Flash Frontier

Feature Artist: Rod Eales

Interviews and Features

Dec 01

Flash Frontier: Kia ora and thank you, Rod, for sharing your work with us this month. Let’s begin with your new exhibition, ‘Rod Eales: Art of the Flower – currently featured at the Eastern Southland Gallery. Gardens and flowers: how do they draw you in?

Rod Eales: In my exhibition, ‘Art of the Flower’, I have focused primarily on one to three flowers at a time, placed within a context that contributes to a specific narrative. Because the flowers are on a large scale, and based in realism, they attract initial attention. However, it is a series of contrasts, in colour, tone and realism versus abstraction, and hard edge versus soft edge, that create a dynamic composition within the tondo format.

FF: This is not the first exhibition you’ve seen at the Eastern Southland Art Gallery. Can you tell us about the earlier works on display there, depicting the history of the Crown Lynn swan vase – and how / why you examine specifically Kiwi subjects in your work?

RE: My work has been traditionally grounded in either the natural world or specifically Kiwi subject matter. My last exhibition at Eastern Southland Gallery, the history of Crown Lynn, was documented through the Crown Lynn Swan Vase. Each painting depicted an aspect of that history, from beginning to the end. Prior to that, I examined the 1960s NZ ‘Tea Ceremony’. I am very much interested in the power of an object to denote a sense of time, place and culture within a NZ context.

The flower series has developed out of a longstanding interest in the natural world. Previous works have looked at intimate landscapes around Dunedin, while other finely drawn inkworks on paper have documented a range of rock forms around Dunedin. The shift to painting the flower coincided with a move to a new house and run-down garden, and the past enjoyment of painting the monochromatic flowers throughout the Crown Lynn series.

October 4

FF: The current exhibition includes 21 circular canvases. Can you tell us a bit about the form you’ve chosen – the large-sized paintings, the impact on the eye of this circular presentation, and how form and content intertwine?

RE: I have chosen the tondo format for the flower paintings because there are no straight lines in nature, and within this curved space, the curved flower forms are reinforced. As well, the flowers exist inside a space that continues on beyond the painting, unhindered by the unnatural straight lines of a rectangular format. The flowers are free to breathe and live out their natural life.

FF: We notice that this is not just a set of flower paintings but is called the ‘art’ of the flower. We’re curious about your painting process, and how you moved from observing flowers to seeing something of the ‘art’ of the flower as a point of artistic focus.

RE: Some of the works are based more upon observation for beauty’s sake. The narrative is simply about reminding us that beauty matters. In a sense, these flowers and their beauty never die while they have been rendered on a board. Their preciousness is preserved in paint.

It was becoming an unintentional gardener that focused my attention on the seasons and natural growing processes of the flowers outside my house and studio. I became slightly obsessed with the transition from plump fleshy forms to more interesting surfaces of decay, including blemishes, more intense colours, exposure of deep veins, curled rims and altered petal shapes. The ‘Life’ of the garden slowly began to uncover similarities with our own inner nature and life cycle. I became witness to the resilience, strength, fragility, fertility and submission of flowers in response to a host of elements, both natural and unnatural. Hence, my reflection upon global warming and other personal concerns. Everything is always in a constant state of change in a garden, throwing up endless food for thought.

Rod Eales, March
June 3

FF: Your paintings are built in layers. How long does it take you to complete one painting? And how do you know when you are done?

RE: My paintings are built up of multiple layers of fast drying oil paint, sometimes up to 15 layers, to achieve the desired depth, contrast and luminosity.

It is a long slow process, especially with the soft, out-of-focus areas. I know when to stop when the contrasts, tones and colours have been unified within the composition. The surface rendering is paramount to the effective completion of the painting.

FF: You’ve commented on light in your series of still lifes, which you say come from your long family tradition of drinking tea:

RE: I have long been interested in the effects of strong directional light and the reflective qualities of light on glass and metal surfaces. In these works I have tried to make connections between the objects and between the objects and the absent participants through use of shadows and light patterns, weaving each item together and holding the connection. Light transforms, light brightens and light gives Clarity.

FF: We can see the light in your work – and also a kind of calm. The absence of people is interesting – the quiet of this series. We see it also in your tree and rock paintings, which take on a particular light and sheen – adding layers of fluidity. Can you talk a bit more about that? Do you find quiet and movement in your work?

RE: The use of light is a common thread throughout all of my work, even as far back as my childhood! More recently I have used light and tone as integral elements of composition, and I believe that it is the balance or dynamic of light and dark within a given format, that elicits a sense of calm. For me, the aesthetics of a painting demand that the balance of light and dark be realized faultlessly. The focus of each painting across subject matters has been deliberately selective, allowing our eyes to concentrate on specific objects, requiring the viewer to bring their own focus into whatever genre they are face with. Perhaps this too focuses the mind and elicits a sense of calm. Although not visually represented in any of my paintings, people still do exist as viewers or participants outside of each painting.

October 2

FF: When you are not painting, what are you doing?

RE: When I am not painting life is incredibly busy. In my day job as an ECE Teacher, specializing in young children’s drawing and art processes, I work on long-term investigations into aspects of the natural world through drawing. These are generally followed by public art exhibitions or used to inform teachers through Professional Development workshops. After 22 hours of teaching each week, I then put on my painting hat and paint.

I can also be found in my two-acre garden, creating and developing my own microcosm of the natural world. In doing so, I use the exact same painterly elements, colour, tone, balance, texture and composition to generate both a productive and aesthetic garden. My neighbour tells me it looks like a painting in itself.

Prior to painting I generally spend time collecting, researching and photographing my subject matter. Over the past five years it has not been unusual for my studio to be full of flowers in their various stages of growth, strung up to be photographed over a period of many weeks. I also like to dissect flowers as a means of looking at, and understanding, their inner structure. There is always a new direction and new possibilities to explore.

There is always a new garden to visit, a new bloom to find, new connections to be made and a new painting to paint.

FF: How long to you take between series – and is it too early to ask what comes next?

RE: I am a very organic painter, avoiding external deadlines or any process that require a shift from authenticity or artificial constraints.

I prefer not to plan directly, but rather allow for a natural transition and natural connections to be made between one series and another. I suspect, however, that in the future, my work will continue to be grounded in the Art of the Flower. Flowers have become my language for painting, the inspiration to express a host of thoughts and feelings, with universal interest in both subject matter and concept.

FF: Thank you!


Rod Eales was born on the coast of Bay of Plenty. Since graduating from both Art School and College of Education in Dunedin, she has pursued a dual career in both teaching and painting. Her painting work has always centred around either Still Life or the Natural World. Her current interests lie in the flower as a language, or means for presenting simple narratives to express a range of ideas and emotions.


Her work with young children focuses on aspects of the Natural World, focusing on long-term research projects that develop artistic thinking and processes.


She paints in a studio surrounded by garden where there is a never-ending supply of inspiration, activity, growth and calm.


Her work is represented in collections, both nationally and internationally.


Rod Eales’ ‘The Art of the Flower’ is on exhibit at the Eastern Southland Gallery until 24 March 2024. Find out more here.

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