Every time Peter Gordon returns to Whanganui, at least twice a year, to see family and friends, he visits the Sarjeant Gallery. The celebrity chef who grew up in Whanganui recalls spending many happy hours at the gallery. Along with Parnell’s garden nursery, the building and its artworks was one of two favourite haunts. Both places, he said, were “beguiling and fascinating” for different reasons.
“I remember visiting the Sarjeant. You’d cycle up there and park your bike and go and have a nosey. There was always something new to discover. For me it was such a grand old beautiful building and, like a library, incredibly quiet, [with] all these beautiful things, lovely polished wooden floors and the great dome letting in the light. It also felt really nice going in past the reception desk and going in to the room on the right and then into the next little room – it felt a bit grown up as well.”
He found the Sarjeant an accessible, calm, creative space, loving the diverse range of artworks and the history represented in the collection. The Sarjeant provided an effortlessly informal education for this student who was passionately interested, but who excelled in every other subject but art in School Certificate.
“I’ve always been inquisitive. My recollection of the gallery is the variety of exciting, lovely things. Also [being able] to bear witness to what can be done, what can be produced. It was a nice insight into people I didn’t know – a lot of them were dead – and some of the historical stuff, the old paintings from early Whanganui probably through to early Paris.”
As a child he was aware that most people he knew had reproduction artworks on their walls, so he viewed art as being part of the fabric of everyday life, something he says is even more noticeable in Europe. (Mr Gordon is based in London.)
“We did paint by numbers at home and we had prints on the walls and we were all creative in our own way but I never viewed art as particularly elite.”
The vibrant colours of Gretchen Albrecht’s Tristan and Iseult panels, in particular Landscape and Sea Journeys, made her one of his favourite artists and later, when he was living in Australia, on a return visit to the Sarjeant, he discovered her ovoid paintings.
“I thought, god she can do a painting that doesn’t have to be square or rectangular or a portrait. Gretchen has always been wonderful with washes of gorgeous colour and has been a really colourful figure in the art world. I always associate her with Whanganui.”
Creative and highly successful in his career, Mr Gordon likens his cooking to a varied collection of artworks or plants (he admits to having “a funny little garden” in London).
“In a way the sort of food I do is a bit of this and a bit of that – a bit of Malaysian, a bit of Japanese with a bit of Italian whopped in. The Sarjeant had all sorts, a bit like the garden centre in a way.”
He is pleased to know that the profit from artworks he buys at the Sarjeant’s shop supports something he believes in. He is also thrilled about the funding green light on the redevelopment project.
“I think the redevelopment of the Sarjeant will be a draw card. There will be many people who come to Whanganui for the gallery, as well as the river and the waterfront and the market.”