Whanganui - New Zealand’s Arts Destination
Whanganui is home to many large and reputable events throughout the year and boasts a thriving arts community and an abundance of historical heritage buildings and attractions. Looking into this particular Artists Open Studio event and chatting with some of the artists involved was the best way for me to not only explore the thriving arts community based here in Whanganui, but also for me to see the city itself. I soon discovered Whanganui is impeccably cared for and incredibly gorgeous to stay in.
It seemed appropriate to visit a riverside studio first, as I greatly admired the river’s presence in Whanganui’s history, and to be perfectly honest, I was also a little taken by its beauty as I drove over the bridge to enter the CBD. The water was graceful and felt full of life - reflecting the humming community residing alongside.
Vanessa Edwards lives with a water view, and I was pleased to see the life and energy I felt from the river reflected in this young woman’s attitude to her practice here in Whanganui. Teaming up with artist friend Tia Ranginui, both Artists comment on their Maori Heritage (Whakapapa) and personal stories with a fresh and contemporary perspective.
I was presented with a few works on my arrival made by Vanessa and bound for Wellington’s Toi Maori Art Market 2014. The Market is an internationally acclaimed art event involving New Zealand’s most Contemporary & Upcoming Maori Visual Artists. The event is gaining traction and growing bigger every year. Vanessa nurtures her relationships with Maori artists across the whole of New Zealand, and this includes her association with ‘Toi Whakataa Press’ – a Maori Printmakers Collective working to identify printmaking as a valid Maori artistic expression.
Vanessa explains how her recent works are inspired and influenced by the Maori Creation Story, heavily based on the second stage ‘Te Po’ that refers to form emerging from the darkness. Vanessa admits to an obsession with ‘Te Po’ and indicates her work will remain around the same theme and aesthetic for the Artists Open Studios weekends. She shared with me some exciting collaborative ideas in the pipeline between herself
to her distinctly feminine works.
Emerging from the darkness of the black ink that dominates these detailed prints, I see Vanessa’s self-portrait. It may be an image of one woman, but it feels all-encompassing and reflective of the many layers of all women that have gone before me - the prints are mesmerizing.
Not only does the Artists Open Studios event include media such as printmaking, similar to what I saw in Vanessa’s Studio, but also many other media such as sculpture, painting, photography, drawing, jewellery and ceramics. As if that wasn’t enough this year the event is joining forces with another popular arts event the Glass Festival. Mixed Media and her creative process is inspired by National and International craft, fashion, design and art which I could instantly see in her cast dresses and the crochet detailing which is a feature she has become known for as a glass artist.
Most exciting are her upcoming plans to take part in the International GAS Conference in Corning New York in 2016 as part of the Glass Fashion Show. From small town New Zealand to the international stage Whanganui has a special place on the world stage when it comes to glass art.
Carmen spends a great part of her year hosting glass workshops that enable her to practice full-time as a glass artist. Attendees travel from all around the country to stay with Carmen in this idyllic country home/ studio and learn the art of cast glass.
I found myself wondering about New Zealand’s Art Destination and these claims of a burgeoning and thriving arts community. It seems that Whanganui punches well above its weight with around 400 resident artists, heritage galore and a beautiful river flowing life and energy into the city.