Robin White (born in Te Puke, 1946, Ngāti Awa) was told by Colin McCahon that she needed to get out and paint instead of trying to stay at Auckland University’s Elam School of Fine Arts for a better qualification than her Diploma. So she did.
She attributes her confidence, determination and hard-work ethic to the stern encouragement of her parents, especially her father Albert Tikitu White with his very large kumara patch that needed a lot of attention. Her first steps on the road to a life of art-making were encouraged by an art teacher at Epsom Girls Grammar School, May Smith, after early years at Raglan District High.
But when you’d been studying at Elam on a Ministry of Education studentship, you had to spend time as a teacher yourself. Teaching art at high school was an opportunity for Robin to learn screen-printing, a craft not taught at Elam in the 1960s.
Robin’s brief career as an art teacher at Mana College soon morphed into full time work as an artist when she went to live on the Otago Peninsula and by 1972 Robin was becoming known as one of a group of New Zealand regionalists characterised as the hard-edged realists. After a ten-year career as a distinctive painter and screen-print maker in New Zealand Robin moved to Kiribati, where the different nature of the physical and social environment introduced some changes in the works that she produced from her studio beside the Tarawa lagoon.
Her love of Pacific culture took a new direction into collaborative art-making after a fire in 1996 unexpectedly destroyed her home and studio. With nothing to work with and nowhere to work she found ways to merge western art practice with Pasifika ways of getting the job done.
The resulting images, produced with a small group of Kiribati women, Fijians, New Zealanders and lately her vivacious Tongan collaborator Ruha Fifita, expanded her repertoire beyond painting and printmaking in directions entirely unforeseen in the 1970s: pandanus-leaf weavings, mixed-media piupiu, tagged fadges and tapa productions on a generous scale. Still distinctive. Unique.
Robin White has been living back in New Zealand since 1999.