What has inspired you most for your latest collection of ‘word’ paintings?
This exhibition is so much more than my “word” paintings… This collection of work was inspired by my life, as my work always is. My work is very personal in nature, and in some ways this exhibition is a self-portrait in 3D. There’s words I wrote about a beautiful afternoon with a lover, etched into a board painted with a delicate layer of white and it’s just very gentle. Another large work was inspired by my son, who has been the centre of my world since he was born but as a teenager is now starting on his own road. With this show, I talk about grief and loss but also how, in counterpoint, life is full of beautiful moments too.
Why have you chosen to exhibit this latest collection in your home?
I make work which is personal, emotional, completely connected to the life I life and the feelings I feel. I wanted to make a show in which those personal emotive qualities are amplified by being seen in the context of my own home. Traditionally art is seen in galleries, where the artwork stands on it’s own, away from the life of the artist who made it. I wanted to do the opposite. In this increasingly digital world we live in, I wanted people to have an almost immersive experience. You get to walk into my bedroom, see the dishes on the sink in the kitchen, sit on my green velvet couch while you look at a photograph I made of my shadow falling on gravel. It’s a wider, deeper experience. And what I”ve really noticed as people come through the exhibition is that people are moved by it. They connect to the artwork on it’s own terms, connect to the feelings I talk about in the work, and also connect to me. I’ve had some amazing conversations with strangers, where they talk to me about their own lives and loves and sadness, in response to seeing mine.
How is this different from anything you have done in the past?
This exhibition is me really feeling confident with myself as an artist. After nearly 30 years of working as an artist, across different mediums, it’s like with this show, I’ve come back to working in all of them: photographs, self-portraiture, words, painting, drawing. I feel really proud about the breadth of the artwork. The other thing I’m loving is talking with people about the show via Skype/facetime. It is such fun to talk with someone who has connected with me via social media and lives in Auckland or Levin or wherever, and is interested in the work, and I can answer questions of them one on one. It’s of course really different to the in-real-life experience but there’s the real human connection of us talking, which is great.
Some would say you are a poet besides being an artist. How do you identify with this?
It’s lovely when people recognise the strength of the words and call me a poet. Back in the day, I did Bill Manhire’s Creative Writing Course at Victoria University, Wellington, and got some poetry and short-stories published in the literary journal Sport. In terms of words, I began as a “poet’. Sixteen years old, writing terrible long poems about death and ravens and tombstones, none of which I knew anything about. I guess for me, a poet is someone who works with words alone. With the sound and meaning. And yes I do that for sure. I walk on a nearly deserted road almost every day and I often say the words in my work over and over again outloud while I’m walking, in order to hear if the rythym’s right. The birds flying past offer their opinion, and I changed the words in response :-). I wouldn’t call myself a poet, because I”m working with more than that sound and meaning of the words I use, I’m working with working the the shape of words, the shape of them visually creating an emotional landscape. The way the words look cannot be separated for me from the sound. But there’s definitely poetry in my work.
How would you describe your work, and yourself?
People often describe my work as raw, and honest. I like that description. I’ve spent decades now peeling back the layers, in myself and in my artwork, trying to be true.
How does it make you feel expressing yourself so honestly? You must get a lot of feedback from people who have bought your work about this your honest expressions in turn affecting them too.
I’m very lucky in that I get a lot of feedback from people, telling me how my work has affected them in one way or another. I genuinely delight in that. I love having direct connection with the people who are interested in my work, which is why I’m so active on social, and why I make exhibitions outside of the traditional white-gallery setting where the artist is removed from the people who see their work.
People connect with my work because it’s always emotional and us human beings, we all have the same experiences. The most intense things we feel in this life feel so specific to us, but are damn near universal. We all fall in love, lose what we love, go towards what we love. It’s just that most people don’t express it so openly.
I remember standing in front of a Seraphine Pick painting at the City Gallery in Wellington, tears rolling down my cheeks because the painting touched me so. This is what I hope for, to make people feel something. And if I can make myself vulnerable, make work which talks about grief and pain and beauty and love, sometimes all in the same work, it kinda gives other people permission to do the same. So many of us spend our time numbing ourselves, for fear of feeling. But feeling is the most important thing in the world; it’s where all the joy comes from.
Being open makes me feel strong because I am saying here I am, this is me. If you can say who you are in the most open way, it is remarkable how comfortable it makes you with yourself.
Have you already begun thinking about a new collection, if so, is there anything you can tell us about this?
I’d love to do a similar exhibition but instead of in my home, in another environment. Maybe take over a shopfront in Auckland or Wellington or Christchurch for a month… Almost like creating a set. That’s the next step for me, stepping away from my own home and into the wide world.