The Nevis Valley

It’s great to be in the Nevis valley and right up to the top. it is the highest public road in Aotearoa and it is amazing!

The road is only open between September and June and you can’t get there at all in the winter months. The amazing rock forms are shaped by the wind and there are 360 degree views of Central Otago.

Thank you to Mark for taking me in with your posh truck and Kay for the super kai.   We sat around and let the landscape in…….

‘Songs of the Land’

New Zealand music month celebrates New Zealand music and the people who make it.

In tune with the month of New Zealand music I chose to share in this celebration with my exhibition ‘Songs of the Land’. This was at Gallery De Novo, Dunedin in May and at Eastern Southland Gallery in Gore in August.

As an ‘en plein air’ painter I spend many hours in the wilds of Aotearoa and have had the opportunity to observe both the obvious and more subtle sounds of the land, and the creatures who inhabit these places.

I chose to use guitars as my canvas, recognising and honouring their ubiquitous nature in New Zealand music – their portability and adaptability. I also wanted to go underneath into the hidden space of the instrument and use that inner more secret space to reflect the quiet watchfulness and often indifference to us, of much of the natural world and her wild creatures.

This transformation of the guitar into a light mimics the light thrown on these songs of the land. The Kakapo booming for a partner; the lone Ti Kouka clapped by its mates; the gargantuan inhabitants of the deep, the whales and their secret communications; the flight of the bumblebee, so wild and erratic to us watching. And all the time the Toroa / Albatross continues to depart on huge voyages out to sea and then back home, repeating the rhythms and creating patterns over and over again.

They all ask us to listen more closely and carefully to the rhythms and patterns of the earth. This earth itself that makes its own music, its own hum, a constant pulsing note inaudible to the human ear.

Artists in Residence; Artworks from Room 13, Bathgate Park School, Otepoti Dunedin

This exhibition, curated by Victoria Bell from the Dunedin School of Art and myself, is a culmination of a long tradition of art making at 213 Macandrew Road, the present day site of Bathgate Park School. There are many people who have fueled this tradition over the years.

Art teachers – Lesley Hirst, Pamela Brown, Andrea Evans McCall, Nancy Kaye – to name a few, there were many others. Room 13 with its vision of creativity in a child centred studio was a natural extension of this long tradition. Worldwide each Room 13 studio has its own unique way of doing things and Room 13 at Bathgate Park is no different.

The work we do reflects the make up of the school, our culture and vision. For example these wall hangings are made up of pieces worked by individual children who then come together and use these individual works to make a whole work which is not only a stunning finished art work but also stands as a symbol of the ethos of the school – the spirit of cooperation, collaboration and aroha.

Similarly the grater pictures show the confidence the young artists have to follow their own vision. They all started with a grater but then followed their own imaginations..from the macabre to the gentlest grating of carrot for a waiting bird.

The works on display here are a mere fraction of the works that have been made and in doing so Bathgate Park has won many competitions and awards.

In my time as a working community artist I have worked in thousands of schools all over the world. When finishing a project it usually ends with the children being very disappointed that the project has finished because you leave and go somewhere else. But here at Bathgate Park school we are able to bypass those feelings by having a continuous art project.

This continuity not only grows skills and imagination but also aspirations and confidence in being creative so the children see the possibilities of a future pathway in the creative arts and the need to further their art education in places such as the Dunedin School of Art.

Photos by Pam McKinlay

Nanofest Code VR Artists’ Stage

The New Zealand International Science Festival Nanofest ran from 14 – 17 July 2022 in Dunedin.

The VR Artists’ stage was in the Meridian Mall.

As an artist I am not afraid to try new things, even if it means I’m on public display in the Meridian Mall not really knowing what I’m doing!!

But I really couldn’t get enough of it – it was fun!

Rita Angus: New Zealand Modernist Exhibition Workshops

Check out the fabulous artwork from some children’s workshops held at the East Gore Art Centre a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of Creative NZ. Two groups of students from St Marys and West Gore School worked with me and fellow artist Jacqui Byars making self portraits in a landscape. The works were based on the paintings of Rita Angus currently showing at the Eastern Southland Gallery. Their creations are on display in the window of the Maruawai Centre opposite the Gallery. Exhibition courtesy of Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand.

Dutch Diaspora

The Embassy of the Netherlands in New Zealand has been publishing on their facebook page a series celebrating the local Dutch diaspora as part of a diverse Aotearoa/ New Zealand. This is the story of my family.

Gerrit Sijtze de Wagt

Our New Zealand connection begins with Gerry / Gerrit/ Heit / Dad. He was born in Langezwaad, Friesland on 7 February 1930, the eldest of six children. His first job was hand milking cows but he wanted more and successfully volunteered for the army and went to Netherlands Nieuw Guinea for four years. He loved his time there! At the end of his army service the Netherlands gave him a lump sum and paid for him to go to New Zealand. He arrived in Christchurch on 13 May 1952. In the ensuing years he married his kiwi wife, our mother Mary, and worked in many different jobs. Farm work in Springston, Montalto, Coopers Creek, Oxford and View Hill and for the Ministry of Works doing maintenance on the Rangitata irrigation system. He finally found his niche working for the Prison Service which offered him security, housing and promotion. He was well respected in his job by both staff and prisoners and Heit worked there for the next 31 years. Heit travelled back to the Netherlands seven times and always retained his Friesland ways – hard work and love of the land.

Ode to Heit

A new arrival in New Zealand with a bag and not much English,

A fine drinker of Dutch gin and a lover of Agria and Van Rosa potatoes,

A life member of the Oxford Working Men’s Club and a champion dart player,

A royalist who met the King and Queen of the Netherlands in NZ and made the Dutch news,

A lifelong letter writer to Niesja, his sister and a talker on the phone to his brother in Friesland.

A champion budgie and canary breeder,

An avid reader,

A proud family man,

A Dutch biker, biking to the prison, Cindy his dog waiting for his return,

A clog wearing gardener,

A tea at 5 o’clock kind of guy – the Dutch clock strikes,

A coffee at 10am with a Dutch biscuit,

A man who walked many miles and a planter of many trees,

A long legged man never comfortable in a car or a plane,

A creator of our link to the Netherlands and loved by all the Dutch cousins,

That’s our Gerry, Gerrit, Dad, Heit, Pakke, Clogs, the old bugger,

A man of few words but when he spoke he was worth listening to.

Janet de Wagt

I’m the second eldest in a family of six, born in Ashburton in 1957 and educated at Springston and Templeton Primary schools and Riccarton High school in Christchurch. I then studied Graphic Design at Christchurch Technical Institute and my first job was as a photographer at the Correspondence Institute in Lower Hutt, the starting point for a lifetime’s work in the Arts.

I grew up with the Dutch family on the sideboard, always aware of another world and way of being and as soon as I could I set off to explore the world and meet my Dutch relatives. I felt at home with my fellow long legged cousins and was lucky enough to meet my Dutch grandfather who smoked cigars and consumed gin and spoke very little English. I ended up living and working overseas for 25 years and continued my art practice and have been a self supporting working artist all my life.

I am an award winning artist well known for my landscape paintings, painted on location in all weathers and conditions. My passion is creativity and I am committed to empowering people to find and develop their own. I have worked with thousands of groups of people in many different countries on both large scale and small projects over my working life. I take a broad sweep of the arts, and am always interested in new ideas and challenges and different ways of working.

My latest exhibition ‘Fishy Fakes’ combines my collection of Old Masters’ prints and my passion for painting the South Island coastline and land ‘en plein air’. It also combines Wild Dunedin – New Zealand Festival of Nature and Dutch Week – a Celebration.

The old Masters are concerned with the now and the before, and by reworking them in the Aotearoa New Zealand landscape of today, I have combined these meanings like an exclamation mark highlighting the increasingly complex relationships between the oceans, the land, wildlife and us.

This reworking allows me to use what we already know about these paintings to add another layer of meaning to conservation issues in Te Waipounamu/ the South Island.

I look at this series of works and think of now and before, seeing my ancestors and forbears, even cousins, in the old Dutch paintings and ponder the cultural context that my father embodied when he emigrated to New Zealand.

Fishy Fakes’ – Janet de Wagt

23 April – 5 May 2022

Gallery De Novo, 110 Lower Stuart Street, Dunedin 9016

‘You, Me and the Sea’

I have been working with over 20 schools in Southland, from Tuatapere to Tokanui and from Te Anau to Hillside school and everywhere in between!

We have been thinking about our relationships with the sea and using discarded plastic to recreate the beautiful life in our oceans.

These 3 dimensional creations have then formed an underwater installation at Invercargill’s ‘He Waka Tuia’ – Art + Museum, 42 Kelvin Street, standing along side  my ‘Coastal Murihiku’ paintings.  They are on display until 18 July, 2021.

This link will take you to a short video of the students’ amazing works.             You Me and the Sea

‘Art in Nature’ 7 x 7 Wild Dunedin 22 April 2021

Seven artists were asked to speak for 7 minutes on this topic – it was a great evening!  This was my 7 minutes.

I’d like to share with you some of the realities of painting on location out in nature – en plein air for you poshies…

One of the shapes I paint is the long skinny which leads me to one of my favourite tools of the trade – an idea borrowed from my dear friend Pamela Brown.

The ironing board – it  doesn’t blow away, it’s sturdy and resilient – qualities necessary for painting in nature

If I’m painting in another part of the country I can just go to an op shop and buy another

It certainly attracts comments …overheard at Karitane a child asking her parents ‘ What’s that lady doing ironing on the beach?’

I try to anticipate the weather…..this canvas is tied to the rock.  When I am painting in one spot all day people come up and comment….. Typically I am asked one of these 3 questions:

Do you do this for a hobby? (they don’t think much of your work)

Are you a student? (well the work isn’t too bad but you are obviously still learning)

Do you exhibit or sell your paintings? (think your work is pretty good)

I am at the Blue Lake in St Bathans, Central Otago.  Setting up to paint takes time and the hot day demanded the awning.  Ominously soon after set up I was asked by a couple of people is this where the wedding is?  I assured them it was not here and began painting – the reflections were perfect.   Boy racers on jetskis arrived – reflections were gone, peace was destroyed by the noisy racket and mutterings of sand in petrol tanks were heard.  Then I was asked to move as there WAS a wedding here at 2pm!

Wind is an ever present reality and I have learned to just go with it and not fight it.  This is at Orepuki in Southland and as I paint I wonder who planted these trees and do they have a protection order?

I often paint down forestry tracks where there may be shooters/ hunterkillers about and my brother advised me to wear blue as it is a colour unusual in the bush.  I also have the national programme blaring on my car radio!

Another weather hazard is painting in the freezing cold.  My advice is to stand on a mat, wear good shoes, wear latex gloves inside your wool ones so your hands don’t get wet.  Work fast and jump in the car with the heater running frozen painting in hand, to thaw out both.

Getting the works back…..not always an easy process.  I have discovered that I can paint in the rain for half an hour before the paint slides off the canvas.  This is leaving Dog Island.

I have been very fortunate to combine my community arts work with painting on location and have met some amazing people who have shown me their local sights.

The Mataura River Project was a community arts project where I worked in 25 schools with thousands of children and 600 sculptures celebrating their connection to this mighty river were made and exhibited at Mandeville, Southland Museum and Art Gallery and Bowen House in Wellington.  The materials used were all being repurposed, recycled or their trip to the dump at least slowed down.

My Piece of Nature was another community art project I undertook with the Department of Conservation and the many groups, schools and individuals who participated in these workshops used art to express their relationship with nature.

The windswept trees and the Cosy Nook paintings will be exhibited in the ‘Coastal Murihiku’ exhibition at He Waka Tuia in Invercargill.  It opens on 28 May and runs until 8 July.  This runs concurrently with the community arts project “You Me and the Sea’ which involves many young Southlanders creating work for this installation at He Waka Tuia.

I hope I have given you some insight into the realities of painting on location, Every one of my paintings are done on site.

I feel humbled and privileged to think people have bought my paintings and have them in their lounges – even if they don’t match the curtains.

Mabgate Mural

I have recently returned from a research and development trip to Leeds in England, kindly funded by the Jan Warburton Arts Trust.  The purpose of the trip was to meet up with the original group I worked with on this Mabgate mural and also to meet with other people who are interested in its restoration 32 years later.

Early in my career as a community artist working in Britain I worked on this mural with the local high school’s students..

The students researched local stories of West Indians in Leeds but information proved difficult to find so the design figured the students themselves. The windows became a kind of timeline showing different periods and figure the student’s portraits documenting the arrival of West Indians in Leeds and the various work they and others undertook to make a living in this area. The students took a lot of ownership of the mural and this pride and recognition of its importance has continued to the present day.

After 32 years it is showing signs of wear and tear and there has been a push from the community to restore the mural. The original people involved are keen to be re involved and have expressed a strong desire for the imagery to remain the same. These students are now parents and have careers and families of their own. As well the Mabgate area has become a unique and increasingly significant cultural quarter because of its close proximity to Leeds’ city centre and its eclectic mix of historic industrial buildings. These attributes have made it highly attractive to young artists and creative businesses, many of whom have established studios and workshops in the area. Restoration of the mural has prompted interest from the Leeds Civic Trust and other local arts agencies.

In terms of my career this has been an interesting opportunity to revisit an early work and to reconnect with a community I was deeply involved with during the duration of this project. As well it has been rewarding to recognise the deep and enduring power of community arts and also to reflect on the journey of developing a career that has sustained my working life. My experience as a young community artist in Northern England laid the groundwork – you could say I completed my apprenticeship there – for my continued career as an artist community artist in New Zealand. It gave me confidence and taught me perseverance through times when the value of community arts was not always seen. Its a story of a full circle – one could say not often experienced in life.

Suffrage 125 Banners Opening – Old Government Building, Wellington

These were my words on the day…

‘Thank you all for coming to the opening of the exhibition of the National Banner project that celebrates 125 years of women’s suffrage in New Zealand Aotearoa.

Within an organisation it usually takes one person who gets what you are on about – a special thank you to Rosemary Baird from Heritage New Zealand for making this project happen and to Pam Bain for her continued support and to Mary Southerwood who spent hours tying up threads. Thanks also to Creative New Zealand for a bit of dosh.

This partnership project between Heritage New Zealand and me, stretched geographically from Northland to Southland, from Rawene to Gore.

It also stretched back in time, reaching back into the stories of the past, of early interaction between Maori and the early settlers, of the challenges and hardships of those times, and the amazing individuals and groups who fought so hard for women’s suffrage. It also heard the stories of women and girls of today who came to honour those women who had and have made a difference in their lives.

All of these remarkable and amazing stories and rememberings of the past, were carried out within the walls of significant heritage buildings that have themselves stood witness to the transforming of the lives of those who have lived and worked in them. Many of the participants commented on the energy of the past they felt as they worked away on their contribution.

It was a privilege for me to be part of this wonderful journey celebrating the story of the fight for women to be able to vote. Hundreds of women have contributed to this project, mostly in person at a workshop, but many are also represented on the banner in the use of beautiful crafts from the past..

The original petition, 274 metres long and weighing 7 kilos, was assembled together on Kate Sheppard’s kitchen table. The banners of this suffrage 125 project were assembled on many other historical tables – from the cabinet room table to a Temperance supper table. The final assembling of these banners was done on my kitchen table – temperance of course… The continuing story of women’s creativity.

Kate Sheppard famously said:

Do not think your single vote does not matter much. The rain that refreshes the parched ground is made up of single drops.’

For me this quote sums up this Suffrage 125 project – women and girls and other supporters from all walks of life have created and added their individual stories to the collective whole, that’s what these finished banners are about.

Photo Credits:  
Simon Hoyle & Janet de Wagt