Exploring Connection With New Zealand’s Top Artistic Talents
It’s a frosty Wednesday night on Karangahape Road and the streets of Tamaki Makaurau are virtually empty, save for the few brave enough to face the winter chill. Despite the conditions, Studio One is buzzing with gallery-goers, each enduring the elements for a sneak peek at their newest exhibition; Artists on Artists. This opening feels different to most; warmer, more inviting and with a heightened sense of connection. Guests chat loudly over red peach pals, enthusiastically pouring over each work on display and snapping pictures on their phones. A gallery employee swans through the room with a film camera and guests plaster smiles on their faces before her lens. The energy alone is a feat from the Studio One team, who were able to remove the sombre mood commonly associated with art-world gatherings. Instead, the space is alive, collaborative and absolutely buzzing with enthusiastic art lovers.
The idea behind the exhibition simply amplifies this sense of community; Artists on Artists is a group show, with each artist using another as inspiration for their work. After a successful first iteration in 2022, the project is back for round two with a new lineup of both established and emerging artists from all over Aotearoa. Consisting of a series of portraits, each artist’s contribution is beaming with appreciation and respect. It’s beautiful, it’s powerful and it exudes a sense of community. To shed a little more light on the exhibition we posed a series of questions to two participants, Pam Brabants and Samson Dell, to understand their experiences and delve a little deeper into the nature of the exhibition.
Did your creative process change in response to the task of depicting another artist?
Pam: I’d started using watercolour in my practice in the last 12 months. Prior to that, I had concentrated on a graphic style of monochrome drawings. In this instance, I had intended to do a colourful portrait of Ritchie Adamson, but once the drawing was completed, it felt like it needed to be stripped bare and the only colour that was called for was his skin and hair.
Sampson: My practice has always come from a place of empathy, particularly when making photographs with other people as the subject. Photography as a medium has such strong effects and control over how we view people in a relatively unchallenged way, so I feel that it is my responsibility as an artist to listen to my subject and make work with them that reflects this relationship. So in short, no, my practice has remained true to its values albeit resulting in a slightly different physical output.
How did your perspective on the artist you were depicting inform how you chose to represent them?
Pam: Ritchie told me he’d been a barista on and off for years, to supplement his artwork. I used the repetition of the tulip coffee cup as background wallpaper. On the other wall, I lifted a couple of sentences from his artist statement, and repeated these using handwritten text.
Samson: Kiran and I have made work together before, most recently for a photo-book titled ‘in our spring garden,’ a collection of portraits of queer and non-binary people who I have had the privilege of sharing time with. They’re photographs of quiet and intimate moments, free from performance. So Kiran is someone I know relatively well and making portraits with them is like catching up with an old friend – we talk about how each other has been, what we might be working on, and even how we’re feeling about our own queerness. This helps me to build an idea for what we make; working to create something that feels authentic to the moment that the images are made. It also creates a safe space for us both to work in where we know our boundaries and expectations, something that I feel is particularly important to photography and the dynamic between subject & artist.
What attributes about the artist you were paired with did you want to highlight through your work?
Pam: Ritchie has a sparky energy about him, but there’s also a vulnerability too, almost shyness, which is very appealing. The shape and structure of his face is beautiful. He has unusual tattoos on his arms, which he designed. I wanted to hint at all of these things in his portrait. Painting is essentially a solitary task, an interior journey, which is why I chose to depict him with his eyes closed.
Samson: When Kiran and I caught up to make the work for this show we talked about how each other was feeling post finishing university and all of the changes and uncertainty that we were feeling at that moment. Kiran also talked about their experiences of being photographed for multitudes of student art projects in various facets of their identity, particularly in relation to their drag work. We talked about what they felt was missing to them in terms of being represented and recorded. We then decided to make more relaxed portraits of them in their space during this time of change. I wanted to highlight this softer, gentle side of Kiran’s life for them, which was something that also influenced the small-scale, delicate, final work – coffee-toned, hand-printed cyanotype.
Do you feel comfortable being the subject of another artist’s work or is it outside of your comfort zone?
Pam: Believe it or not, I had done some photographic modelling when I was young(er) so being photographed by Jessica Gurnsey was fun because she made it playful. She took lots of shots. At one point she was standing above me on one of my cabinets and asked me to pull a face. Of the two photos she selected, it was the face-pulling one she liked most. I could see why it was more interesting from a painter’s viewpoint, but I was vainly nervous about the outcome.
Samson: I think for me that depends on the approach of the artist making the work. When Lindsey asked me about being a part of this show, I made it clear that I would be much more comfortable sitting for a portrait if the artist was queer themselves. I spent much of my undergrad trying to document and represent my own queer identity, so making sure that the artist understood my identity felt like the bare minimum to build a relationship in which we could both see each other equally before making. Being paired with Ritchie Adamson was such a blessing, he brought such a kind and empathetic approach to this show and really made sure that I felt seen and heard throughout the time he spent painting. Considering it was my first time sitting for a painted portrait, it made me feel so comfortable.
How did you feel about your own representation through another artist’s work?
Pam: It was quite confronting at first, especially seeing the lines around my lips! But Jessica is super talented and I trusted her completely. I guess that’s the thing I learned the most about being the subject of a work, how much you entrust a representation of yourself to someone else. I’m very happy with the outcome and my friends love the vibrancy she’s captured.
Samson: Asides from the things I mentioned before, being represented in someone else’s art is such a treat. I think we rarely see ourselves from a perspective outside of a reflection or a selfie these days, and with so much pressure being put on the way that we curate this ‘image’ of ourselves, it is so liberating to be represented by an artist’s style. For me, I wasn’t super concerned with how Ritchie chose to paint me and in fact, really enjoyed seeing how he saw me in the final piece. The pink, and the gold frame seem so unlike the way I usually choose to present, but seeing myself in such a regal and campy manner was so fun and different.
What inspired you to take part in this group exhibition?
Pam: I was thrilled to be invited to take part in this exhibition. Lindsey (exhibition organising Wonder Woman) was so warm and enthusiastic, it felt like an opportunity too good to miss. I like the diverse range of participating artists and their practices, and that the work would be shown in Wellington and Auckland. Best of all, I’ve made some new artist friends.
Samson: Having just completed my undergrad, opportunities to work with other emerging and established artists around Aotearoa felt like such an exciting moment. Everyone in the Pōneke group of artists who I shared time with had so much to give and have really helped to ground me in a period of art-making outside of an academic space. The concept for this show was also such a fun one to be a part of. I am used to making photographic work that has to exist in series to give it context but to have the freedom to make just one piece and that be supported by the rest of the work in the show was amazing. This of course was largely down to all of the work that Lindsey, who both curated and made work for the show, took on and so it’s to her that I think we all owe a huge amount of thanks too for making this exhibition process so enjoying to be part of.
Artists on Artists runs from May 11th to June 8th at Studio One Toi Tū.