A renewed interest in painting was an unexpected outcome of Christchurch landscape architect John Marsh’s 12-month assignment in Samoa.
As an advisor for the Samoa Tourism Authority in 2015, John delivered 16 reports on landscaping tourist attraction sites, upgrading walking trails and enjoyed seeing the Prime Ministers of New Zealand and Samoa jointly open one of his projects, the Apia waterfront playground.
Since returning home in February, he has travelled to Auckland to work with a NZ/Samoa team planning further Apia Waterfront Development works and also continued private landscape design commissions.
Less expected was how the vibrancy of Samoan life rekindled his lifelong interest in painting. Knowing he would have spare time to fill, John had taken canvases and brushes on assignment. At first he painted trees but, fascinated by the buzz and colour of Samoa’s bus station and market, he moved on to buses and people.
Whether it’s Timor-Leste’s mikrolets or Solomons’ PMVs (public motor vehicles), buses are an evocative and an oft-discussed feature of many assignments. For John, catching the bus to work every day had helped him become accepted by his community.
“When the kids got over the curiosity of a palagi on the bus they would get quite friendly and on crowded days would sit on your lap. Once a little fellow dropped off to sleep with the mothers sitting around smiling.”
Now home, John’s interest in Samoan themes is continuing. He’s been studying Samoan art and artists’ weaving, tattooing and tapa cloths. “My most recent painting has been based on tapa cloth patterns, just to help understand them better.”
Aged 65 and easing into retirement, he’s leaning towards a more impressionistic style. It’s likely that his vibrant paintings of Samoa will lead to many more hours spent with brushes in hand.