In Conversation with Mardi O'Shea
Introducing Whangamata artist and volunteer at The Little Gallery, Mardi O'Shea! Mardi is an abstract-impressionist painter who has been living in the Coromandel since 2009. We caught up with her to learn more about her background, her approach to painting, and her experiences of working in The Little Gallery Whangamata!
Can you tell me a bit about your background – you are a homeopath, how did you find your way into art and painting?
I’ve been a professional homeopath for about 25 years and used to tutor at Wintec in Hamilton. I am semi-retired now but I still see a few clients in Hamilton as well as here in Whangamata.
I’ve always been interested in art. As a child my favourite pastime was drawing and writing stories and I loved art at school, but I pursued a more academic career. My grandfather was a talented artist and craftsman. He and my grandmother moved from England to live in Rarotonga where my mother grew up, and he made all their furniture and did mainly intricate pencil drawings of old buildings in Europe. I have a collection of some of his work. He and grandmother had been actors in England, and that is my other love. I really enjoy acting in plays and have been in some of the local productions in Whangamata.
I had never painted until I attended a workshop with Kate Jones Madill in 2010. I was terrified! But my first painting was very successful and my second one sold. I haven’t looked back!
Can you tell me about how you start a painting - what influences your composition, subject, colours and moods? What draws you in particular to florals and still life compositions, as seen in many of your works?
Although there are a few of my floral paintings in the gallery, I like to paint many other subjects too! But my flowers do seem to be quite popular with people, and I do like to produce them every now and again. I hate to admit this to you, but most of my paintings go through a complete metamorphosis. I often start out planning one thing and then it changes into something completely different when 'things aren’t working'. And yes, this all goes down with lots of fumes and some not very lady-like language! So, I may start out planning a figurative work and eventually it turns into a landscape or a seascape. I’m sure most artists don’t do this, but hey, I’m always learning!
I get a real sense of romantic, urgent energy from your paintings – from both your colour choices and the sort of rapid, expressive brushstrokes present in a lot of your floral works. Can you talk a bit about this?
I like paintings that are semi-abstract, but one can make a sense of something tangible in them - so a lot of my work is a bit 'blurry' or indistinct in places. I’m not so confident at drawing as such, but find the paint often speaks for me in a pleasing way. I do prefer strong colours to pastels; I always seem to go back to blues, pinks and greens in combination and struggle to change my palette.
I have also created some successful black and white figurative works, and have just finished a series of small sepia-toned paintings of Edwardian women with their babies. They are very loosely based on some old photos I saw once. I often start a painting from a photo or image I've seen that has somehow caught my eye through its colour or composition, but always move into my own interpretation of it. I don’t see the point in copying something exactly and enjoy the process of making an image my own.
Why do you paint - what does it mean for you? What do you want the viewer to take away from your work?
I get huge enjoyment from my painting and hope those who enjoy or purchase my work continue to get the same satisfaction from them that I do. I love talking to people in The Little Gallery and finding out what sort of art they are attracted to - it is just as varied as the number of paintings we show. One thing I’ve learned is that you can never predict what other people will like when it comes to art!
You are a keen collector of art as well as an artist – what kind of work do you enjoy and collect?
Yes, I do have a lot of art at home. Large Hayley Brown portraits of Art Deco style women, and an extensive collection of eighteen paintings by Antony Warnes. Antony is a Katikati artist whose work is very colourful and quirky, with impressionist, stylized sea and landscapes and elongated, funky people.
What do you love about living in Whangamata, Coromandel?
I love the relaxed atmosphere of Whangamata and being able to walk everywhere. I walk on the beach most mornings and we live very close to town, so we can easily walk down to the shops and cafes. I enjoy knowing most of our neighbours and having the time to chat and socialise with the community.
What do you enjoy about exhibiting in and volunteering at The Little Gallery? Can you share a bit about your involvement with Arts Collective Whangamata?
Having the gallery here is a huge asset to Whangamata, and it is so enjoyed by everyone. I definitely hope to continue volunteering there and that it proves to be as successful as the gallery in Tairua.
I also enjoy exhibiting whenever possible for our local Arts Collective, and just recently featured in the Open Studios over Easter weekend!
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