On September 30 2017, I arrived at the grand milestone that marked 30 trips around the sun. What have I learned? That you never stop learning!
As a kid, I have fond memories of painting rainbows everyday at kindergarten. I mean EVERY day. Mum stopped taking them home because it just got ridiculous. I was just so drawn to rainbows, carefully brushing each colour alongside the previous, in a big arch that stretched out my whole arm. We sang a rainbow song at kindy - "red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue! I can sing a rainbow! etc". I remember being highly irritated by this song ... for the simple reason that it wasn't in perfect harmonious colour order. To be honest, it still bothers me!
One thing I do know for sure, is colour is and will always be, a huge part of how I see the world. Colour has a certain magic to it, a way of communication, a way to express emotion, a signal that a delicious piece of fruit is ripe or that you've been out in the sun way too long and that hot shower is definitely going sting later.
My artwork and style has changed and developed a lot over the years, causing me to regularly question myself and what I am doing. In August 2012, I quit my nice salary graphic design job and set sail into the unknown world of freelancers and artists. I have spent these past years honing my skills, working on a myriad of different projects for a huge range of clients and individuals. I was always happy to turn a brief into something real, something that would make my patron go "wow!"
I still thoroughly enjoy that buzz! It really is the best thing in the world to create something for someone and feel the emotion when it is received with gratitude.
But sometime around early 2017, I felt completely lost. I had been let down by a number of tyre-kickers. I felt a huge urge to paint, but I didn't know what. I felt knotted up and anxious. Something had to change.
I found myself in Napier, invited to paint for Pangeaseed's Sea Walls art festival. I was incredibly honoured to be involved as I had looked up to the organisation and artists participating for many years! Pangeaseed is run by a group of amazing people who are fighting for the protection and conservation of the worlds oceans, something I am incredibly passionate about.
I was to paint up the Sustainable Coastlines Education Container, with a focus on the issue of plastic in our oceans.
I had no idea what to paint.
On the first morning of the arts festival, we walked up to the historic Otatara Pa for the pōwhiri (official welcome). This was an eerily moving experience. Only the Pa's terraces carved into the hills remain of the generations of people who once lived there, but the wind and the sound of the kaikaranga brought their spirits to life.
The view stretched across Napier and out to sea, the wind ruffled the long grasses. We met the tangata whenua with hongi and genuine warm smiles.
After the formalities, the old Koro told us about the area. He spoke of how this is the place Tangaroa, God of the Ocean, came to shore and the people of the land met the people of the sea.
I've never been one to call things visions, but an image materialised in my mind so quickly... I knew what I needed to paint!
I was introduced to Jenny Winipere Apatu-Mauger, a beautiful earthy woman who wears her moko kauae with pride and Hinewai Hawaikirangi who's name literally means ocean maiden. Together with Lauren Piiata Tiakitai Turi-Heenan, another incredible wahine, we sat on the grass in the sun and they explained who I had roughly sketched down from my "vision". I photographed Jenny and Hinewai then and there. Over the days that followed, the painting came to life - the meeting of the people of the land and the people of the sea. A message to us all that our actions count, it is up to us to help keep our oceans free of plastic rubbish.
I have always been deeply drawn to Maori culture. I am 6th generation Kiwi and although I am Pakeha, I have always been mesmerised by Maori myths and legends, curious about living off the land and captivated by the traditions, language and arts. My mum is from Whakatane and always made an effort to teach me how to appreciate and respect culture.
What I learned is that I want to paint stories. I care about the environment, empowering women and celebrating culture. I want to connect with people through my artwork. Thus, the Wahine Project was born.