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Eye of the Calm by Clare Reilly


Clare Reilly’s Eye of the Calm is filled with beautiful paintings of native birds in our New Zealand landscape, and with her life story.


From a very early age she was entranced by the beauty of the world around her; by the everchanging views of the hills on her way to school and the tui, bellbirds, and kereru in the old trees in her grandmother’s garden.


Clare and Max, her partner and muse for 40 years, built a life together in which painting remained a constant focus. Early on they helped to form The Primitive Bird Group to bring their primitive, naïve painting identities together and to support conservation projects. After his recent death from cancer, she has had to learn to fly solo again. It has taken time for her to find a sense of resilience and renewal.


I received Eye of the Calm while Auckland was in Level 4 Lockdown. As I leafed through it, I was immediately drawn to “Deep in the Nikau forest” which reminded me of the Nikau grove along the Wattle Track on Tiri Tiri Matangi island, where I love to linger when I am guiding there. Oh, to be back there now!


In this painting it looks as if she has given the palms a gentle spring clean, smoothed out any rough edges on the bark, arranged the fronds into rhythmical patterns and transformed their bulbous bases into perfect ovals. It is a symphony of soft greens. A kereru sits silently on a branch. Has it had its fill of the bright red berries? As in all her paintings the atmosphere is a tranquil and dreamlike and the water in the background looks calm and smooth.


Water is always a key element in her paintings. She writes that her most memorable days have always been linked to being on or by still water. She constantly seeks out those moments of calm on inlets, estuaries and tidal harbours, wetlands, and rivers.Her lyrical narrative transports us there.


Dawn is her favourite time of the day. I too have experienced that magical moment on Tiri Tiri Matangi island, after a night spent in the bunkhouse, when the dawn chorus broke the deep silence.


Clare is passionate about Conservation and is an active supporter. Many of her paintings have been inspired by visits to bird sanctuaries on our offshore islands where she has explored the dream of rich lands ringing with birdsong and found it heartening to see rare birds thriving on these lifeboats of habitat.


The birds in flight in her paintings signify a soaring of spirit, an uplift, and a sense of joy. When I rest my eyes for a while on them, their joyful presence lifts my mood. I stop ruminating about the harm that Coved is inflicting around the world and worrying whether we can avoid the spread of the Delta variant in New Zealand.

Her life story, the way she stayed true to her own style of painting and went on to achieve an international reputation is also inspiring. It is a beautiful book, one to treasure.


Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Exisle Publishing