10 Years of Taranaki Art

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Comforting and serene, provoking and sensual or edgy and disquieting, Michelle Robinson samples the goods ahead of the 10th annual Taranaki Arts Trail. 

This year’s lineup of 115 diverse Taranaki artists offers an experience to invoke the senses, calm the soul and make you think.  

From smooth stone sculptures to roughly textured paintings, heritage pictures and modernist fine art cleverly crafted from odds and ends, visitors will be treated to art that is locally inspired and internationally renowned. 

Here’s a peek of what’s in store during a great couple of weekends tiki touring and exploring our region’s unique culture under the maunga. 

Artist Amanda Hewlett is enjoying seeing the arts trail grow from when she started it with friends in 2014 and is delighted to be part of it again in its 10th year in 2023.   

Working from her studio at home, the trail provides the opportunity to discuss ideas and the processes used, and she sees it is a unique opportunity for both the artist and the visitor.

Amanda’s techniques include the use of multiple fine translucent layers of paint, creating works that have a deep depth of colour but “unfortunately do not photograph well”. So a studio visit is a great opportunity to see the works as they are. 

It is an interest in history that has shaped her art works. “As a nation, our cultural identity is evolving. Our feet walk where others’ feet have walked, and other people will walk where we have walked.” 

Earlier paintings examine the interaction between tangata whenua and the European settlers. Examples of objects used to describe change in culture and generational understanding, are the 1800s surveyors’ chain and an imperial ruler.

Inspiration comes in many forms, including early 20th century poet, James K Baxter, colonial artist Charles Heaphy, the words of Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke, and more recently the sculpture on the foreshore by Howard Tuffery. Where the reflections provided the solution to the artist’s challenge of how to portray the concept of memory and the many different perspectives of an event that can be held. 

It was while researching for a commission, that Amanda spent time at Tapuae. In remembering who had lived there, led to thinking about the first step a person takes when stepping onto a new land, the result was a work titled Transition.

 “There’s a spiritual connection when you step onto the land for the first time, I wanted to record that.” 

Cultural identity is the inspiration for wood carver and sculptor Claire Jensen, in the form of nature. 

A Kiwi girl who spent the bulk of her life growing up in Queensland, Claire has found it refreshing to be reunited with her homeland. “The wildlife is more subdued which suits my style. In Australia the animals are squawky, biting and poisonous.” 

Aotearoa wildlife is the essence of Claire’s fine art, with large scale replica bird feathers and leaves carved from salvaged native timbers such as rimu, matai and miro. Claire often finishes these pieces with iridescent colour or metal leaf gilding. 

“I primarily like to use materials I find in the community or what people donate. I’m not just making art for art’s sake, I’m repurposing materials. My husband, who is a builder, has been my enabler by bringing home materials too good to go to landfill.”

Claire has made a fulltime occupation of her art, commandeering the family double garage and sleepout into a studio space.

Fine art galleries stock her New Zealand themed sculptures and she markets her pieces online, with popular works selling out. A 1.2 metre huia feather she created adorns the entryway of the New Zealand Teachers Council headquarters in Wellington. Her work’s been picked up by a gallery in Parnell, and she has steel garden art pieces to be featured in the Kaipara Plant Centre Sculpture Garden. “I’m just about where I want to be.”

Claire’s also planning on donating a kakapo feather sculpture to the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital for a fundraising auction and would like to do more work for causes like this. 

She’s working with wood now and before that was repurposing plastic for practical pieces like lamps and would like to try her hand at metal next. “I use whatever I have in my vortex, depending on my tools and skills. 

“I have lots of lovely carving chisels, sharp knives and hand tools,” she says. “I like manipulating materials with tools. I’m a practical person.” 

Based in Opunake, Claire encourages visitors to the art trail to linger and peruse the other local galleries, cinema and theatre while in town. “We have our own little arts trail in Opunake.” 

One sculpture that visitors to the Coastal Walkway Foreshore will be well familiar with, is ‘Mothers and Daughters’ at the top of the walkway.  

The creator of the ‘Sensuality in Stone’ artworks, Renate Verbrugge will be showcasing her smaller “voluptuous, quirky, fun girls in stone” at her Hillsborough studio. 

The Belgian artist has featured in symposiums the world over but her Smart Road home studio can’t be beat. “The riverside piece of paradise is the perfect place for me to create. 

“But when I put on my dust mask and goggles and start working on the stone, the surroundings disappear as if I was in a creative bubble.” 

Waiwhakaiho is where she calls home, but Renate travels four to five months of the year to anywhere from India, Italy, Norway or Azerbaijan where she works with a variety of stone. 

She sculpts anything from behemoth geometric shapes to ‘cuddly’ versions of the female form which encourages people to touch. “Sculpture is seen with the eye but is given an extra dimension when people can run their hands over the smooth stone. 

“I have had visually impaired visitors in my studio who were quite emotional when they could discover my work with their hands, their only way to discover visual art.” 

There is not necessarily a message in her art, except to make people smile and connect with their inner child, she says. 

“Mothers and Daughters ” on the New Plymouth foreshore has become a favourite place to take photos from the day it was installed. Of course, there are also negative reactions from people who get offended by the female nude. 

“My ‘girls’ are sensual, but never erotic, which is a big difference.  The female form is stylised to the point it is still recognisable but not realistic.” 

A keen painter at school, Tony Brooks’ artistic side had to wait patiently while he worked to “pay the mortgage, build the business and raise a family.” 

“There wasn’t much space for painting,” hesays. 

That all changed when he took a short walk to an art class at the East End Surf Club one summer afternoon. That was in February 2020, just before the first nationwide lockdown at the height of the covid-19 pandemic. Tony picked up at home where the introductory course had left off, googling techniques and watching YouTube tutorials. 

He quickly moved from graphite sketches, watercolours and acrylics to discover a passion for oils. Contrary to popular belief, oils are not an upgrade from acrylic paints, they each play a role in fine art. Acrylic dries faster, whereas the wet quality of oils makes them easier for blending skin tones, Tony explains. “Oils are more user-friendly. If you make a mistake, you can wipe it off or move the paint around the next day.

“But I don’t think you can afford to be too timid when you’re painting, it might look weird when you’re putting it down.

“The key to most things is to know how light works. If you have a red object on the ground, it will be reflected in the sky, it’s really quite complex.”

The use of light to create contrast and shadows brings a realistic effect to Tony’s paintings, which include landscapes, waves and portraits. Having just one or two focal points for contrast of light and breaking an image down into large shapes and then smaller shapes, helps create a realistic looking image, he says. 

“Tonal values are more important than colour. How dark or light something is compared to what it’s next to. 

“I’ve seen some outrageous colour portraits that have the right tone, so it looks like a face bathed in red or orange light.” 

“I love the meditative solitude of working with clay, the energy of colour and  the feel of a brush in my hand.”

Anthea Stayt has excelled in the creation of ceramic art, clay form sculptures and abstract oil painting. She has progressively developed her unique and distinctive style which has led to her work receiving several awards and her selection into national juried exhibitions.

Anthea’s work is hand built either by using the coiling method for the large pots and busts or by sculpting slab rolled clay to produce the unusually shaped bowls. This gives every piece an original and deliberate asymmetrical form that is ready to be fired in a kiln to vitrify the clay. 

Having a background of ceramic decorating and wanting to have a point of difference, Anthea envisaged painting the items in an abstract manner. She was fortunate to attend a workshop with international artist Vjekoslav Nemesh who taught her his technique using oil paint. She was then able to transfer this skill from canvas to clay.

Anthea creates spontaneous patterns of shape and movement across the surface through brushing, blending and manipulating the layers of paint. This results in a harmonious balance of colour, contrast and depth with an almost luminescent quality. It also brings an unexpected and intriguing dimension that challenges traditional pottery decoration.This method is also used as a background on the mixed media wall hangings and canvases that are included in her practice.

Anthea works from her home based studio in Bell Block and welcomes visitors during the Arts Trail as well as other times throughout the year.

The Taranaki Arts Trail runs during two weekends from 27th – 29th October and 3rd – 5th November.  

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