O L D S O U T H E R N S K Y
Astor Bristed Gallery
41 Buckingham St, Coachmans Hall, Arrowton
Old Southern Sky is a solo exhibition by Sierra Roberts. Comprising nine original pieces, Sierra reimagines timeless scenes, combining her past and present homes to create a series of new works that renew and revitalise our interpretation of the lower south island, New Zealand.
Sierra was born in Arizona, lived in Mount Cook with her family, and now resides in Wanaka.
"Immobilised at home by the covid pandemic, I was drawn to reflect on the similarities between my three ‘homes’, what connects them and what home means to me".
The Great American West has forever been romanticised, with its vast landscapes and enormous trailing clouds. Land use has adapted with time, bringing new people and ideas but only changing the appearance of the land temporarily. Dramatically different seasons with extreme climates bring an unpredictable fierceness to the region, revered and loved by locals who live for it.
Sierra takes the viewer on a tour through the Central Otago High Country, narrating a gold-tinted epic of inland mountains and high plains and wonderful afternoon hues, alluding to some of the people who have stood atop these ridges and sought shelter and shade beneath them. Some may argue, who’s view is better? Those who like to stare up at the peaks and those who stare down from them.
'The Dusk Trail'
Two riders on a dusk trail paused for a moment, overcome by the profound unlikeliness of their existence. The deep ridiculousness that at some point, in some remote corner of the universe, wedged between the glittering and innumerable solar systems on an insignificant but entirely consequential speck of dust there emerged not just all the distinct phenomena of land and sky and sea but also a group of beings capable of witnessing it. And, going a step further, looking right down in the details and realising that despite, (or maybe because of?), the mountains of preposterous gadgetry, the poor hearted landlords and lying politicians, pyramid schemes and mortgage payments and the fact that the truth is never told between the hours of nine and five one had ended up here, at this place in this time to witness this moment. The ebb and flow of life, the dancing wheel of chance, it had all, all of it, led to this. Maybe it meant something, maybe not, but no combination of rationalisation or hubris or even nihilism could shake the feeling that God, or something, had got it right. Whatever it meant.
There is no shortage of fuss and bother, not to mention copious articles in airline magazines, on the delights and wonders of modern cosmopolitan living. The lives of the cultured humans that enjoy the absolute best that is on offer in famous cities is an example to us of what success is, what we should all be striving for. Your best life?? Surely, it would be one of fine dining, nights out and hip apartment living in London or New York or San Francisco. You could be a high powered lawyer or hip, ragamuffin tech entrepreneur or a respected doctor, any one of these, they are all what we should be aiming for. If you are hungry, there are more famous restaurants than you could shake a stick at, if you are bored, well, shows, movies, bars, clubs the delights abound! If you want fulfilment, its easy, stroll to town and buy a watch or a phone or some new shoes, that’s what all this money is for, surely, $500 shoes will bring meaning to your life, else, why would they be $500?? And even though this image of success is shoved down your throat with the effort and intensity of a plumber unblocking a toilet afterhours, sometimes you just cant help looking at these cities, these beacons of mans triumph over the elements and mastery of the environment and feel sorry for the poor fools who have to live there.
When made by a trusted companion, the observation that you've left your swag on the porch affords them a quiet chuckle, before they kindly indicate your mistake before it does any real harm.
When made by a man alone, at the end of the day and 10 hours from home, the observation takes on a different form entirely. This time it is a loud observation, impressive combinations of swear words bounce from ridgetop to ridgetop, and from bluff to bluff before soaring high on the wind through gentle white specks of fresh falling snow and away over the tussock. Sharp sounds, guttural and fierce tones that would burn the ears off a priest abound. But, alas, no matter how much heat the words do carry, that fool will be sleeping cold tonight.
'Old Southern Sky'
Old Southern Sky is a tribute to the famous mustering horse Walter who belonged to Muzz Cook, a prominent musterer in the Mckenzie Basin.
Walter was one of the finest geldings to ever come out of the very best of the second tier horsebreeder’s in all of Waimate. Muzz won him betting on club rugby results in Kurow in ‘78. Joining Muzz on mustering exploits from Lake Ohau to Glentanner, Walter quickly became well known to shepherds in the district. If he was snow raking wethers out of deep drifts in mid-July or climbing burning shingle slopes in late January, Walter never faltered. Muzz never let on about the time he lost his entire supply of tobacco when Walter rolled over in a river on the first day out on an autumn muster up Pukaki. No one had seen it and Muzz had replaced his soaked tobacco with ground up snow tussock. He smoked that terrible substitute all week to protect a proud equine reputation. So while it may be true that legends are made mostly off the back of their own works, for every revered Walter held in the highest esteem, there is surely a Muzz nearby smoking tussock grass darts.
'She Knows the Way'
People can be notoriously shitty to deal with but it is generally accepted that, for the most part, horses are much worse. It would be generous to say that only twenty four out of twenty five horses are total contrary assholes. This means that if by shear dumb luck you happen to get the one horse out of twenty five that is not a complete prick then you are on a winning streak. Trust and respect go hand in hand in the wild south, you trust that she knows the way just as she trusts that you do.
'Law of the Hills'
Outlaws get a bad rap. There’s never any shortage of prudes with the personalities of a pencil who delight in sneering down on outlaws. Good for nothing hippies, freeloaders, bums they say. This is generally people like parking wardens, council planning regulators and vice principles, the type of character who has not a hope of distinguishing what is right from what is merely legal. They will follow directives even when its painfully obvious to everyone that certain deviations from policy are required and worst of all they tend to be quite smug about it. And these people, these bureaucratic sticklers for the book, the really don’t deserve the respect that they tend to demand. When you think about it, the ones that deserve respect are the ones with the courage to live outside the law when the law does not match the truth in their hearts. We all have a civic duty to be outlaws, and it’s up to you how far you take it, how much dynamite you require for your own brand of outlaw. You can go as far as you want really, the only difference between a hated bandit and a revered outlaw is the quality of the content of his or hers PR department.
Some days are like scrambled eggs, it doesn’t matter which way you turn them, they’re always sunny side up. Everything goes well and you are king for the day. Other days, and these are more common for some of us, crises abound and the entire thing is a balls up from beginning to end. The worst is a balls up you see coming. It rolls in slow motion, perhaps you begin to suspect something is amiss shortly after breakfast and then despite your best efforts by smoko time the whole thing is utterly fucked. Other times it seems to sneak up on you and without warning a day that was going great flips upside down and only with significant and back breaking toil can you manage to make it back to the same point you had started at yesterday morning by the end of the day. These nasty surprises can sometimes happen when your not quite paying attention, perhaps you were dedicating a few spare braincells perusing tiktok when the neurons should really be fully engaged in forward planning. Whatever caused your cock up, whatever toil and tears you’ve had to endure to deal with it, there is one thing that will always ease your mind as you make your way home questioning your worthiness; looking over the boundary fence and seeing the neighbour do the same thing.
'Big Blue Sky'
An escape from the cultural and social context in which we live - the face of the intoxicating landscape of infinite mountains that surround us, where some find reassurance and others lose themselves in its immensity, after all what we worry about amounts to nothing more than a huge swarm of trivial shit that is always there. The world is full of idiots who have no idea what is important.
'Friend of the South'
One the most underrated roles a good friend can play is in bringing you down to earth. Many of us are only two or three lucky wins away from suffering a mild distortion of reality which inflates our own self worth well above its actual market value. Some of us even suffer this affliction regardless of if anything at all has occurred to inflate the self-worth to begin with. And while we like to imagine that we are oh so well balanced, centred and self regulating that we couldn’t possibly get too big for our boots this tends to be not the case. But before you begin to lose all hope and find yourself awash in dread about inevitable vanity of humanity you need to remember the quiet role a good friend can take in all of this. For it to work there needs to be someone who has been present at your dizzying peaks of power, renown and triumph but also during the broke, hungover and pathetic troughs of ballache. This loyal character spends time with you because you’re occasionally funny and tend to be good company over a few beers but they cannot be fooled by your apparent wit and charm or cunning side step of the latest potential disaster. Ohhhhh no, they have witnessed you when you were down and out, they have had to scrape you off the bathroom floor more than once, when your sidesteps were poorly timed and they’ve had to put up with you bingeing and witching for hours about entirely self-inflicted circumstances, they have watched you colossally and royally fumble the pass with what was looking to be the love of your life not once or twice but at least three times, they have seen you tell fibs, manipulate and behave selfishly, it’s amazing that they still hang out with you at all. They can always cut you down to size, for them with their intimate knowledge it only takes a word to remind you of a name or place or a time. And no one else who heard it could ever pick up on the depth of meaning in such a short exchange. But you do, you see the twinkle in the eye, the small curl of a lip and you know that even the cutting sting of a dynamically witty comeback aimed at the most insecure parts of their psyche can divert from the small dose of reality that your loyal sidekick has delivered with such perfect timing. Here’s to you, old friends.
These works are available to view through Astor Bristed Gallery until January 31
Open Daily 10-3pm
Please email Rosie for any pricing information or requests
41 Buckingham St, Coachmans Hall, Arrowtown
Narratives with big thanks to James McCaughan