New Zealand Artist goes to New York - Part 1: How it came about and preperation
Crating Day, the lid goes on the last one - We are off to New York, April 2017!
October 2016 - April 2017 Wanaka, New Zealand
It all started right at the end of 2016. I had spent the past two years focusing on my painting, but not with an exhibition in particular in mind, I wanted to explore, and let each work natural lead into another; to enjoy the journey and create a body of work that I could then approach galleries with and have enough finished works to seize any opportunity. And boy, did it work!
In October I held an Open Studio Weekend where I invite all my ‘friends, family and followers’ to come by my studio to see what I have been working on. It’s a wonderful way to share with everyone, get feedback and have a great time (I do this every year after I have an a painting binge). My husband and I then headed on a trip back up to the Alaskan Arctic (not really a holiday, more like an expedition!) It’s magic for photography as observing the entire region freezing over is amazing. We spend nights out under the searching for the mystical Aurora Borealis (our arctic adventure blog) and it’s an intense connection and contemplation time.
Toward the end of the trip we started brainstorming ideas for my artwork – Do we hold a Pop-Up in Wellington (I had already put a chunk of effort into finding a venue, but found you couldn’t guarantee a space until a month out and how would you go about advertising for that etc etc?!) How to get exposure? Do I go for gallery representation? And on and on our questions and ideas went….
One of the ideas to increase exposure was to select a few restaurant/office spaces for art placements and we had made a short list to approach. We had become friends with this fabulous New York based, Kiwi photographer, Henry Hargreaves, I sent him an email to see if he had any ideas. It turns out that he had just had an exhibition at Ora, a Pop-Up gallery space for New Zealand artists in New York. The gallery is the brainchild of Giarna TeKanawa, a kiwi who has been living in NYC for more than 25 years. Henry put the two of us in touch, Giarna had a look at my website, loved my work, a few emails back and forth and she offered me an exhibition slot for either April or May 2017.
I remember reading that email…and the news kind of passing over my head. Later on that evening I was chatting with Mark and I mentioned that I had received an email offering me an exhibition in New York. It wasn’t until I said it out loud that it actually started to sink in. “I’ve been offered a show in New York!!!!” After a bit of squealing with delight, popping some bubbles and celebrating we started talking logistics and over the next few days and decided that this was one offer we could not turn down.
Into my studio we went with a couple of fabulous friends who are in the art world, we went over my body of work to select paintings for a cohesive show. This is where my goal from the past two years has paid off: I have 29 finished artworks to make the selection from. They seemed to form a natural grouping of 14 and we were all in agreement - I had my starting point.
Some of the artworks we were making the selection from - which ones go to NY!?
The next day I went back to my studio alone, I sat back with my sketch book and pencil and a few new ideas came to me… with this being New York, I really felt I wanted to push a couple of works further and create a work targeted for the American audience (The Power of Hope - A Tribute to Michelle Obama) I locked myself away in my studio again and painted hard.
In the background I started the mammoth task of organizing things like shipping, crate building, branding, marketing, website building, social media, accommodation, flights etc etc.
If you’d like to skip to the actual show go (link coming)…or if you’d like to find out what it takes to organize a Pop-up on the other side of the world and more of an insight into my process, read on…
Studio view - working on my tribute to Michelle Obama and the NZ flag jacket
I’ll write about this in case any artists would like the rundown and also it makes you realize how much gallery’s do for artists that never get appreciated or acknowledged. I worked at the fabulous Gallery 33 in Wanaka on and off for years, so I had learnt a lot of the behind the scenes skills, but running a Pop-Up event is no small tasks, particularly in another country!
I wrote massive mind-maps with branches and branches of tasks to complete. One overall map that got updated every few weeks and then individual maps for the big tasks like graphic, website etc
In my studio I committed a wall to exhibition planning. I printed out images of all the artworks that were being considered and as new ones were finished, a few were discarded. A few were dismissed purely due to their size (I knew it was going to be expensive to get them all to NY so I chose some smaller pieces and also I didn’t want to take all of my major works). I would keep updating this, scrawling notes all over, with potential prices and name ideas, things that needed finishing etc. I am a real list girl!
A snap shot of my planning....
Honestly at times it was really hard to know what was the most important task for the week. I had taken on a monster and I also insisted on working on these new paintings, I just knew I needed to push further and when I’m on overdrive, I function well. But the reality was I had less than 4 months from finding out about this to departure date! I did neglect my family and friends, but they also understood and supported me in any way they could. I was so filled up with love and support for this opportunity, it was a magic feeling. I could feel everyone’s excitement for me, it fueled me and I threw everything I had into this.
I really like to support local as much as I can. We have a vast pool of talent in this small town and the bottom of the world.
The branding was hard to choose. Initially I thought my signature would be great, to capture my energy on the page…but Dan talked me through the distractions of that and showed me other artist and photographer sites that did and did not work and he was right. Carla and I had played with my signature on the website earlier and found it distracting from the artwork too. Let the art speak for itself! In the end we chose a simple font with my name capitalized in two different thicknesses. This we added to the website and started working on the business and rack cards for the show.
We had plenty of fun brain storming sessions for naming artworks. Eva and I were seated in the diminishing dusk light, barely able to see the paintings, as all finished works had been stored in the space beside my studio which wasn’t currently rented, so therefore didn’t have power! Naming paintings is sometimes incredible difficult. You hear stories of people being put off buying a work due to the name, so it can be an intimidating process. You need to capture what the work means to you, how the story grew as you painted, what you felt as you painted. For me it is often about the music I have on whilst painting, eg one of my Reclining Series I called 1000 Kisses Deep as I had been blasting Leonard Cohen for days and days (this was before this legend sadly passed away) I use music to fuel my energy and creativity in my studio, I have certain tracks that if I’m low on energy, it immediately fills me with creativity and gets the energy flowing, others I chose when I need more of a calm energy, but generally it is always loud. I have already blow one set of speaker since being in Studio 7 ;)
Working with Eva was fun, she has a wondrous literary and mythological knowledge and she draws on these stories and comes up with great names. Mark is also great with words and has fun playing with them around the thoughts I give him about my artworks, so between us we nailed the paintings and then it was on to the show title. Peter and Norma, my friends (and former bosses from Gallery 33) joined us at my studio and over wine and with a big white board we threw down ideas…starting using the vintage clothing as a base, A Vintage something, Re-dress… and then thinking about the Michelle Obama tribute... the state dinner dresses etc and then eventually we came up with State of [a] dress, which i love!
Now we could finish all the branding and chose the imagery. In the end we went with a detail shot of the corset from Between Everything and Nothing as it showed the sculptural and painterly aspect of my work really well (as much as I wanted to use a crazy work with the antlers or butterflies - when required I do listen to advise).
Dan got on to finalizing my business cards for which he found the coolest metallic orange (which I am in love with, it’s such a pleasure to give them out, I feel they totally represent me!) and the corset graphic on the back with my contact details. This graphic was then used for rack cards, the press releases; the banners and sandwich boards and incorporated into the website and the final push was on to get it all done before departure day!
My dear friend and an utterly amazing writer, Melissa, got stuck into writing for my exhibition. She has such a wondrous way with words and turned the brief statements and thoughts that I had written down about each painting into a beautiful executed artist statement that we would print out to have in the gallery and we would use segments of for press releases etc. (She will cringe at my grammar in this, but I have become more comfortable with the fact that writing is not my forte. Others are better to turn my paintings into words, but I am happy to ramble along and share this with you in hopes of inspiring at least one artist someday, but please don’t judge my grammar)
We collected the last painting from the framer. Another fabulous local Tony Lynch, from The 45th Degree. He’s had a huge amount of fun framing my art as many of the frames we have chose have never been used. It’s interesting how the correct frame really brings an artwork to life, it’s that final part in the process (apart from finding the perfect wall and lighting of course). For me it is the completion of a vision.
I stripped back and wall, white washed it and then Mark and I photographed all the artworks for the website. This was a laugh with our pop-out deflector and diffusor, trying to get consistent light on them, making keystone adjustments to get them straight and the colours correct. We took heaps of detail shots from various angles to try to capture the three dimensional aspects of my work. This is one of the huge challenges for us to figure out how to show this aspect on a computer screen!
We find people are fascinated to see how I create my paintings, as it is pretty difficult to grasp the process when you are standing in front of the finished artwork (or to see on screen) We had come up with a plan to make some process videos and Dan was particularly excited about making one for the Tribute to David Bowie, I could see his head spinning (which I love to see in a fellow creative, you can tell when an idea has struck them). I had taken a bit of footage whilst painting, but it’s hard to pull myself away when I’m in the flow, to remove myself and think about capturing the process. I went through two years of process photos, took some more in my studio- of quotes and my collectables, and sent them off to him. We worked on three videos…One for the Tribute to David Bowie, more about the inspiration and methods behind the piece; the second for The Power of Hope – a tribute to Michelle Obama, where we wanted to convey the message behind this political work; and the third a Behind the Scenes, a look into my studio, the process and inspiration, a bit of our area and my daily routine, which would be played in the gallery during the day.
The crates were being made by the boys at Mt Iron Joinery, thankfully right beside my studio. I looked into ones in Christchurch and Auckland but everything involved extra shipping or trying to figure out how to get the artworks unpacked to a destination for crating, and as they are so large and fragile, this wasn’t going to work. We had lots of advice about making sure the wood is branded with the correct export markings and had ordered rolls of an art wrap from Tyvek and a foam/polystyrene combo thing to pack out the crates. And of course having no limits on my creativity, several of them required fumigation before leaving the country (and ironically will probably not be allowed back into New Zealand)
The final 12 have been selected; framed, named and photographed…link to come
Oh, hooray for more wonderful friends.
Mark was away so he had roped in our buddy Pete to help me out and dear Taylor offered her help too. One by one the crates were dropped over with the forklift. Taylor and I wrapped them and cut out foam shapes and then Pete came up with a great plan to secure them into the crates and also how to attach the second and third artworks into the crates. We had a great rhythm going. Pete swapped out for Andrea and after 12 hours of hard work in the sun, lots of laughs and sweat (luckily no need for tears as I didn’t accidently drill through an artwork or anything…) we had all 8 crates sealed up and we were drinking a nice cool beer. (Oh how easy it would be to paint small paintings, but I have always had the mantra not to let logistics inhibit my creativity)
Now it was in the hands of Nathan from Method Logistics who I had chosen through a recommendation from a friend. And he was fabulous! I had decided to go with the flying option over shipping. After hearing stories about how badly the ground crew on the docks look after crates (or rather don’t look after), and the multiple handling that would happen; whereas with flying they all get put on a platform, strung together and lifted into the plane, unloaded at the other end and just one transition to the gallery, and it wasn’t much of a premium. First stop Christchurch for fumigation, then off they went only 2 weeks before us!
The wonderful Pete and Taylor as we get stuck into crating...or not. Thanks so much and to Andrea too!
With the paintings on the plane, it was a huge relief but there was still things to organize and I launched in to finishing up the last tasks – finalising all the graphics, footage for the Behind the Scenes video, a big mail out to all my contacts etc etc. I am not hugely computer literate; I prefer to be covered in paint and active as apposed to being stuck on my butt in front of a computer. So this has really pushed me to learn more about how my Mac Book works, indoor photography and Lightroom; facebook, instagram, tweeting, and all sorts of other tasks, my brain definitely exploded on a regular basis. Luckily my dear husband is such a calm being and he always manages to bring me back to some sort of balance.
The photos went off to Giarna (Dan had tweaked the backgrounds so they were all nice and clean and white) these were loaded on both the Ora website and mine (on mine we added a selection of detail shots too) We wrote the first Press Release and the invite which Giarna sent out to the contacts from Ora Gallery, now that was an exciting moment…getting an invite to my exhibition in New York City and seeing my name on their website!!! (Oh it was a thrill…even saying it, it still gives me chills… every artists dream, to exhibit in New York City!!!!)
Oh and I can’t forget the last minute sewing mission….it was going to be warm in NY and since all of our travel lately has been to the arctic my wardrobe had morphed into a rugged, practical beast. I needed some city clothes. Mark went up north for a couple of days to see the family and I set off on a sewing mission, hell a girl has to have an outfit worthy of an opening in New York City. 72 hours later Mark came home and I emerged from under a pile of fabrics, the floor covered in sequins, animal prints and pins and my wardrobe was complete, I even had two choices for opening night.
I was so exhausted, but so full of excitement. After a lovely send off evening with friends and family, I was fueled by their love and excitement, Mark and I boarded the plane for the USA…..
See you in New York!!!