Judith Cordeaux was born in Sydney, Australia, but left to travel abroad in 1962. New Zealand was her first stop, and the beautiful garden city of Christchurch in the South Island claimed her heart. More than 50 years on, New Zealand is still home, despite extensive travel in Europe, return trips to Australia, and – recently – a period in New York. Since 2014, Cordeaux has lived in Timaru, after spending three artistically-productive years in a small rural community on Banks Peninsula. She works from her studio at home.
Although interested in art since early school days, Cordeaux trained as a violinist, studying at the Sydney Conservatorium and later privately in Christchurch. She achieved a Fellowship in Performance (Violin) from the Trinity College of Music. However, she says, “playing the works of others did not satisfy the need to express my reactions to life”.
Studying at the School of Fine Arts, University of Canterbury, Cordeaux “discovered a medium of communication through painting” that met this need. Nevertheless, she has also explored other media, in particular wool in the form of knitted hangings.
The period 1982-1991 was a productive one for Cordeaux with solo exhibitions and group shows in Lyttelton, Christchurch and Wellington. During this time she became an Artist Member of the Canterbury Society of Arts (now CoCA/Centre of Contemporary Art). Her works in various media (wool, gouache, acrylic and oils) were accepted for award exhibitions at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington. Cordeaux also illustrated a children’s book, For Sale, using coloured paper cut-outs, a technique inspired by the late work of Matisse.
For some years afterwards, Cordeaux’s creative energies were largely taken up in raising and home-educating her musically-gifted daughter Alys. In 2010 Cordeaux returned to painting.
Throughout, Judith Cordeaux’s richly-colourful work has been inspired by “the directness of children’s art” and by the many challenges that women confront and overcome.
Artists who have particularly influenced and inspired her include:
Frances Hodgkins (1869-1947), New Zealand artist. I admire the dedication of this woman to her art. She was such an individual and her works were not accepted in conservative New Zealand - even years after she died they were controversial. But she had kept on going. You learn from that.
Doris Lusk (1916-1990), New Zealand artist and art teacher, pioneer studio potter, lecturer/tutor at the School of Fine Arts, University of Canterbury. Doris taught me about the importance of picking the right medium to express your subject matter. For example, you wouldn’t depict a prickly thistle using soft watercolours. You’d choose something like black Indian ink and pen.
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), American artist. I’ve always loved her use of colour and her individuality. And the way she painted small things larger than life and made us really look at the simplest object. I was privileged to see originals of some of her best paintings during a recent visit to New York – what a thrill.
Sir Mountford Tosswill "Toss" Woollaston(1910–1998), New Zealand artist. Some of my tutors at art school rubbished this man, saying that he ‘only painted mud’. I became curious about him and later bought every publication I could find as well as going to galleries to see what all the fuss was about. What I learned from this study was how to fill every painting with life – nothing in nature is static. And the so-called “mud” was actually the way the landscape looks in parts of New Zealand especially when the light is lacking or dull. But the forms of the land are very much alive, reflecting its violent seismic birth and growth - something of which I am now very aware.
Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980), Austrian artist. I recently discovered Kokoschka while visiting galleries in New York. The way he captured the personalities of his subjects, as well as achieving a physical likeness - that has been an insight into what life drawing is really all about. In a short burst of time you have to deduce things by really observing and thinking. And his painting and drawing styles resonate with my own expressionist approach.