In Conversation with Jo Dalgety

  • 27 February 2017
  • Sarah Holden

Jo Dalgety is an Auckland-based artist, working predominantly in painting and drawing. She works in her Dornwell Road studio in Three Kings, which is shared with eight other artists. Jo has been exhibiting in The Little Gallery for many years and is part of our team of volunteers, helping to manage our behind-the-scenes administration.

Jo's stunning painting 'Mangawhai' is currently featured in the window of our Auckland gallery, and continues to draw in passer-bys, who stop to observe the simple but haunting landscape scene. There is something in the simplicity and ease of Jo's work that many people connect with – it is characteristically restful yet arresting.

We had a chat with Jo ahead of her upcoming Art Demonstration at our Auckland gallery!

Jo with her painting, 'Mangawhai'

How long have you been volunteering at The Little Gallery? What do you like about The Little Gallery?

My relationship with The Little Gallery started about five years ago. I had a lot to do with the Tairua area as that’s where my family live, and that’s how I came to be involved with the gallery. I think about four years I’ve been volunteering. I love all the different artist styles in the gallery, and the variety of work.

Tell me about how you came to start painting and making art.

I’ve painted all my life - I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been working creatively. Probably around 2007 I decided to find a way I could paint more consistently & solidly. I completed two year-long courses at Artstation in Ponsonby, and once I finished I got the studio space and haven’t stopped since!

Could you talk a bit about your process?

I’m an abstract landscape painter and I only paint the places that I visit. I can’t paint places that I haven’t been to – a sense of authenticity in my work is very important to me. I start with photographs for research but once I start painting, I leave them and focus on the painting itself.

My work is either in large format in oils, or small using watercolours. I also incorporate charcoal into my oils and watercolours. I like working large but watercolour works better on a smaller scale for me; I enjoy watercolour on paper – the combination frees you up, it’s beautiful to work with.

I see my paintings as a little bit memorialising, but more about the memory of people, although I don’t paint people. For my New Zealand works, it’s about personal memories, my memories of others. In my paintings of places overseas - like Turkey, Ireland, England – it’s about the history I can feel of all the people who have walked there before, the traces of human presence left behind.

I feel that titles are an important part of your work, giving the viewer a clue as to what the scene might represent. Do you see them as something for yourself - a story of what inspired the work, or an explanation for your audience?

Yes, my titles are very important. There’s quite a bit of research involved with them. I research poems and sometimes songs; almost always they have a relation to the landscape I’ve been painting. For my New Zealand landscapes I’ve sourced poems by James K Baxter and Charles Brasch; in my Irish ones, George Bernard Shaw and Louis MacNeice. If the words come home to me, I choose them for titles.

I do want my audience to relate to them (the titles), but how or why they relate to them is not important to me – that is personal to them. It is sort of the part you give away to the audience – something they connect with and find importance in, but my personal part is hidden.

Jo's studio space at Dornwell Studios during a studio open day.

How do you find working in a shared studio?

I love it - it’s like heaven. I’ve been there since 2009. Everybody works at different times so sometimes you can be there by yourself, and sometimes with one or two others. It’s always great for support - when one person’s up, another can be down – it happens to all artists, so it’s great we can balance each other out. We have an open studio day every year which is fantastic - everyone is there, and we open up our studio for the public to see – we did it as part of Art Week last year. I love working in a communal space.

Tell me about the Hikuai Art Group that you belong to.

The Hikuai Group has been going for a long time. We meet every six weeks down in the Hikuai Valley, in the old country hall. Everyone brings their own work and we just work for the day – there’s lots of support, lots of fun – it’s great. Apart from that there’s not a lot of structure to it –if you can’t make it, there’s no pressure. It’s just a day of painting and support.

That aspect of working in a communal space and having the support of an art community seems to be an important part of your practice.

Absolutely. I would struggle to work in my own studio alone. Leaving my art communities would be very difficult.

Dornwell Studios

Tell me about your studying art history?

At the moment, I am taking a break from it as I’ve been travelling. I started because I wanted to study Fine arts, but I couldn’t fit it in with my schedule. I did at least a paper a semester – and I absolutely loved it. I’ve always loved history as a subject, and art history seems to be more about history in the context of art. I thoroughly enjoyed it; it was amazing. I’ll definitely be continuing.

Did you find it helpful in terms of contextualising your own work?

Yes, very helpful. You realise that you’ve got a part to play. It also helped me to feel that painting as a medium wasn’t extinct, with all the installation and conceptual art around. It was great learning about everything – whether historic or modern. Everything has its place – you always learn something from everything that you see.

Do you have any upcoming projects or plans with your work?

I’m participating in the Mercury Bay Art Escape coming up in March, as part of the Hikuai Art Group. I’m also working on some different projects in the studio – one is sewing pieces of paper together, already painted, to make one large landscape. Another is to make some sort of artwork about all the pieces I pick up on my walk in the morning – magpie things. It might become a weaving or a collage. I’m still trying it out, not certain yet – I’ll just keep on going!


You can meet Jo herself at our Artist Demonstration Evening where she will be taking part, along with Kirsty Black and Keron Smith at our Auckland gallery on Thursday 16 March!

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