Grace Wright 'Breathing Room' Web-4.jpg


23 JUNE 2017

A few weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing the incredibly talented painter, Grace Wright, who is the current artist-in-residence at Parlour Projects in Hastings. We talked about her recent body of work as well as her journey through her degree in fine arts and her painting process. I am so excited to share my interview with Grace with all of you!

Firstly, I wanted to say congratulations on your residency at Parlour Projects! How did this opportunity come about for you? Tell us a little about Breathing Room.

Thank you! I was fortunate to have been chosen to be the first recipient of the inaugural Artist-in-Residence programme at Parlour Projects. Breathing Room is an extension of ideas around viewing I had been exploring in my work. It came out of asking what would happen if there were no edges of a canvas, where the marks disappeared, but rather the edges of a room? Looking at painting sometimes is about getting lost in the gestures and being carried away in your mind, but with Breathing Room I want for the viewing to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the marks, that they feel their physical presence - particularly their comparative size in relation to what they are seeing. The sound piece also aids this - a slow meditation breath would make the viewer aware of their own breath and own physicality in the space. This is where the title comes from - both a literal room with breath sound, but also acknowledging the overwhelming sense - i.e. needing ‘breathing room’. The body also plays a key role in many parts of the show. My work has always been about capturing a sense of bodiliness with fluid, abstract colours and shapes. In this work, the gestures are body-sized; even though I was working on a larger scale, it was important that every mark came from the body (instead of a technological method like projecting onto the wall and tracing, etc). The sound piece also comes from the body and along with the 6m high fluid, cascading gestures, both elements bring awareness back to the viewers own physical body in space.

Did you enter art school knowing that you wanted to pursue a painting career or was it something that eventually came into realisation through working from brief to brief?

It was more a realisation over time. I chose to study at Elam because Fine Arts seemed to be a good grounding in creative thinking for any sort of art/design based career. I also remember visiting in year 12 and 13 during the open days and couldn’t get over how much I loved being there - nestled under the big trees and the tall, white-wall studios. I really thought I could make things there. I did a whole range of things at Elam, but found myself gravitating more and more towards painting. I thought I was going to have a career as a graphic designer because it seemed financially more suitable. I did some internships, but it just didn’t push my buttons like painting did. At the same time my work was starting to head in an interesting direction so I entered honours (fourth) year fully directing all my energy towards painting. I had a few key turning points that year. Firstly my honours supervisor said to me to just ‘let go’ and paint a sense of the body, rather than painting from an image of the body. I was intrigued and excited by the style that emerged and it’s been evolving ever since. Secondly, I was fortunate to have some very powerful conversations, a kind of awakening into the mindset I needed to go forward and really make a career from this. 

Your works have such a beautiful, peaceful vibe to them, while at the same time, evoking a powerful sense of presence. Do you plan out your works in advance, or do these moments happen as you produce the piece?

I love that description! Aside from the wall piece in Breathing Room (due to it’s size), I don’t ever plan my work out before starting. My practice is very process-based and evolves out of a series of intentional or intuitive decisions at each layer. Much like how Jan Verwoert describes Tomma Abts work in his essay ‘Emergence’ (a well-read art school painting text). I think part of the beauty of my work is the small moments that happen in the work, through this process. I like how in the essay mentioned above, Verwoert talks about the crisis of painting being how at any given moment, the painting could have been completely different.

Who are some artists/writers you admire?

In terms of writers, I love F. Scott Fitzgerald for his colour-visual way of writing and the way he describes things so tightly. Artists; I love Andre Hemer, Judy Millar, Katharina Grosse, Albert Oehlen, Franz Ackermann, Cecily Brown…I could go on! 

I absolutely love your work titled “The Colour Candy is So Topical”. What is the thought process behind these titles? Do you decide upon the title before you begin making the work or is it something that comes after production?

Definitely something that comes about when the work is finished. I try to imagine what the painting might say to me. Often it’s something really ridiculous or perhaps a joke I have with myself, or a common saying that’s been going round in my head for a while. Sometimes it emerges from a specific colour I might have seen somewhere and I build the title around that thought, but obscuring it. I have a lot of fun naming the works! They’re definitely lighthearted and designed to make you laugh or do a double-take!

One of the first things that struck me about your work, was your confident use of colour. What role does colour play in your pieces and where do you draw your colour palette inspiration from?

I see colour as a contruction tool. So my process of working means starting with one colour and then contrasting or harmonising it with another. I’m really interested in how visual attractiveness or pleasure in a painting can be a mixture of both traditionally ‘beautiful’ colours and ugly ones. I’m always trying to create tension and release in my work so by using both crystal clear colours against dirty ugly tones this sense of dynamic-ness emerges. The paintings aren’t just luscious and delicate, but gritty and strong as well. I think that links to my idea of ‘female abstraction’. It embraces it’s attractiveness but is equally just about strength and power.

Aside from your current residency at Parlour Projects, do you currently have any other exhibitions in the works? What can we expect to see from you towards the end of 2017?

I’m looking forward to seeing how the scale change will affect my work getting back into the studio. Next up I’ll be part of a group show with two other female artists at the Gus Fisher Gallery in Auckland and there are always new things in the mix further ahead!

Where can people find your work online?

A good showcase of my work is on my website: and Instagram of course: @gracewright08

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