Piera McArthur

Piera McArthur

New Zealand (B.1929)

Iconic New Zealand artist, Piera McArthur, was born in Ramsgate, England, where her New Zealand father, a member of a famous medical dynasty of the Monros, practiced for eleven years, after taking his FRCS in Edinburgh. The family moved back to their native New Zealand in 1938.

There the young Piera would foster her love of art and drawing. After completing her schooling at Erskine College, Piera took up a Scholarship at Victoria University and received a Master of Arts in Modern Languages with First Class Honours. There she met fellow student John G. McArthur whom she married and accompanied throughout his career as one of New Zealand’s Senior Diplomats. He became one of New Zealand’s well known Ambassadors.

Although she insisted on working independently of the Embassy in her own right as a painter she never the less says; ‘quite frankly I owe much of my inspiration to the experiences of life in sophisticated capitals of the world.

I am sometimes accused of being ‘European’. This is hardly astonishing seeing that my life as a good New Zealander has been spent in capitals of the world. It is also a fact that my work deals largely with people, a theme of eternal interest and valid everywhere, in Paris, New York, Auckland, Timbuctoo … Let’s not get parochial and let’s remember that a true painter applies his or her vision to whatever happens to be the surrounding theme’.

Piera lived and worked for many years in Paris. While painting in Moscow later on, she became the first New Zealander to have a solo show at the New Tretiakov Gallery in Russia. Of this experience she wrote, ‘I came of age as a painter, experiencing strong reaction both for and against’.

Since returning to New Zealand, Piera has held numerous successful solo exhibitions and her works are held in many private and public collections throughout New Zealand and internationally.


National Portrait: Piera McArthur, the accidental artist

Image credit: Robert Kitchen / Stuff

“Painting is indeed a juggling act with mind, heart and eye involved.  It is the realm of the unexpected, field of anguish, summit of intense thrill. The painter is in wondrous evolution”

Piera McArthur, Declaration, 2013

“The painting can take over,” Piera McArthur says in her sunlit Wellington studio. “Marvellous accidents can happen.” 

Adjoining her home, the studio is where I met McArthur over several cups of tea. The studio walls are festooned with “marvellous accidents”: explosions of colour; humorous and captivating, utterly original. 

Befitting a well-read and widely travelled woman, topics and settings vary wildly, defying easy characterisation. Ingenuous renderings of memory, personal and historical, filtered through a daring, singular imagination. Moments, each of them, vivid but fleeting, captured mid-flight. “Something can be not moving,” she says, “but still give out energy”.  

Ultimately, according to her youngest son, Paul, his mother’s work is first and foremost “about the magic of paint”. 

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