Liz Rowe

Introducing Liz Rowe

Liz sent me her ‘interview’ responses today along with some photos of her completed work. As we’ve only met via email I was pleased to receive the photo above. I sometime get the feeling that I may be wandering past some of ‘our’ artists in the street and, because I haven’t met many of them in person,  simply ignoring them. Hopefully I’ll get to meet them all before the exhibition!

WNMS – Liz, you use art as a medium to express your feelings about land use and environment. I know that the Dairy industry concerns you. Do you think people who buy your paintings share your concerns or is it more a case of they simply enjoy your cattle and landscape paintings?

Some people have definitely bought my cow drawings because they share my concerns about the dairy industry. A landowner who felt that land surrounding his property was being inappropriately converted to dairy, commissioned a work and there is one work I know of hanging at Parliament. But I also know a dairy farmer who has bought a painting, so I guess it’s probably a mixture of both.

WNMS – Which do you prefer – to work on one project from start to finish or flit between several projects?

I work on a number of paintings at one time and also have both painting and ceramic projects underway at the same time. I work in oils, which need time to dry, so that’s why I usually have more than one painting underway at once. There’s also a bit of down time when you make ceramic pieces, so it helps to have other things to do from time to time. That said, I do find switching to an entirely different medium, with different conceptual concerns, helps when you’re feeling a bit ‘stuck’ on something.

WNMS – Tell me about your first ever sale?

Years ago, when ceramics was a hobby, a friend and I decided to take a stall at the Martinborough Fair. When everything was set up I suddenly felt sick I was so nervous about having my work out under public scrutiny. My friend told me to go away for a walk and when I got back she’d sold my first piece and I felt fine after that.

WNMS – Do you accept commissions?

I have done, but only on the proviso that the buyer isn’t under any obligation to buy the finished work. I don’t really like doing them because they set up an expectation on both sides that can be hard to meet. People often have ideas about colours they like and that isn’t the way I work.

WNMS – When you’re creating a work how much importance do you place on the ‘will this sell or not’ question. I guess what I’m trying to say is do you primarily follow your own artistic drive and a sale is just a happy outcome!

Definitely the latter. Making work because you think it will sell is a disaster for artists. It steals away your creative impulse and after a while you find yourself locked into a formulaic approach to making work.

WNMS – Do you ever push yourself to finish something that is arguing with you through the whole creative process?

Yes. Sometimes it works out in the end and sometimes it doesn’t. Getting colours right is usually where it starts. I don’t like one colour, so I change it, then find that something else needs changing as a result. When something feels like it’s come to a dead-end I find it helps not to look at it for a few days and then see how I feel about it.

WNMS – Do you work in your studio every day?

Most days I’ll get to the studio, which is where I paint, or down to Otago Potters’ Club, which is where I make ceramics. I do make some ceramics in my shed, but it’s really cold in the winter so not such an appealing option. There is a bit of admin work required when you’re an artist so I do spend a bit of time at the computer or organising things.

WNMS – How do you keep motivated when things get tough in the studio?

Swapping painting for ceramics for a while usually helps as does talking with other artists. I have a couple of painter friends who are on the same wavelength as me and a poet friend who is very good for a conversation about all sorts of things to do with life and art and that usually sets me thinking about lots of new ideas.

WNMS – Does your Dowling St studio have separate work areas or do you share an open space with the other artists?

 I’ve recently shifted to another studio space in one of Dunedin’s old warehouses. It’s a bit smaller than the one at Dowling St, but warmer and it has a view. Two friends share the space next door, which has a half divider wall, though we’re not often all there at the same time. The Dowling St studios were all separate spaces.

WNMS – What’s your preferred working scenario – isolation, company, music, silence?

I don’t find it easy to paint if someone is watching what I do. I’m usually in the studio on my own and I listen to National Radio all day.

WNMS – When it comes to painting versus ceramics versus soap walls – what’s your favourite art form?

I love thinking up ideas for installations, but they usually involve writing proposals and finding a space to exhibit so they’re harder to do. Painting can be both fun and extremely frustrating when I can’t get the image in my head translated into 2D. Ceramics is always fun because it’s so hands-on.

WNMS – I have to ask, where have you stored/what have you done with your soap chunks from the 2500 bars you used in the Blue oyster exhibition Never be too careful?

Some of it has been given away, but most is in boxes in my shed (how does anyone live without a shed?). I’m going to use it again for an exhibition at Hullabaloo in July. We’re doing a group show called ‘Good as Gold’ to celebrate the discovery of gold in Otago and I’m going to build a wishing well out of the soap. The yellow bars look like bars of gold and the wishing well is to channel all the hopes and dreams of people looking for their lucky break – whether it’s discovering gold or winning Lotto. After that I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I’d like to ‘recast’ it by boiling it down and making something entirely new, but I think that could be quite a tricky process given the quantity I’ve got.

WNMS – You’ve exhibited at Hullabaloo in Cromwell, The Artists Room in Dunedin, with the Dowling St project, the Blue Oyster Gallery, Ashburton Art Gallery, and CoCA in Christchurch. Do you have a favourite exhibition space?

Not really. Some spaces require much more input from me in that I have to decide the concept and install it myself and in others you hand over your work and the gallery does the hang.

WNMS – Tell me about your first exhibition.

Like most artists my first exhibition was part of a group show. Again it was when I was working full-time and making ceramics in my spare time. I was the only potter and I made two sets of bowls and vases – one in black and one in lime green – and I sold them all.

WNMS – What was your best exhibition –in terms of sales and/or enjoyment?

That’s a hard question to answer. I try and do something different for each exhibition and I guess the best ones are where I feel I’ve really got the conceptual thinking right as well as having an exhibition that looks good.

WNMS – Do you have a preference for solo over collaborative exhibitions or doesn’t it bother you?

Working with other people is more fun in many respects, but solo exhibitions give you more scope for ideas. I like doing a mix of both.

WNMS – After preparing for an exhibition do you feel like ‘a breather’ or are you brimming with ideas and want to get started on your next project straight away?

I’m always much more tired that I expect to be once an exhibition is up and have to take a bit of a breather no matter whether I want to or not because I can’t think straight for a few days. But I also usually have loads of new ideas I want to try out.

WNMS – Have you travelled beyond New Zealand? And if so, have your travels impacted your art?

Last year I spent six months in Mexico and Latin America. It was the first extended trip I’ve had overseas since I was in my twenties and did my OE in the UK and Europe. I went to study Spanish rather than anything specific to do with art, but the trip has made an impact on my art making – not the least of which was having a 6-month sabbatical. Lots of people have asked whether the colours of Mexico will influence me and my answer is definitely not. I’m also not going to paint picturesque scenes of Mexican markets! What struck me from visits to museums was how durable ceramics are and how important they are as archaeological records of both the ceremonial and the everyday. My first exhibition of ceramics since returning plays on this theme by working with images of everyday late 20th and early 21st century technology – just the stuff that archaeologists may be curious about in a few hundred years’ time.

WNMS – How does place – Dunedin – influence your work?

Place is a central theme in my work, but from the perspective of the difficulty of defining and finding place in a globalised world rather than working with the specifics of a particular place. I love living in Dunedin for all sorts of reasons, but as a place in and of itself it doesn’t influence my work.

WNMS – What are your interests outside your studio?

I play bridge, not always very well, and I guess learning Spanish is an interest because there’s no other logical explanation why I want to speak another language. I went to a few Salsa classes in Mexico and loved it, so have started classes here, and I also go to a ukulele group every week – music is definitely not a talent, but I love the idea of being able to play an instrument at some level. Walking the dog is my most regular exercise and I try to get in a few days skiing every year.

WNMS – Has the influx of social media changed the way you market your art?

Like a lot of artists I have a web site and now I always post images from exhibitions on my Facebook page. I don’t get a lot of inquiries from the web site, but it’s important that people have somewhere to go if they hear your name or see something you’ve done and want to find out more. The Facebook thing is a good way to get images circulating and to remind people what you’re doing and I’ve noticed that a lot of galleries now have Facebook pages as it’s a good way for them to build a community of interest. I’ve thought about doing a blog and twitter as well, but haven’t quite got round to it yet. It is important to market yourself and your art and all these tools are important, but they’re also all part of that admin side of life that can feel like it’s getting in the way of making, which is what most artists enjoy.

Check out Liz’s website here

Wild Willow Downs

‘Installation view, Here & now (& then), Hullabaloo Art Space’.

effluent road show ends on high


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