Monday 30 July 2012

Two Sunflowers and a Rainbow, Watching TV Together Outside

Auckland Art Gallery staff member and artist Vivien Masters discusses her latest project, making art with critically ill children in a New York Hospital

It’s 38 degrees outside, the sun is beating down, and I’m covered in paint. I write to you from New York, where I’m collaborating with a Hospital in Brooklyn for a special art project. Earlier this year I founded the Dreamscape Project, a non-profit collaborative art project that engages critically ill and disabled young people in art. The project has brought me to NY for June and July of 2012, to create art with paediatric patients at Brookdale Hospital.

Together with Brookdale’s Child Life Department I’m creating three large-scale artworks with the children, all of which will be donated to Brookdale Hospital upon completion. Two of the works will be auctioned off, with 100% of the proceeds going towards the Child Life Dpt. of the Hospital, who survive on grants.

One of the Brookdale artworks, before the children started painting! Waterproof ink on canvas.
Detail of the squirrel Doctors and patients in the 'Tree Hospital'
To create the three artworks I took a collaborative approach. Earlier in the year I asked Child Life Specialist Janis Atty to start gathering ideas from her patients. What would they like to see in the artworks? Suggestions flooded in, some sweet, some funny, some bizarre. ‘Balloons’, ‘a princess’, ‘a tiger that thinks it’s a dog and barks at cats’, ‘no clowns’, ‘a dragon’ and my favourite: ‘two sunflowers and a rainbow watching TV together outside’. I collected their ideas and transformed them into three large-scale ink drawings on canvas. I’m now working with the children to paint the works.

The children involved in this project are receiving long-term treatment for life-threatening illnesses. In the context of a Hospital, art-making takes on a new importance. Opportunities for young patients to experiment, play with and manipulate materials are crucial. Art becomes an outlet of expression that aids coping and healing. It can open a unique channel of non-verbal communication in younger patients, who may struggle to verbalise their thoughts and feelings. It lowers stress and anxiety, and can distract from pain. Positive arts experiences have the power to transform the hospital experience for a child, which can be confusing, frightening and lonely.

To raise the funds needed to make this project a success, I turned to crowd-funding website Indiegogo. I would like to thank all of the Gallery staff members who contributed to the project and helped it to not only reach but surpass its funding goal.

In September I’ll return to NZ (and the Gallery!) to continue work on the project with CanTeen and Ronald McDonald House Trust, Auckland. For my collaboration with Ronald McDonald House I’ll be teaming up with the fantabulous Auckland Art Gallery art tutor Andrea Gaskin! Andrea works as an art tutor for the children and their families who stay at Ronald McDonald House, as well as delivering the Gallery’s fabulous art programmes for children.

You can follow my progress on, or check out the Dreamscape Project on Facebook.

The CEO of the Hospital suggested that we move from the playroom, to the lobby of the Hospital. Right by the public front entrance. With children. And paint. I think I got my first grey hair.
The fine art of mixing colours!
12News came in and interviewed us on one of the days we were painting in the lobby! That's me with the amazing Janis Atty, Child Life Specialist at Brookdale :)
Me with the three artworks I made for Brookdale, using ideas from patients!

Friday 27 July 2012

Migration, Diaspora and Trans-experience: Part I

We asked our Gallery guides to respond to the artworks in our current exhibition Home AKL. Our first poster, Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh, is of Iranian/Filipino descent, born in the Philippines and raised in New Zealand. He completed a BFA in 2009 at Elam School of Fine Art, an PGDIP in fine art with distinction at Elam in 2010 and has been a practising artist since. Asdollah-Zadeh's art practice and academic research has mainly focused around diaspora and trans-experience of local and global displaced communities in the Middle East and the West. His website is

Diaspora plays a major role in the history of Pacific contemporary art. Theories of the phrase can be both regional and global in definition. Historically, the term has been used to describe what has happened to the Jewish race for over two millennia. Diaspora is a dislocation and a sense of longing for one’s homeland. The notion can be temporary or permanent and addresses cultural displacement because of migration.  Modern usage of the term diaspora within contemporary art raises questions about the politics of identity, context, place, exile, hybrid cultural memory, and a critical interpretation of the self and other.

This departure from history’s position of diaspora referring only to the past is necessary – the pacific has changed due to globalisation and migration over the last half century so the definition needs to evolve. Melissa Chiu, a director of contemporary art and author of Breakout Chinese Art; Outside China, writes about the term Trans-experience. Trans-experience is a development of the term diaspora.

There is common ground these Pacific artists from Home AKL draw inspiration from – it is a memory of the homeland be it one that affects their past, present or future. The Pacific homeland itself is an evolving influence for these artists rather than a fixed moment when migration occurred.

Trans-experience is strongly evident in the art practice and paintings of John Pule. He was born in Niue, at the age four he moved to New Zealand and only returned to his homeland as a young adult. His paintings create a conversation of how one’s cultural roots, religious communities and childhood upbringing is continuing to influence him now and possibly in his  future, as it did in his migration to New Zealand when he was young. Moreover, it may have been the reason which drew him back to his homeland many decades later. The composition of his painting Motu Keheaga shows many different varying images and subject matters. What ties it all together is how it is all one story of his life. His paintings can be read as a self-reflection, a chronicle of the journey of finding himself and his roots.

John Pule, Motu Keheaga, 1998
oil on unstretched cotton, courtesy of the artist

The voice of Rita Angus

A colleague asked me 'Is there any recording of Rita Angus's voice?'

I had to answer 'No.'

Can anyone describe what her voice sounded like?

I'd like to know.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Jackson Pollock

Have you ever heard Jackson Pollock’s voice or seen him painting?

Hans Namuth and Paul Falkenberg made their film Jackson Pollock in 1951. When Namuth arrived at the artist’s studio he recalled that ‘A dripping wet canvas covered the entire floor. Blinding shafts of sunlight hit the wet canvas, making its surface hard to see. There was complete silence… Pollock looked at the painting. Then unexpectedly, he picked up can and paintbrush and started to move around the canvas. It was as if he suddenly realized the painting was not finished. His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dancelike as he flung black, white and rust-colored paint onto the canvas… He completely forgot that Lee [Krasner] and I were there; he did not seem to hear the click of the camera shutter… My photography session lasted as long as he kept painting, perhaps half an hour. In all that time, Pollock did not stop. How could one keep up this level of activity? Finally, he said “This is it”.’

Here is a short excerpt from Namuth’s and Falkenberg’s fine film where Pollock says ‘I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them. Technique is just a means at arriving at a statement.’

Image of Jackson Pollock courtesy of Jackson Pollock by Evelyn Toynton,Yale University Press, London 2012

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Super Sonic Sour Suck! Pop Art sculpture holiday workshop

We had a great time in the studio during our pop art sculpture workshops! We were exploring the way artists Siliga David Setoga and Claes Oldenburg play with the scale of everyday objects like food.
Claes Oldenburg, Dropped Cone, Installed March 2001, Commissioned by Neumarkt Galerie, Cologne, Germany
Siliga David Setoga, Lolly Lei

Setoga’s giant lolly lei was the starting point for this workshop as the children learned construction techniques to build a giant lolly of their very own. The younger children had a great time inventing new names and flavours for their lolly. The older children enjoyed subverting the common names of lollies and other food items to surprise the viewer, like Leo’s Crunchie bar logo becoming 'Crunchme'.

Here are some images of their fantastic work!

Monday 23 July 2012

Craig Owen

It is no secret that New Zealand has produced some outstanding fashion photographers. One of our finest was the superbly gifted Craig Owen, who passed away some months ago. I knew, as did many others, that his work was on the cusp of further international regard.

Craig’s photography for Vogue, Marie-Claire, Harper's Bazaar, Elle and local titles Black and Fashion Quarterly was exemplary. He had both imagination and tenacity. He also had amazing ideas about how to utilise location. Another of his acute talents that I admired was his ability to create mystique about his subjects.

He talked confidently about fashion photography and I was always impressed with how comprehensive his knowledge was. Lillian Bassman? He knew what her achievement was as a fashion photographer when hardly anyone else did locally . Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn? He knew how she could stand and make herself appear much taller. Craig was a bit of a fashion photography maven.

Fashion Quarterly’s editor Fiona Hawtin knows who’s who in fashion photography and she commented that Craig ‘was one of those rare photographers who was both technically very proficient but also an artist behind the lens – they always make for the best photographers. What I really admired about him was his quiet achievement. He wasn’t one of those gung-ho types with a high opinion of himself – and he was the consummate gentleman.’

Fiona is spot on – Craig got the job done and his photographs show how he was not only an artisan with superb technique, he also had a portrait artist’s eye for his fascinating subjects.

Check out Craig's website. You will see why he was so well regarded.

Craig Owen Karl Urban
I gratefully acknowledge the Craig Owen studio for these images.

Totally Terrific Tees! Screen printing holiday workshop

A group of creative children, guided through an exploration of works by artists that explore pattern, transformed a collection of plain children’s t-shirts into some amazing graphic designs. Parents and educators alike (as well as the rest of the gallery team who were lucky enough to see the tees!) were blown away by the imaginative way the children approached design ideas like repetition and symmetry in their t-shirt designs. Here are some of the results!

Thursday 19 July 2012

Buttons, Beads, Ping Pong balls and Straws! Wearable art from the July School Holiday Workshops

The Gallery educators and I had a great time over the last two weeks working with some very creative children during the July school holiday workshops. Each workshop began with images and discussions around a couple of key concepts that would be the focus of the session’s exploration. We looked at artists from the Gallery's collection who have made works that have investigated similar ideas.

The wearable art workshops focused on the way artists have re-contextualised materials by using something recycled or everyday and presenting it in a new way. The children were immediately interested in this idea and were excited by the freedom it gave them in their making.

Niki Hastings McFall, Too much sushi lei, 2000, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

The works of artists Niki Hastings-McFall and Judy Darragh inspired the children in their use of unusual materials in new and interesting ways. They made thoughtful decisions concerning pattern and symmetry as they explored and experimented with ways of using the wide array of materials available.

Here are some of the results from the 6-8 year olds' workshops!

Here are some of the creations from the 9-12 year olds:

We were all very impressed with their achievements! It was a great sight as the proud children left wearing an array of creative and unusual creations pinned to or hanging from them.

A big thanks to Judy Darragh who gifted us the amazing fluoro ping pong balls from her work along the banks of the Waikato River in Hamilton.

Check out our next holiday workshop blog to see the fantastic work from the silkscreen printed t-shirt workshops!

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Teuane Tibbo

One of the finest portraits of Teuane Tibbo, the brilliant Samoan/New Zealand artist, was made by Robin Morrison about 1978 when she was in her mid 80s (I am still researching the exact date of this photograph). This rarely seen image is now housed among his collection of photographs at Auckland Museum.

Teuane is wearing her painter's smock adjacent to her easel and painting trolley. Robin's portrait shows just how seriously Teuane took her painting work. Her tenacious character and determination are caught with Robin's acute ability to empathise with the people that he photographed.

By the way, this is a variant portrait from the one that is reproduced on page 45 of Richard Wolfe's All Our Own Work - New Zealand's Folk Art, Viking, Auckland, 1997.

Robin Morrison
Teuane Tibbo circa 1978
black and white photograph

Courtesy of Auckland Museum
and the Estate of Robin Morrison

Friday 6 July 2012

The Wonderful and Terrible World of David Wojnarowicz

One of my favorite artists is David Wojnarowicz (September 14 1954 – July 22 1992). It is nearly 21 years since his passing and the significance of his art increases every year. As a photographer and writer, he belongs with artists like Nan Goldin, David Armstrong and Mark Morrisroe. Finally, Cynthia Carr has written a great biography of him. You can read some of the book here.

Cynthia Carr, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz
ISBN: 9781596915336
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. Publication date: September 2012

Publisher’s announcement:

‘In December 2010, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington made headlines when it responded to protests from the Catholic League by voluntarily censoring an excerpt of David Wojnarowicz's A Fire in My Belly from its show on American portraiture. Why a work of art could stir such emotions is at the heart of Cynthia Carr's Fire in the Belly, the first biography of a beleaguered art-world figure who became one of the most important voices of his generation.

'Wojnarowicz emerged from a Dickensian childhood that included orphanages, abusive and absent parents, and a life of hustling on the street. He first found acclaim in New York's East Village, a neighborhood noted in the 1970s and '80s for its abandoned buildings, junkies, and burgeoning art scene. Along with Keith Haring, Nan Goldin, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Wojnarowicz helped redefine art for the times. As uptown art collectors looked downtown for the next big thing, this community of cultural outsiders was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. The ensuing culture war, the neighborhood's gentrification, and the AIDS crisis then devastated the East Village scene.

'Wojnarowicz died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of thirty-seven. Carr's brilliant biography traces the untold story of a controversial and seminal figure at a pivotal moment in American culture.’

Image credits: Arthur Rimbaud in New York, from a 1979 series of 24 gelatin silver prints. Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York