New Work: ‘Tactician’

The human psyche presents an endlessly fascinating landscape. Those who know my work well know this is my favourite conceptual fodder.

I always appreciate that viewers have their own experiences with my work and I never want my original conceptual intent to distract from that. If what you see speaks to you uniquely, that’s a pretty cool bonus for me as an artist. That said, the conceptual development side of my work is one of my greatest loves. So for those who enjoy digging into what makes an artist tick, read on for a little insight into ‘Tactician’ and her symbolic devices. If you’d like to skip to the work-in-progress gallery click here to jump further down the page.

I have always had a compelling (and perhaps a little masochistic) penchant for psychological self-examination. I grew up in the relative isolation of the New Zealand hill country, learning to be comfortable in my own company from a very young age. My imagination was my most faithful companion. I grew fascinated with the ‘why’ of my thoughts and feelings about things – my sense of self, the ways we communicate, my body and the thing that was ‘me’ that felt apart from it, how my actions and I fit into this whole time, space, consciousness and matter Rubix cube.

How does this relate to ‘Tactician’?

I love exploring, and poking holes in, the elaborate psychological constructs we all forge during our lives to help us feel safe and in control of mutable circumstance. We all grasp for control through creatively crafted, often subconscious, protection mechanisms and habits. Yet as clever as the human psyche is, all these strategies have one commonality: they are illusory and ultimately fallible. The illusion of being in control is exactly that. A realisation that’s simultaneously confronting and profoundly freeing.

All we truly control are our choices, their consideration and timing, the courage it often takes to make them and our willingness to adapt and learn from them. This is ‘Tactician’.

‘Tactician’ 2021, oil on aluminium (76x72cm) by Lix North


  • CANARIES – My signature feathered friends make their appearance again, but in a way that labours the complex duality of fragility and freedom perhaps more than usual. ‘Tactician’ wears one caged canary totem as a symbol of my struggle with physical fragility and its impact on my perception of self. While the other, fully-fledged and in flight, manifests as free, strong and capable of decisive action in difficult circumstances. 
  • MONOCULAR – As always, a device of vision and perspective. We all have unique lenses through which we each see the world. These lenses are often subconsciously coloured by personal experience. We can learn to discern, swap and layer these ways of seeing the world, empowering us with the insight to communicate and act from a more considered and compassionate perspective.
  • STORM IN A TEACUP – relatively self-explanatory. Even small challenges in life can elicit a disproportionate reaction in the shadow of past experience. It takes a conscious choice to reframe, shift lenses and see unreasonably difficult choices, and the ‘baggage’ they harbour, as they truly are. 
  • SLOOP – The boat adds relatable immediacy and focus to the peril of the storm. It also holds some personal significance – more on that here.


Tiny Boats and The Tenacity of Youth...

In another life (my late teens) I was an elite dinghy sailor (in Starling, Laser Radial and Laser II classes) and training with Yachting NZ as a tactician in preparation for the ISAF Youth World Sailing Championships. Our training program was intense. We logged hundreds of hours on the sea, all year round in all weather. We wrestled with winds that could and did snap masts and swells far deeper than the length of our little timber and fibreglass boats. We ventured out in stormy conditions regularly to run ruthlessly competitive drills with each and every time proving varying degrees of terrifying. Over and over again I willed myself to face intense fear and act decisively to stay alive and succeed. The memory of that fear and my contrary teenage determination to co-exist with it is still vivid 20 years on. Even now, if I walk by a harbour, the ‘tink, tink, tink’ of halyards tapping against aluminium spars in the wind still lifts the hairs on the back of my neck.

I’ve learnt much about myself since then. I still relish a challenge, but my choice of proving grounds is more considered. This vocation is significantly safer (if I avoid eating too much cadmium red), but I’ll always carry with me what it felt like to go head to head with such an awesome force of nature, to feel at once as insignificant as a tiny insect to a descending boot and as tall as the towering waves around me. Not every storm life throws at us is as perilous as an angry ocean, but it can often feel that way. Strength of will can facilitate revolutionary things if we’re motivated to dig deep enough to find it. Self-belief gives us the capacity to adapt in the most challenging of situations. But sailors and artists alike know that when self-belief feels hard to come by, a little fake it ’til you make it can work wonders.


Lix North, 17, 1996 Starling National Championships, KYC, Auckland, NZ


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