Gerda Leenards, was born 1946 Nijmegen, Holland and immigrated to New Zealand when 10yrs old in 1956. From 1965 to 1968 she lived in Whangarei working as a draughtswoman for the Dept. of Lands and Survey and as a graphic design assistant. She completed a Diploma of Fine Arts at the Ilam, University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts, in 1970 and first exhibited in 1981 in Wellington. In 1985 she won the Whitcoulls Award for Drawing and three years later exhibited for the first time in Auckland, the same year having a solo exhibition at the Wellington City Art Gallery, entitled ‘From Pillar to Coast’.
In 1989, Leenards again conveyed the voice of the land in her depictions of the Maori and European defence works around Spirits Bay in Northland. During this period she was using a somber and restricted palette of oil stick or acrylic on canvas, and a brushy expressionist style.
Leenards returned to the Netherlands in 1992, to take up a 6-month residency at Studio Elba in Nijmegen, and to immerse herself in the artistic traditions of her homeland. She is very influenced by the early Dutch Landscape artists as their works were more poetic than narrative based. On returning to New Zealand her paintings claimed a serious and romantic beauty with an unmistakable sense of European painting tradition.
By the late 1990s, her atmospheric depictions of mist-enveloped headlands and soft, ghostly, cloud-wrapped landscapes had earned Leenards a reputation for depicting the New Zealand landscape in a new light – of a raw, unpredictable and uncompromising natural landscape.
Leenards travelled with Dept of Conservation into Doubtful and Dusky Sound in 2004, and into Fiordland as a resident artist in the Portage in Marlborough Sounds. A number of the resulting works were shown in the Whangarei Art Museum exhibition Fjords, Mist and Vapours, 2004.
In 2007 and 2008, Gerda travelled on an Asia NZ grant into Southern China resulting in a series of works on canvas and antique screens, informed by her sketches and “sketchy” photographs of the Karst mountain ranges that line the banks of the Li River and reflected on it’s surface. Creating in her work an atmosphere which is deeply still and contemplative; Leenards responded more bodily to her experience “I was actually floating on the water” and her works evoke the sense of gliding along a river, and in particular her experience of sailing along the River Li, often referred to in poetry as ‘the blue ribbon’ and it is this very personal experience that the artist has aimed to replicate in Following the Blue Ribbon: Journeys on the River Li.