In the lead up to artist Andrea Hopkins’ mid-career retrospective over Summer 2018-19, Carrie de Hennezel from the Whangarei Art Museum asked some questions about Andrealand, art, influences, audience and life.
Carrie: Andrealand offers a glimpse into your private world, was it always your intention for your life to inspire your art practice, is that something that has evolved subconsciously?
AEH: It’s more like, everybody has a very human experience. There are some experiences that we all share. Some that are more specific, however a wide range of people experience them. They are private, but shared. Consciously and/or subconsciously.
When it came to really ‘owning’ what i paint the only way i could do that comfortably was to paint from inside myself (no-one else owns inside me) and relate that to the external world. My Tino Rangatiratanga is based in ‘self’ determination.
Carrie: Why painting?
AEH: I was a creative kid. I remember seeing paintings and thinking ‘i can do that’ or ‘what does that mean?’. Can’t explain it other than i’m drawn to it and i love painting. Mine and others.
Carrie: How do you see the relationship between yourself, the work’s content and the viewer?
AEH: I like watching people watch artwork. It’s a silent conversation i sometimes try and mentally eavesdrop on. It can be a reflection of where they are coming from, good and bad. I use a visual language that i’m trained in and love. That language can be a trigger for some. It can be a comfort for others. Both are valid.
Carrie: Are there any other artists whose work resonates with you, or your own art practice?
AEH: Manos Nathan, Sandy Adsett, Colleen Urlich, Robyn Kahukiwa, Jo Hardy, Star Gossage, Charlotte Graham, Bill Hammond and if i don’t stop now, i’ll leave someone out by mistake and there could be hell to pay.
Carrie: Who or what have been key influences on your art practice?
AEH: People who either taught, influenced and/or supported the visual language i use and/or me personally. I left lots of names off that list – there wouldn’t have been enough room.
I have learnt and experienced much from so many people while being a part of the national and international art world. Particularly the indigenous art worlds. Art has been both a chisel and a rock. Art is my legacy and what i will leave behind. Now there are pieces of me all around the world.
Carrie: Have there been any events in your life that impacted on your art practice?
AEH: Being kicked off a TV course at 17 (i thought that was the end…) and being sent by Hori Parata to Ruarangi to study Maori Art with Enid Johnston and Te Reo with Taipari Munroe
Being failed after a car accident in my 3rd year at NorthTec (i thought that was the end…)
Manos sending me to Sandy Adsett at Toihoukura Maori Visual Arts School in Gisborne.
Being ‘found’ at Toimairangi by Kevyn Male and SOCA Gallery who represented me.
Never underestimate the power of failure. Failure is often a road to somewhere better.
Toihoukura and Toimairangi were the best places for me.
Being supported by a patron/gallery meant self-employment, focus and more painting.
Carrie: Semiotics and blended landscapes play central roles in a lot of your work. Can you describe why you are drawn to using them?
AEH: I like talking in symbols – it’s a very Måori thing. I love the Måori visual language. It ‘talks’ about the natural world, humanity, spirituality and community. They are open to interpretation and because painting is Noa vs Tapu, without restriction if you know what you are doing.
I have lived within a few different iwi and noticed the similarities/differences between many patterns. There must be reasons for these? I like to explore them.
I love looking at the land. Love looking at the sea. Tide goes out, tide comes in. Generally consistent and beautiful. I am not a city girl. Large groupings of people make me nervous. Give me a house by the sea 75km away from the nearest town and i’m fine.
There is a lot of time to look at the land and sea when you live on Whangaruru Peninsular or at Tatapouri in Gisborne. I noticed the layered nature of it. How one colour is not one colour but a series of layers all merging and reflecting off one another. It’s a challenge to paint that way. Gabrielle Belz saw me painting once and said, “Your not one for the easy road are you?”. Nope – ask any of my teachers. I also mean ‘teachers’ in a very broad sense.
Sometimes i see something in a layer and bring that out. It obviously wants to be a part of the korero. Something a since passed on kaumatua called Darcy Nepia told me. He saw things, and spotted that i saw things too. Those things are often for the people that the work ends up with, not me. The wairua, hand, eye, brush connection is the channel.
Carrie: How do you approach the arrangement of elements in your art works? Do you start with a narrative or do they develop as you go?
AEH: Depends on the korero/narrative, situation and eventual location if known. There is always a narrative, and yes, they develop as they go. They very rarely have fixed outcomes unless it is a specific commission requirement. Human, flaws and all. As opposed to robotic or mass-produced perfection. I use some composition framework, and then go from there.
Carrie: Describe your colour pallet, does it differ between each work or between time periods?
AEH: Appreciative of the natural world with a bit of bling and depth depending on perspective – you know, Aotearoa New Zealand in a nutshell.
I’ve used the same brand paints for years but in different ways. With layering, you can play with colour. You can make them bright, grey, shiny or matt. All give a feeling and that feeling can relate back to the narrative. I’ll do a ‘bad colour technique’ if it is for a narrative.
Carrie: What would you like the audience to take away with them after seeing your work?
AEH: Whatever they want. Art interpretation is an individual act i encourage. Unless someone calls me/them racist again because of their own hang ups. Not down with that. I’m Maori and Pakeha. Both, quite staunchly and with an arguably extensive knowledge of both histories. These days i’ve forgotten more than i remember, but my brushes still can.
Carrie: How has your work evolved over the last 20 years and have you observed any changes in the way your work is understood or how you are perceived as an artist?
AEH: It has evolved with me. I am my work. A psychologist tried to explain to me once it wasn’t, but it is. Now, I try to keep out of the ‘observations and perceptions’ side of my artworks creation and afterlife. Too much negativity, flattery and/or questioning can do your head in.
Carrie: Any advice you would you give to emerging artists?
Dempsey Bob told me once – “Just keep going.”
Lionel Grant told us, sometimes you don’t know what your doing. Go with it.
Colleen said “There is a A, B and a C you later list.”. Choose the people you work with wisely.
Manos told me he believed in me. Find someone you respect who believes in you.
Learn business skills, early.
Work on yourself and your own voice – the art will follow. Just keep going
If your going to learn, learn from the best – even if you don’t get along. Especially if you do.
Write about what you do yourself. Before someone else does and gets it wrong.
Carrie: Do you think being raised and taught outside of your Iwi influenced your work?
AEH: Yes. I never learnt my iwi stories. My immediate family didn’t have them. From a young age i have been drawn to finding out. Not easy if your not there. In the search for that information, i found much more from many sources. I think if i had of been raised on the whenua i wouldn’t necessarily be as interested in other iwi and places as i am.
Thanks to my Paoa Whanaunga/Ngati Kinohaku relations, I’ve since found out about my own Iwi/Whenua for myself and cousins – whakapapa going back a thousand years. Also, I am very grateful to the Hopkins, Manufui, Nathan, Tamaki/Hepi, Maxwell, Haddon/Gossage and Poroti whanau (among others) of the North who have had my back at stages over the past 25 years. My bones and the places i have stood with others have influenced my work a lot.
Carrie: Kapa Haka and performance was a big part of your life, has that filtered into your art practice?
AEH: It was my introduction to Måori Culture. I was not ‘raised Måori’. I learnt it. Like i believe others should before they speak or give opinions about it. At Intermediate School, my first recollection of Maori Art was being part of a kapa haka group singing at the Te Måori exhibition in 1986 or 87. The artwork in that exhibition bewitched me – I’d say positively.
My favourite things were Moteatea and Haka. I learnt the Northern style and lead accordingly but there was always something else. Back then, women and haka didn’t readily go together. Not everyone liked or remembered Moteatea so it wasnt practised often.
Again, I learnt something that wasn’t easy to find out about or do through the people that i met. I am a firm believer in serendipity and i happened to meet knowledgeable people willing to train me. The words of Moteatea fed my early paintings. Women with weaponry populated my later paintings. Some say paint what you know, so i do.
I gave up Kapa Haka when i had a panic attack leading our team onstage at the Turangawaewae Nationals in 2000. Not something i was previously familiar with and in subsequent performances, couldn’t shake. I escaped fully into the painting world and occasionally look back. Those memories, movements and melodies still shape my work.
Carrie: Why Andrealand?
AEH: I’m not a spokesperson for the entire Måori culture. No-one is. Beware of anyone who claims they are. I’ve been cornered into speaking for ‘my people’ too many times to count. Even with my knowledge base, it is not something i am comfortable with. I can only speak to my particular experience of it and others.
That learning and experience is reflected in my work. I am my work, therefore, welcome to Andrealand – enjoy your stay. Besides, i can do what i want without other people claiming ownership or getting precious if my name is on the door, right?
Maybe, maybe not.
Carrie: Anything else you would like to say?
AEH: Noa vs Tapu. I don’t like to tapu up things unnecessarily. Particularly things relating to gender roles – big call, i know. That isn’t generally where new growth comes from.
Only certain things grow under restriction.
I respect such things, but like to work with and/or around them if possible or needed. Some people should and some shouldn’t do certain things regardless of their gender. Participation should have more to do with someone’s knowledge/support base and intention.
Måori Art is the living face of the culture, not static.
Thank you to Whangarei Art Museum and Creative New Zealand for supporting me with this exhibition and work development. Mihi mahana ki a koutou katoa.