The Roll of Artists


Artists have always been the mirrors of our society.  Whether that is reflecting the damage we; humanity do to the environment or to each other.  Artist give visual voice to our actions and sometimes our consequences.

In the social media driven world of today, do we still need artists to be those mirrors?  Simply yes!  If anything, social media is now just another medium for us to access that visual commentary, as is seen with the satirical cartoons often posted online.

In our current exhibition “Shaken Earth” the artists on display have explored the impacts of last year’s earthquake.  We put together the show to highlight where we were and where we are.  Each artist has expressed in different ways the impacts as they perceive them of that moment.  The obvious destruction as shown in the instant capture of photography, in painting, the density of energy of the earths movement, along with the surprising scene of military frigates in local waters that arrived to help with the relief effort; not to mention the effects under the ground, is shown through colour and texture.  Each piece highlighting their differing observations.

Many of New Zealand’s most famous artists are making comments with the subject of their work whether it be, Bill Hammond with his anthropomorphic birds exploring the impact of humanity on the natural environment, or Barry Cleavin commenting on our impact of the sea.  Liam Barr and his “Buller and his Birds” commenting on our historic destruction of whole species.  Nelson artist Nikki Romney explores the imbalance between man or woman and church.  Each artist has a passion outside of their artistic practice that they illustrate through their talent.

In Belfast (Ireland) it has become a tourist attraction to view the politically motivated art on public walls of the “Troubles” that has shaped modern Irish life. Just as famous galleries around the world hold collections showing our history and our progress.

More and more today I think it is important that we have artists who are motivated to comment on the world around us.  Whether those commentaries are comfortable of not does not matter.  The artist role will always be to record our world; whether that be the land, the people or the political environment, they are the mirrors the rest of us need when we are too busy with the business of life to see the bigger or smaller picture.

Finishing an Artwork

I have always believed that the person viewing the artwork completes it. What I see in an artwork is different from the person next to me, because the work elicits and draws out our own emotions and experiences. We all have different life stories and are in different emotional states when we experience an artwork for the first time. The artist creates their work for us to experience and finish.
One of the great things about my job is that almost every day visitors to the gallery give me new ways of understanding and appreciating the art we have on display. For example, the sculptures of John Hegglun; John’s sculptures are made from dark rich driftwood. Until one visitor pointed out that they looked like Salvador Dali’s work, I hadn’t made that connection, now, it seems obvious.
This leads me to the other great thing about working in an art gallery, that is with art there is no right or wrong interpretation, because the next person is more than likely going to disagree with what I think is obvious. This is great because our experience of art, or finishing of art is personal. When we share our experiences we also share part of our history. By simply sharing our point of view on an artwork we give an insight into who we are.
In our previous show “A place to remember: Forest, Land, and Sea.” The most popular piece for many visitors is by Colin Wynn. It is a landscape painting of an Albatross in the Southern Ocean. The picture features deep dark blue oceanic water on a clear day with high winds and large swells. The focal point is a Buller’s Albatross, effortlessly gliding across the stormy water.
I like this work, the colour of the water the raw energy of the sea and wind, but it is the Albatross that makes me really fall in love with it. Because for me while the sea and wind is exciting and thrilling, and I can hear the roar of the wind gusts, feel the spray of the water being picked up. I can see the movement of the water coming towards me. But for the Albatross it is just a normal day being a part of the Southern Ocean, nothing special or exciting.
Another way of viewing the painting replaces my interruption of exciting raw energy of the great ocean. With the view that, “the wave is dark, ominous, and looming, ready to crash over us.” Both ways of finishing tell us something about each person while still completing the work. For me, the other way of finishing the work makes me appreciate the work more, while also acknowledging that I am safely viewing the scene from the outside, warm and dry. This connection I would have not made without talking to other viewers. It also gives me an insight into the person giving the painting a different finish. They are probably not going to enjoy crossing the Cook Strait, unless the sea is calm.
Finishing artwork whether in the positive or negative comes in the sharing. Leads to a richer experience and understanding: safely knowing that you are separate from the artwork. In the sharing, you gain knowledge of the person you are sharing the experience with and getting to appreciate the art from multiple perspectives.

Art knowledge and does it matter when buying Art

Recently I’ve been reading art magazines and looking through art books that I bought years ago. All to re-familiarise myself with different art movements, influences, techniques and aesthetics.  The more I read the more I realise that unless you have spent your entire education absorbing all of that you may never be in a position to decide whether a piece of art is good.

That, then begs the question, how can the average art appreciator without that knowledge decide if a piece is good?  I’m not sure that is actually the question.  On many occasions, here in the Gallery a visitor will say ‘I don’t know anything about art’; my standard response is simply if you like doesn’t matter.  I know for those with the training and the experience that is the antithesis of art theory.  But in a commercial situation we are here to sell art.

I realised also that we all approach buying art in different ways. Personally, I feel that if an artist elicits an emotional response from the viewer then the artist has done their job.  For me that emotional response is the first thing I want when I consider whether to buy a piece. My second consideration is; am I still thinking about the piece once I’ve walked away.  Sometime if I have limited time, say an hour, this can have a big impact on whether I want the art work.  Here in the Gallery we have seen visitors return time and time again to a specific piece either in the same visit or over successive visits.  When that happens it usually results in a sale.

That is just one way to approach buying art.  With others, it is purely for décor.

Academically this is not always an artists preferred option but as we like to say; a sale is a sale. For some it is vitally important that the artwork suits the room, whether it be the colour the space, theme or the lighting.  This is just as valid a way to approach buying art as any.  Some people may only ever buy one or two pieces in their entire lives.

You do get the collectors, and every gallery wants a few of these buyers on their books.  They, of course, will be those in the know.  Their collections will be shaped by their personal preferences on styles and influences and possibly education.  Many collectors, because they recognise after much experimentation and experience, those artists who have the potential to be investment producers, may buy for long term investment.

As a commercial gallery, we don’t really have an opinion as to what is the best way to approach buying art.  If you love it and want to take it home, we are here to help.



Is photography art?

So, is photography art? The simple answer for me at least, is unequivocally yes. But it is not necessarily true that all photography is art, I certainly wouldn’t claim my holiday snaps as worthy of being shown in a gallery setting.

Art, whether it be cave drawings, ceramics or photography, is man’s way of making sense in one form or another, of the world around them. Whether it is capturing a moment in time, a political thought or societal changes, art in its many forms has always been inventive and challenging to the perspectives of the past. That includes our perceptions of what is art.

In the early 19th century arts and crafts would not have been perceived as art, in the fine arts sense. However, like many things that happen throughout history it was a direct reaction to a period. In this case, the industrial revolution. It celebrated the simple form and beauty of domestic items. Now, any art gallery or museum around the world happily acknowledges arts and crafts in their collections and exhibitions.

All art producers need a specific set of skills, no matter what their medium. An eye for composition, technical mastery of their chosen medium, and the dedication to producing the work. A photographer, just as a painter or a sculptor, all have this in common. In many ways, a photographer’s ability to see and conceptualise an image to illicit a response from the viewer, is doubly important, as they capture the initial image.

Nearly two decades ago a talented photographer working for one of New Zealand’s finest public art galleries said to me that his work was purely to document the collection. While he saw photography as art, the establishment was not ready to do so. In the years since then exhibitions of Ansell Adams and Cecil Beaton have been toured and proudly displayed in public spaces.

The visual arts like all art is constantly evolving as humanity changes and what we perceive as art expands. Photography is now and in some corners, has always been, more than just a documentary tool. The challenge now is the acceptance of the use of digital programmes. Do they compromise the work? Or are they just an additional tool for artists to utilise as they would a paint brush?

Shaken Art of Shaken by Art

The last week or so has seen the entire country effected by the latest round of earthquakes with many still living with the devastation and unsurety that comes with them particularly those in Kaikoura and Southern Marlborough.
While there is much we can do to survive the after effects such as having a prepared kit ready at the time of the event all we can do is hope we have a safe place to hold onto while the initial event is happening.
However, before a major event there are things we can do to protect our homes and our art and collectibles collections. We all know to screw bookcases and wall units back to the wall. Being sure your pictures are hung from studs is a good start, you can also use something like Seismic Wax (by Hayden) on the bottom corners to help stop them slipping on their hooks.
For your three-dimensional objects, such as ceramics and smaller sculptural art the Seismic Wax, or Quake Hold (Museum Putty) or even good old Blue Tack can help keep things in place. The bonus is that these things can help protect against the family cat as well. If you are looking for something for crystal and glass objects you can also get Museum Gel which is clear.
Museum grade putty, waxes, and gels can all be sourced here in New Zealand, Te Papa, Takapuna Art Supplies, Conservations Supplies and Fishpond all of which have websites, along with Amazon.
The easy part of course is to get these things to secure our precious items but getting around to it can sometimes take too long, I know I’ve been guilty of it at home, but these last two weeks have given me a bit of a kick start.
In Christchurch, we saw the rise of inspired public art that brought light, joy and movement back to a ravaged city, I’m sure when the dust settles and day to day life gets back to a more familiar rhythm we will see similarly inspired activities in other parts of the country.
Artist who have a view point or and experience to share will use their incredible talents and imagination to express and illuminate what has been for themselves and many a truly challenging time.
For the rest of us all we can do is prepare the best we can and support each other in getting through.

Ramblings about patronage and Artistic Truth

In this day and age the tradition of Art Patronage has changed, with church, wealth and societies becoming more secular, we don’t see an artist making their livelihood purely from the art the way that was possible in the 17th Century of even into the 18th. These days Artists if they are lucky may get a grant or a commission to produce work for a specific item or representation. In fact, many very good artists have a day job to put, as they say, bread on the table and their passion can often be relegated to that of a hobby. That is not to say that those artists who can’t make a full time living from their art are not making great art, simply that waiting for the right buyer to come along maybe too far and few between to make it a viable vocational choice.
To a greater or lesser degree under a patronage system artists would on occasion get to do what their passion and imagination tempted them to, while essentially working for someone else’s glorification. In today’s art world being a lawyer, teacher, accountant, waitress or linesmen maybe the daily drudge, but if they are talented and lucky they may get the odd commission. With the advent of the digital age even commission work isn’t what it was.
For us here at Detour what excites us is being able to experience and hopefully sell what our artists are excited about producing, not the daily grind. On two separate occasions since we opened our artists have asked us “what sort of things we’d like” them to produce. Now on the one hand commercial sensibilities suggest we should really give that some thought and maybe offer guidance. But, for us as art lovers who genuinely enjoy the reactions and conversations each piece sparks for ourselves and those who choose to come and explore the work, dictating to artists what they should be doing feels like the antithesis to the artistic process.
You hear constantly in programs like the “Voice” or “Idol” as an artist be true to yourself. Well that is true of any art form. Art should inspire, challenge inform, remind and engage the viewer, listener etc. But if those producing it aren’t’ any of those things how can the audience be.

You’ve bought your art work now what?

How we purchase the art work we choose to put in our homes varies. Whether the choose is as an art lover who just has to have that new piece for their collection or as a piece of décor that finishes a room, we all face the same problem; how to hang it/place it and how to light it.
With sculptural pieces we often have a spot where they can live but have to consider whether our pets are going to be an issue to the piece’s safety. With wall art it often comes down to which wall will it fit on what else does it go with? If you are really lucky you have plenty of free walls; but in many modern homes with large indoor outdoor flow, many of us have massive picture windows.
There used to be a couple of things to consider when hanging artwork;
1: Never hang on an external wall. I never used to understand this, until a conservator told me it is because, particularly with older houses the insulation was not thick enough or in some cases existent at all. This meant that external walls often had the biggest rate of temperature fluctuation as well as a tendency to be damp. Not good things for the long term health of your art work. The paint could shrink or expand and anything on paper could get what I call the wet weave, not to mention chances of crazing and mould. These days with modern homes having much higher standards of insulation the use of external walls are less of an issue. However, with large picture windows direct sunlight can become an issue.
2: Never hang work over a fire or in a wet room for similar reasons as above. Smoke and dust damage in the case of the fireplace and damp and grease from kitchens and bathrooms. A lot of these things can be mitigated now by proper framing and ventilation but are worth considering when choosing where to display your precious art work.
Now how to light your art work to its best advantage. I know earlier I said to watch out for direct sunlight, this is still true. While it bright light many works will look great, they won’t forever. I have a piece at home that sits directly opposite a big picture window. It looks fantastic, but, I’m really lucky I know the artist, as recently she has re-coloured some of it as it had been bleached by the sun.
Whether or not an art work will fade depends on so much. The pigment, quality of the paint whether it has a sealant on it, or whether it is framed and what glass may have been used if it is glazed. So rule of thumb; unless you know all the variables you probably should not hang art in direct sunlight.
Lighting artwork is a matter of taste, is the piece contributing to the overall feel of a room or is it a focal point. If it is a focal point you may want to do what galleries do and spot/highlight the work. In this case it is worth talking to your electrician to make sure the bulbs you are using do not project heat. Halogen and LCD bulbs are quite common to use in this case. The angle of the light on the work also matters as you want to highlight the whole piece not just the middle.
If the work is not a focus of the room direct lighting it may not be necessary as long as the whole room is lit in a similar manner. Any pendant lighting will create a dark and light in a way you may not have intended.
So just as you choose your artwork for your own reasons hanging and lighting your work is a personal choice. The only three things you need to remember is where it looks best for you, how you want it to be seen and its long term health.

What makes good Art?

As a Commercial Art Gallery you’d think we had the answers to what on the surface looks like a very straight forward question.

Who decides what is art, the academics? Well in some cases an artist’s reputation can definitely be added to by the acceptance and endorsement of the establishment, they may be seen to have the right education, influences and techniques and originality. But is that the only way.

Today Artists can be self-taught with raw talent, expressing diverse ideas creating work using old and new techniques.

But then Charles F Goldie in his life time was not recognised for his art and neither was Vincent Van Gogh, however today both artists fetch stunning prices on the rare times they come to auction. So education and or talent

Today Artists can be self-taught with raw talent, expressing diverse ideas creating work using old and new techniques.

The digital era has meant that a painting be it in oil or acrylic can now have an extended and diverse life through computer manipulation and printing techniques. Limited editions and embellished limited edition prints are a way for many to get into art collecting at a price point that isn’t cost prohibitive. But do multiple editions make it art? The purists would say no they are posters; but then 20 odd years ago photography was not seen as an Art Form, now pubic art galleries around the world will happily have exhibitions featuring Cecil Beaton, Ansel Adams or New Zealand’s own Graeme Sydney to name a few.

This of course brings us no closer to the answer of our original questions; What makes Good Art?

Recently I’ve had two different conversations where the people involved were very specific about what they thought was not art, one thought that a photograph wasn’t because they were a realist artist and photography was cheating, the work discussed at the time sold two days later so clearly I wasn’t the only one who disagreed. The other conversation was one person expressing an opinion about two other art forms obviously not in their repertoire, this person thought they were crap, irrelevant, yet others have admired the technical skill required. Who is right?
For me personally good art has many components, if you have an emotional response to it either positive or negative it has worked on some level, if you keep thinking about it long after you have experienced it has also worked. Art can also be beautiful but it doesn’t have to be if it challenges you make you think or reassess a perspective it has worked. To me this is good art, all the technical ability in the world can never substitute passion and the ability to create a conversation.


What is good in the visual arts is so like what is considered good in any other art form – subjective. In fact any activity that stimulates the sensors is a matter of personal preference; from wine, to music, painting to sculpture, dance to acting or prose to poetry. What I’ll appreciate, love or admire, may well illicit the exact opposite response in someone else. We bring so much of our own experience and imagination to artistic appreciation that it will always be about our own subjectivity. Continue reading