Like many children of migrants in New Zealand today, Daphne Mason was born in New Zealand and grew up as a child of two cultures. The soft Scottish burr of her parents, aunts and uncles, and their longing for the familiarity of what had once been home across the seas, became with time a subliminal message that there was something still to be discovered and explored that couldn’t be uncovered here. Two significant periods of her life would be spent back in the UK and beyond, both of them leaving a very tangible mark on her thinking and her work.
Her OE (overseas experience) in 1951, well before such things had become commonplace, saw her traveling by flying boat to Sydney, before taking ship with her best friend on the “Orcades” to Britain – a trip which in those days lasted five weeks. The journey via Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Port Said, Suez, Malta and the Bay of Biscay, was a revelation after her life in bicultural New Zealand.
Two themes from this time would later surface in the Expatriate series. The first is the importance of postcards (and letters) in maintaining the lines of communication with those left behind, in those days before emails. The second is the long sea journey with its open skies and its changing seas. The manner in which the sea itself could change so quickly – one minute peaceful, now towering waves – evokes the range of emotions so familiar to those experiencing life in another land.
The London Daphne arrived in, in 1951, was still recovering from World War II, with rationing still a daily reality, along with the visible scars left by bombed out homes and properties across the city. It was here that she was able to immerse herself in the cultural life of concerts and galleries, experiencing first hand the artistic riches of centuries of European and British life. This journey would be a gamechanger in terms of Daphne’s exposure to the vibrant cultural life that was so accessible to Londoners at that time, particularly with the Festival of Britain taking place.
Daphne’s second, and significantly longer, period spent in Britain, was initiated by the move of both her children to the UK to study at Cambridge University. She and her husband, A.L (Jim) Mason, purchased a house in Chiswick, London; and this eventually became their home until his declining health caused them to relocate. The rich greens of both land and sky in “Expatriate series 4” seem to speak of the endless potential the future seemed to hold.
The first of the Expatriate series paintings was painted some years prior to the move to England. Although vibrant, it carries a kind of tension in the midst of celebration, compared to the works that would come later. The imagery is somewhat akin, though not deliberately, to the layout of a pinball machine. There is a definite sense with this painting of movement and restraints, the bouncing of ideas and impulses back and forth, all linked to this pull from across the sea.
The remaining works in this series were in contrast inspired by extended periods spent in the UK, particularly in Cambridge. These were times of great contentment, carrying with them the chance to reflect on life on opposite sides of the globe. The still somewhat choppy seas have now settled within the joyous context of the meadow; a reference perhaps to the wildflowers and poppies that grew along the margins of the Cambridge fields each summer. The continuing use of the postcard from across the seas reminds the viewer of relationships that still sustain and need sustaining, despite the miles.