Loving the District
New Zealand artist Peter Waddell is right at home in Washington DC where history and architecture come under his intense scrutiny.
I first visited Washington DC in 1991 to look at battlefields around the city with my father, who had a fascination with the American Civil War. I loved the culture, diversity and constant element of surprise, and I met people who were interested in my work. Americans are inclined to give someone new a chance and I was offered an exhibition at the American Institute of Architects Gallery. This was very well received and my path was set. Although I’d been quite successful in Auckland, the New Zealand market wasn’t big enough for my degree of specialisation and somehow DC suited my temperament. After returning on six month visas I was awarded a green card and emigrated in 1993. Since then I’ve created a niche for myself, and most of my paintings recreating historical sites are commissioned by institutions.
I always say no one knows what’s going to happen next in the US, and anything can happen. Nowhere is that more true than in Washington DC at election time. But I breathe deeply and remember that the nation has survived 240 years and will probably survive the current debacle. George Washington, the first president and founder of the city, foresaw our dilemma and was adamantly opposed to the creation of political parties. He said people would vote for the party no matter the character of the candidate.
Pundits claim parallels between Mr. Trump and President Jackson (1829-37). Both led populist movements, but President Jackson was a brave war hero. There are definitely similarities in their taste however, as my recreation of the White House East Room in 1834 for The White House Historical Association shows. Gold was prominent. From the golden sunburst surmounting the door through which the president entered, to the vivid golden wallpaper. The atmosphere of wild ostentation was Trumpian.
I think and artist’s life is unique – as a craftsman and labourer, often earning very little, you’re accepted at the highest levels of society. I often pinch myself when I remember that I’ve met three first ladies. I’m always the least important person in the room, but there I am, having usually biked there!