number of institutional collections.
Sophie Saunders says she often works on anything upwards of ten works at any given time.

“This means I never really get stuck. It also gives me the chance to make them work as a group/ series and to have the same atmosphere as a whole. 

“This could be why I end up with lots of diptychs and triptychs!”

Pranam is Sophie Saunders’s third solo exhibition with Mahara Gallery. It will show at MAHARA iti until 17 February 2023, with an artist’s floor-talk on Wednesday 8 February at 11am.