tearaway art kit: grace wright

24 January 2017

In this instalment of Art Kit, we’ve got an inside look into the life of ‘a constant contradiction’ otherwise known as 24-year-old Grace Wright from Tauranga. 
What should we expect from studying the fine arts after high school? What is it like to showcase your art in exhibitions? Painting pro-tips? Look no further; Grace has all the answers.

What are you doing at the moment? 

Eating toast and drinking coffee on a rather quiet Saturday morning.

Who or what led you to pursue art? 

I come from a very creative family, so I suppose it’s in the genes! I’ve always enjoyed art, right from a young age where I used to drive my primary school teachers nuts in Art lessons because I didn’t follow their rules – I wanted to do it my way. 

I did art/painting right through Tauranga Girls’ College. Level 3 painting was particularly intense and I was tossing up between pursuing Music or Art at tertiary level. I chose Art because painting is the only time when I am 100% content and in my ‘happy place.’ Also, I visited Elam and immediately fell in love with the studios (large white walls) and its Grafton Gully location, nestled under big trees, an oasis in central Auckland. I felt I could make work there!

By my fourth year at Elam, the style that you see now had begun emerging and I felt I was creating something worth continuing. Plus I had a couple of those rare, life-changing conversations which helped me realise that if I thought in the right way, and wanted it enough to dive in the deep end, this was something I could really achieve. 

How would you describe your art style? 

Loose, yet very controlled. Heterogeneity is a term I often refer to, as it means contrast. These contrasts happen through the gestures (slow/fast), layers, colours, types of acrylic (gloss/matte) – almost everything. 

Colour is a key element. Creating ‘visual pleasure’ can be achieved by surprising colour combinations [such as] dirty tones against bright fresh ‘beautiful’ colours. I think New Zealand art often lacks colour so my influences and style are more in line with contemporary painting in places like New York. It’s bold and unapologetic. 

Above all, I believe painting should be conceptually grounded, otherwise it’s just a pretty picture. An artist holds up a mirror to the time they live in. Right now, that’s digital saturation and the rise of social media and, recently, I’ve been thinking about what it means to paint in the ‘Age of Instagram.’

You studied at the Elam School of Fine Arts. What was that like?

I loved Elam because it was a conceptual art school. You arrived expecting to already know how to paint, draw, all the technical skills. What we learnt was how to think about art. 

A BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) is like a Philosophy degree with a practical component. It was hard! I relished the challenge because it meant you grew and could develop a practice that was grounded and strong. We had a lot of critiques where you’re putting your work out for people to talk about. You developed a thick skin, which is important leaving art school. But, a lot of deep conversations happened. Art is a bottomless pit of knowledge where everything is debatable. Contemporary painting particularly is something I could devote a lifetime to, yet never understand everything. That’s exciting.

How would you describe your process to creating a piece of art? 

I see painting as a construction process. I start with a colour, and then build upon it, contrasting and harmonising each layer until the final work surfaces. I don’t know what it’s going to look like when I start. The writer Jan Verwoert talked about artist Tomma Abts in this way. The tension between intention and intuition allows the final work to ‘emerge.’ 

I use a similar process: The final work is a result of ‘intuitive’ gestures through ‘intentional’ layering and colour choice. The titles are given when I’m finished. They are absurd and reflect what the work would say, or the feeling it conveys. For example – Bondi Was The Best Place To Be A MermaidDaddy I Want A Ponyor Taking In The Scent Of A Well Spent Afternoon. Cycles are part of the naming; Seasons, times of day, weather, etc.

In a parallel universe, instead of being an artist what do you think you would be doing? 

I would definitely be a psychologist. I love the depth of thinking and understanding why people behave. I also like helping people and am fairly perceptive.

What is it like to showcase your works in exhibitions? 

It’s exciting! They always look different when they’re on a nice white wall instead of in my studio. Art is made to be put out there and engaged with, so I don’t often feel very nervous. The hard work has been done and now they’re doing what they’re meant to. What’s more, I’ve always felt a great deal of separation from the work. I know when they’re finished because they twist and turn independent of me. I created them, but they exist beyond me – almost like how people think there’s something bigger than them out there.

How do you keep the creative juices flowing? How do you deal with creative blocks? 

Inspiration comes from a variety of places. Reading stimulates thinking so I’m always reading Frieze Magazine, keeping up with what’s going on in the world. Going to exhibitions here and overseas helps me position my work within a wider context. Music keeps me going in studio; usually I’m alone blasting Nicki Minaj, Drake, Kanye, The Weeknd, etc. while I work. Oh, and coffee too!

Since leaving Elam, I realised to keep progressing I need to keep making work. Regardless of whether it’s for a show or not, it’s not called an art practice for nothing. I’m a process-based artist, so rather than my work manifesting in project bursts, it evolves over time. Creative blocks can happen, but usually I push through it, or go home and try again the next day. Great work often follows a hard day! 

What are your painting pro-tips? 

1. High quality materials are worth the extra money. 

2. Grounds are key to a good painting. I thin down gesso with water and do about ten layers, sanding back each time to get a super smooth foundation.

3. Always question why you’re doing what you are. Why paint? What does it mean to paint today? Reading, questioning, looking at art – it helps position you in the wider context of history and what’s happening in the rest of the world.

4. Further to above, I strongly believe in education when it comes to painting. It gives you a depth and way of thinking you just can’t get anywhere else. I always think if you can survive art school you can do anything.

What are your plans for the new year?

I’m heading first back into the studio to make the final couple of works for my show in Christchurch. I’m exhibiting at PG Gallery 192 alongside the talented fellow Elam graduate, Aiko Robinson. 

Later on in May, I will be the first artist-in-residence at Parlour Projects in Hastings. Over two weeks I will be making a large scale installation, a ‘painted environment’ expanding on my ideas of visual pleasure, sensationalism and going beyond the limits of the canvas. The gallery will be open and people can come and see it in progress before the show opens. It’s my first time doing something on this scale, so I’m very excited!

What’s an important piece of advice you believe aspiring young artists should know?

Hands down, the best piece of advice I’ve ever received is that you have to have a huge amount of faith in yourself. That you are capable of something, before you have any actual proof. Before the shows, reviews, galleries, you are already that person.

Interview by Marie Landingin. Photo by Louie Tong Photography.

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