In Conversation with Joanne Mahoney
A part of The Little Gallery Tairua as both an artist and volunteer for over four years, Joanne Mahoney will soon be joining our team of volunteers at Whangamata, where she has been living since the late nineties. We caught up with her to chat about her work and the new gallery!
Joanne with an installation work by Japanese Artist Yayoi Kusama
You have spent some time living in Asia. How do you think your travels have influenced your art practice?
Living in Singapore certainly had a huge influence on what I like to paint. In the first week I had moved there, I was taken to a Chinese Brush painting class. I was happy to go along and observe, not to partake in the lesson. That was not to be! Mr Chan insisted, so I was given a brush, rice paper and ink. Fish and waterplants were the topic. The painting I did that day I had framed and still have it hanging in my home. This day changed my life - I joined the weekly class for two years and began painting. I loved my time in Asia. When I returned to New Zealand I went to watercolour classes in Hamilton and Mount Maunganui for several years.
With your still life paintings I am reminded of the works of Giorgio Morandi and the way you present dimensional space with a certain flatness, formal balance and pared back simplicity, and there's also a resonance with some of Matisse's still life compositions which share that flatness but also employ very vivid colours and patterns. I'm interested in how you compose your work, could you tell me about your compositional and technical processes? What artists do you find yourself attracted to?
My ideas often start in the night when I can’t get to sleep. I love modern still life compositions. Sometimes I sketch a plan, sometimes I start with one thing, like a bowl, or a vase or the kind of flowers I would like to paint, and then work everything else out as I go. Sometimes I start with a heavily textured board or canvas and work from things happening from there. My watercolour coastal paintings often begin with what I have collected on a beach walk.
I do seem to like simplicity and order in my work. My palette often starts with the colour in, for example the flowers or the jar I am planning to paint. Then I work with what will go with that. Balance is what ends up being pleasing to my eye.
I do admire the works of Matisse and several of his contemporaries. I also love Helen Frankenthaler’s work and that of some of her contemporaries. Robert Kushner is currently a favourite.
'A Collection' by Joanne Mahoney
It's interesting to see the wide shifts between your parallel endeavours - your mixed media paintings and your coastal watercolours. Some of your latest landscape watercolours have a very graphic, almost map-like design. What's your relationship with this multitude of styles? Is there any preference?
The reason for my multitude of styles I blame on being a very late starter on my painting journey. No art through secondary school, a little at Training College, till my brush painting experience in Singapore. I feel I still have so much to learn and experiment with, and each new medium or process gets me motivated. Paula (McNeill) has been particularly supportive in my journey - I don't think I would still be painting if she wasn't in my life. She's really encouraged me to step out of my square and try other things.
At the moment I am doing Chine Colle printmaking after doing an amazing course with Dr Carole Shepheard at Kawhia. I just loved every minute of that experience, doing all sorts of exciting things with printmaking. I have also really enjoyed learning to use encaustics.
Deciding a preference is really difficult – I guess watercolours as I go back to my coastal environment with a collection of things I have picked up on my beach walks and I still love putting those into a composition to paint.
'Paku on the Coastline' by Joanne Mahoney
There seems to be a steady growth of the community of artists in the Coromandel. What do you love about living here? What do you envision for Whangamata and the new Little Gallery?
Yes, there is a strong community of artists living on the Coromandel – Thames, Coromandel, the Mercury Bay area, Tairua and of course Whangamata which is great to be part of. There is also an Arts Collective that I am part of, involving all sorts of artists - spinners and weavers, textile artists, potters and writers - not just painters, whose member numbers are growing. I have been coming here off and on since 1969 – living permanently since 1996. It's certainly changed since then - things always change, but it's good. There are still little old baches here and there, along with the new homes. There's still a small coastal town feeling, I wouldn't like to see that change too much. I am very lucky to be living where I do.
We've definitely missed a gallery in Whangamata - it was a shame that there was nowhere in town for local artists to exhibit their work. I think the new gallery will work very well, I hope it'll give a boost to the community. The locals do get interested in art, and our weekends here are pretty busy [with visitors].
What have you enjoyed about working in the gallery? Do you have any memorable stories?
I really enjoy my days in The Little Gallery. It’s great to meet interesting people, many of whom are most impressed with what the gallery has to offer. I'm always happy to share my knowledge when people ask how I've created my paintings. Often they will say, 'Oh, I used to paint', or 'I did that', or 'I don't think I could ever paint'. I'll say to them that I didn't think I could either until I was forty - then I was handed a paintbrush in Singapore and discovered I could!! So definitely don't give up.
I get a great deal of satisfaction out of creating something. When I make something I like and that other people like, it makes me very happy. Of course it is always very special to meet the purchaser of one of my paintings, too.
Joanne will be part of our Whangamata team when the gallery opens on 1 November.
To view more of Joanne's artwork, visit our online gallery here.
Enjoyed this article? Sign up to our newsletter below and be the first to hear about our latest Art Chat posts!