Phyllis Mabel Underdown

Date of birth
Date of death
04 Aug 2022
Phyllis Underdown was an indomitable leader in the arts in Gisborne and had a great impact on many people across the community.

As a young woman, Underdown studied the history of art, anatomy, linear perspective and observation drawing at Wellington Technical College Art School, and Wellington Teacher's College, specialising in Art. She came to Gisborne in 1954 where she continued her daily habit of observational drawing and watercolour painting.

After joining the Gisborne Artists’ Society Underdown exhibited in their twice-yearly shows. In 1976 she was a founding member of the Gisborne Printmaking Group and about a decade later was one of the founding members of The Flying Moas. Underdown also ran an art group under the banner University of the Third Age (U3A) at Lysnar House.

In the 1980s Underdown taught Art and Art History at Gisborne Girls' High School, and became the Head of the Art Department.

In 2009 Phyllis was recognised as a life member of Tairāwhiti Museum for her significant contribution to the arts in Gisborne as an artist, teacher and advocate.

In 2019 Tairawhiti Museum hosted 'Phyllis Underdown - Retrospective', (16/02/2019 - 28/03/2019) with Underdown in attendance. She wrote, ‘I have enjoyed drawing and painting since my childhood in Wellington, but this exhibition is of works that I have completed since my arrival in Gisborne in 1954. In that time, many have been sold, given away or destroyed. So here I am showing paintings and etchings I still own and a handful owned by family and friends. The paintings are a statement of self and environment, who I am and where I am, things I know and things I love. From the rolling hills that surround us here in Gisborne to the nearby road to Sponge Bay and waters of our bays. I paint my garden and inside my house, but closer still I paint my family and friends.’

Tairāwhiti Museum holds a number of works by Underdown in the Permanent Collection.


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