For Elaine Lynn, a new ArtHop show brings back old memories of New Zealand’s unforgettable coast

Elaine Lynn doesn’t hesitate when she spells Waipukaurau. You probably wouldn’t, either, if a small, achingly picturesque New Zealand town had played such a big role in your life. Lynn’s big artistic adventure was more than 30 years ago and lasted just a few months. But she can still close her eyes and see the lingering “long white clouds” in the sky, and hear the crash of waves on the craggy coastline, and smell the freshly-shorn sheep.

Pictured above: Elaine Lynn shows the book she made on an artist exchange in New Zealand. Photo: The Munro Review

Everyone should have Best Time of My Life moments like this.

In her new show at Fig Tree Gallery, Lynn celebrates “Remembering New Zealand,” an exhibition that marks the spring of 1991, when she traveled 6,659 miles from Fresno to Waipukaurau to represent the Fresno Art Museum. She was the first of four Fresno artists who participated in exchanges with a small museum and cultural center in the area of Central Hawke’s Bay, on the north shore of New Zealand’s north island. The Fig Tree exhibition includes prints of paintings completed by Lynn during her artist residency. It also includes works by Kathy Wosika, Jim Shephard and Suzanne Sloan Lewis, who followed Lynn to New Zealand in subsequent years.

In an odd twist to the story, Lynn never actually got the opportunity to display in Fresno the paintings she made on that trip. The Fig Tree show, which opens at ArtHop (5-8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 3, at most venues) and continues through February at the gallery, is the local debut all these years later, you could say.

Lynn made her artistic mark in the central San Joaquin Valley by exploring the intersection of humans and the environment. From the vantage point of her Sanger ranch, while helping bring untold numbers of lemons and oranges to market, she captured the orderliness of agriculture – the precise rows of fruit trees, the squared off fields – through vibrant use of color and fanciful depiction of form. I’ve always loved that sense of “civilization” about her work, the way she emphasized the scale and beauty of the changes that humans have been able to make on the landscape.


Perhaps that’s why it’s so intriguing to see what she did when confronted with the wildness of the New Zealand coast.

I stopped by the gallery on Tuesday of ArtHop week as Lynn was putting the finishing touches on the exhibition. She showed me the beautiful book she made when she was in New Zealand. She reminisced about how the local paper met her when she got off the plane, how a freezer full of lamb awaited her at the beachfront cottage where she stayed, how she made friends with members of the local Maori tribe, how the rough gravel roads crunched under her tires. Most of all, she got this wonderful “Elaine gleam” in her eyes as she talked about how wonderful it was to paint in such a beautiful place.

Now I want to go to New Zealand.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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