Helen, Flora, Lass, Lassie, Miss Scales. Helen Flora Victoria Scales (1887- 1985) was a woman of many names and to all but a few she remained elusive.
Flora Scales was part of a generation of artists who pursued their love of art in Europe, yet she has been largely overlooked in New Zealand’s art history. This exhibition has not been arranged with a strict chronology; rather it presents vignettes from her practice and life. This highlights the way in which she worked – devoted and focused. A committed modernist, her work has a basis in Cubism and is infused with colourful gestures. She was committed to the methods of making she learnt through her time at the Hans Hofmann School in Munich in 1932. With age her work became increasingly expressionist – colours sing with one another in hazes of greens, oranges and pinks.
In Flora’s own estimation she was a perpetual student and although we are unwilling to remove her own agency over her career, life and legacy, she may not have been the best judge of her work. Many great New Zealand artists entered her orbit – Toss Woollaston, Colin McCahon and Gretchen Albrecht. These artists saw her not as a student, but as a fully formed painter who, like every other artist, continued to grapple with her practice and its continued development throughout her long life.
Her paintings are all of an intimate scale, certainly out of necessity due to her semi-itinerant way of living and making. Her life seems to have been lived through a travel paint box packed with her brushes, paints and palette.
In keeping with Flora’s own appraisal of her status many of her paintings can be found in the homes of her extended family and friends. A significant number of the works in this exhibition have been generously loaned from her family, friends, private and public collections, all of whom are passionate about protecting and fostering her artistic legacy. The Suter would particularly like to thank Ali Evers- Swindell and Isabel Gilbert Palmer. Without their meticulous research and deep admiration of Flora this exhibition would not be possible.
The Suter is pleased to be able to present the work and story of Helen Flora Victoria Scales – a singular woman and artist in all of her complex ambiguity.
Suter Curator and Collection Manager