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Painting: a process for healing and building critical thinking skills

Artist Sarah Mitchell Munro photographed in her home studio where she developed her work for upcoming solo show “Partners in Painting” at Ramp Gallery.

Sarah Mitchell Munro is curious about the practice of painting and investigating what is really going on in the mind when the artist’s brush meets the paper. Munro’s solo exhibition Partners in Painting at Ramp Gallery (21 September - 18 October 2023) examines the painting process together with highlighting some ‘unseen and unheard’ characters in the New Zealand painting scene, through a selection of figurative watercolour works. 
This Waikato-based artist, Media Arts Postgraduate Employer Partnership Group chair, and external postgraduate supervisor at Wintec | Te Pūkenga, set aside her 20-year history as an oil colour painter to adopt paper, watercolour, gouache, and watercolour pencils for this exhibition. Munro says that the flexibility of using watercolour has enabled her to working quickly and connect more deeply to her art. “It was a radical shift for me,” says Munro. “It's such an undervalued, understated medium, and it is quite stuck in traditional methods. I really wanted to push that”.  
Munro says painting figures in her work is a way to look at human centered issues through her artistic process. The figures in this exhibition, specifically reveal characters who have supported famous New Zealand painters in their private lives.  
Artists rarely achieve extraordinary feats without others supporting behind the scenes. This support is often unseen, unheard, and left out of the history books. Dorothy Kate Richmond, Anne McCahon, Doris Lusk, Douglas Lilburn, Patrick André Stephane, and Rita Angus have provided inspiration and tireless support for well-known and celebrated painters in Aotearoa New Zealand and themselves become the subjects of Munro’s latest painting series. 
“I've wanted to put the focus on the partners and wives who have been behind these highly successful and well acknowledged artists in New Zealand, to demonstrate that their success was backed by very hard-working people; people who are often intellectual equals and equally capable, but that haven't necessarily wanted to be in the limelight,” she says. 
Partners in Painting challenges the conception of the artist as an independent genius, struggling in a vacuum, to instead reveal the complex, entangled and creative interdependence of these talented individuals. 
Munro is currently doing her PhD through Central Queensland University in Australia. This exhibition, Partners in Painting, is the practice-led component of her PhD, which will be accompanied later in the year by an exegesis that contextualises her studio research and demonstrates the significance of her findings.  
Her research looks at how painters employ embodied movement and perception shifts to generate new ways of thinking and doing in their painting process and how this translates to wider applications. “So, what I'm looking at right now is how that phenomena of embodiment occurs in the painting and the creative research process,” she says.  
By exploring the painting process, and looking closely at everything the artist does - from mixing paint, layering, using different materials to the artists’ movements, from standing to sitting, working slowly or quickly, Munro has been made aware of a cognitive shift that takes place, enabling painters to address complex ambiguous and contentious problems. 
As an artist and educator, Munro is passionate about “developing our brains, developing critical thinking” which has led to an awareness about the importance of arts advocacy. She says that a desire to continue shifting the conversation and education towards ‘embodying the importance of the arts’ has come from her PhD research. 
“People don't realise that handling material and making art-work is a cognitive process that generates critical thinking, and can lead to significant healings.” 
When Munro first embarked on her PhD, she was at a transition in her life and there was quite a lot of processing she needed to do to get through that. “I have no doubt that using my process as a painter to navigate this transition was significant and has led me into new and really meaningful directions in my life.” 
“I'd like to be part of those conversations that move our focus into valuing the cognitive shifts that the painting process generates, so we’re not just talking about the values of the art market but embracing the value of what painters can contribute to research and the human experience.” 
Partners in Painting | Sarah Munro  
Opening Preview and Artist Talk led by Peter Dornauf: 5pm Thursday 21 September 2023  
Exhibition runs: 21 September - 18 October, 2023 

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