Born in the village of Liki, Niue, John Pule moved to New Zealand with his family in 1964, at the age of two. An accomplished painter, printmaker, poet and writer, John Pule is arguably one of the Pacific’s most celebrated artists and has been at the forefront of New Zealand contemporary art since he began painting in the early 1990s. When Pule began to work as an artist it was without a formal art-school education, he was captivated by the artists, Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh.
Pule returned to Niue as an adult in 1991 and has since returned a number of times. These visits triggered a strong curiosity in the history and mythology of Niue, which continues to inform his work today. Being Niuean in Auckland and living as part of the Pacific diaspora in a post colonial world are the experiences that inform the essence of John Pule's being. The personal in his work is layered. Be it the family with which he arrived from Niue, or the family he has made with Sofia Tekela-Smith, there is always an intensely personal aspect, an intimacy that runs deep through John Pule's painting, printmaking, poetry and prose.
His use of the form and colour range of Hiapo (Niuean tapa cloth), is registered in his paintings, his work is highly inventive, particularly in its adaptation of traditional Pacific art forms. Hiapo is cloth beaten out of paper mulberry bark, which is then felted into rectangular sheet and painted onto freehand, following a loose grid-like system. Traditionally, the imagery on Hiapo depicts narratives of the journeys of Niuean people, Pule develops this idea to contemporary times by expressing his personal experiences as a Niuean living in New Zealand. He substitutes the bark cloth for the contemporary canvas, although often keeping it unstretched. He also adapts its layout, forms and warm palette of ochres and earthy reds.
Much of Pule’s early work focused on the remnant of Christianity and colonialism on the South Pacific, as well as his personal perceptions of romantic and sexual love. He depicts the introduction of Christianity to the Pacific as a tragedy, through the repeated inclusion of grief stricken figures, who characterize the Pacific Island people devasted by multiple psychological wounds. Over time Pule has developed his own lexicon of geometric motifs and other figurative elements. Some of his motifs come from Niuean mythology while others come from his imagination, his motifs include hybrid creatures incorporating parts of birds, lizards, monsters and humans. In Pule’s work we see his dual interests coming together, following the lead of artists such as Colin McCahon and Ralph Hotere Pule later began to include his poetry, in both English and the Niuean language on his painted canvas.
John Pule has exhibited extensively internationally as well as locally. He has been included in major survey exhibtions; Paradise Now?, New York (2004) and the Asia-Pacific Triennial (2006) at the Queensland Art Gallery. He has been artist-in-residence at the Cultural Museum, Rarotonga and has held the Romerapotheke Art Residency in Basel, Switzerland. In December 2011 Pule was given a major survey show John Pule: Hauaga (Arrivals) at the Auckland Art Gallery which ran through to March 2012. John received an Arts Foundation Laureate Award in 2004 and in 2012, he was awarded an ONZM (Officer of the said Order) for services as an author, poet and painter in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. His work is held in major public collections in Australasia including Auckland Art Gallery, Te Papa Tongarewa, The National Gallery of Victoria and Queensland Art Gallery. He currently lives and works in Auckland, New Zealand.