an interview with Moerangi Vercoe
for MANA Magazine
At the beginning of 2004 Northland painter Andrea Hopkins developed a five-year business plan to help her on the road to becoming a self-sufficient professional artist. It included getting a representative gallery, having three solo exhibitions, some overseas travel, and making enough money to live on.
A year later, she had checked off all of those goals. She has also become a licensed user of Toi Iho, the trademark of authenticity and quality for Maori arts and artists.
It was a good year, she admits. But it’s also clear that success has come after years of training and preparation to fulfill her dreams, not to forget the help of the man she calls her Patron Saint.
“When I was in Hastings, into the studio walks Kevyn Male, the former owner of Three Bears and Route 66 in New Zealand which his son now runs. He has supported many artists over the years. He came into the studio in weathered Barkers and a t-shirt, looked around the room and asked Sandy (Adsett) ‘who did that?’ and walked over to me and said: ‘Can you paint me seven?’.
“I said ‘sweet as’. He got his seven a few months later. What I didn’t know is that he took them back to Auckland and promoted me to some galleries.”
That’s how she came in contact with the Studio of Contemporary Art. Andrea has had three solo exhibitions at the Newmarket gallery including her major solo exhibition for this year mid May. The exhibition Every Day Identity included 14 new works that discussed her life as a ‘bi-cultural girl’. Her mother is Pakeha and through her father her whakapapa is to Ngäti Paoa, Ngäti Maru and Ngäti Maniapoto and was raised in Ngapuhi.
“I wasn’t raised on the Marae, but I am Maori. It seeps through into everything I do.”
In particular, it is her love of kapa haka that has been a strong driver of her creative force. She led Northland group Timatanga to national level and was a winner of female leader in regional kapa haka competitions
“I can still belt out the odd tune on occasion, but I really wanted to focus on this (the painting). I knew it was going to be a challenging road.”
That road started after a few years in ‘proper’ jobs after she left school. She worked in mental health and health promotion, and also for the Taitokerau Youth Workers’ Network.
“I didn’t run away to the circus, I ran away to art school.”
The art school was Northland Polytechnic where she was a student for three years – the highlight of which was studying under senior clay artist Manos Nathan. He sent her down to Toihoukura Arts School in Gisborne to study under painter and educator Sandy Adsett. It was a move she credits as providing a major breakthrough in her professional development, both for the technical skills she acquired and the way they taught from a Mäori perspective.
Her time at Toihoukura also gave her the opportunity to travel overseas for the first time – to Bali, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok – and see firsthand how Mäori art was viewed elsewhere. She returned home more inspired and determined to succeed.
“Over here our art is everywhere. You walk into a marae and it’s right there. To see Maori art from an outsider’s eye was really good. It definitely put another foundation on the ground for me and showed me how unique yet similar we are.”
“Traditionally, Mäori communicated visually. I follow this practice of taking traditional symbols, their meanings and working with them in contemporary contexts.” It’s a practice that complements Toi Iho™, the mark of authenticity and quality.
“I liked the idea of Mäori made. I’m a Mäori contemporary artist and proud of it. I wanted to support the kaupapa.”
In the meantime, she is working out a new five year plan and preparing to take part in a group show to be held at the New Zealand High Commission in London.
“All I can do is keep on doing it, but keep getting better.”
Published: MANA Magazine, Issue 64 – June/July 2005
Writer: Moerangi Vercoe