In Conversation with Verena Tagmann
Ahead of our Artists in Residence event this weekend, we chatted with one of our participating artists Verena Tagmann! Born in Switzerland, Verena has been living in New Zealand since 2003. Much loved for her vibrant, colour-rich abstract paintings and experimental approach to mixed media, Verena talks about her artistic journey and life in the Coromandel.
Verena in her Whitianga studio
Can you tell me a bit about your background - you are from Switzerland, how did you make your way to New Zealand?
The first time I came to New Zealand was in 1989, for a five month holiday with a girlfriend - we cycled around the country! When I went back to Switzerland, I had no intention to come back, but I’d made some good friends whom I later revisited. I house-sat for them for six months, and during that time I met my partner – and so ended up immigrating here in 2003. I was in a period in my life where I was open to changes, and New Zealand provided an opportunity to start a new life. I was lucky to move first to Kuaotunu, and then to Whitianga where I am now – I’ve never left the Coromandel!
How did you first get into painting?
I was always a creative person. When I was in school I always had ideas, and wanted to do something different. I started approaching abstract painting in my teenage years; I had really good support from one of my art teachers which really helped to motivate me. After high school, I wasn’t necessarily painting straight away but I always tried to continue creating. I enjoyed trying out different materials and mediums, like plaster and sculpture. I wasn’t really making anything good, but I just liked experimenting!
In my 20s when I was still in Switzerland, I continued to take painting classes, as that was what I really liked. I began studying art therapy when I was in my 30s. I learned a lot about colour, the history of composition, shapes… I never really worked as a therapist because I figured that wasn’t really what I wanted to do, but I gained a lot of background knowledge, that was so interesting to me. When I came to New Zealand I thought I would try and focus on painting. New Zealand is very isolated, and I just started off doing my own thing, working on my own little creations – especially in the beginning when I didn’t know many people.
What are some of your most memorable moments when you were starting to paint?
What stands out is the first really good teacher I had. They taught us to see shapes, and not the details in nature; to see the shape of colour. I learned to use the palette knife, so I wouldn’t get lost in details. This is still what I currently like, especially seeing the different shades of colour. I love mixing colours, creating semi-abstract shapes – I prefer abstract compositions, rather than focusing on details.
What is your favourite thing about living in the Coromandel?
I have three! Firstly, the seaside living. I love the ocean and saltwater, I always have. Having grown up in a landlocked country, I love it here. Second, the active art community. Lots of people in the Coromandel are art lovers and support artists and the arts. Everyone is really supportive, it’s great. Also, I love the New Zealand climate – with the short winters and moderate temperatures. In Switzerland the winters are long and very cold! I love swimming and learned how to dive, and it’s great I can do that here.
Tell me about how you start a painting – what influences your composition, subject, colour, mood?
A painting for me is like a journey – much in the way life is. You start somewhere, go somewhere, you go with the flow. When I start a work, I don’t have a set goal. Some people use photographs as references for their painting, but I start with an idea – it’s like a journey. I’m very lucky with ideas – if I don’t know where to go or what to do one day, it will come to me the next. I always find something from somewhere. I am definitely influenced by my environment, and my past – a mix of both come through in my painting.
Why do you paint? What does it mean for you?
Painting for me is freedom – I love to express, I like to start something and work it as I go along - I paint what comes to me naturally. When I paint, I can escape, be in my own world, create something unique, combine my experiences, environment and knowledge, go somewhere – it makes me balanced, it makes me happy. I see it as my personal journey – I suppose I paint for myself. I enjoy experimenting, I need freedom and the ability to express. If someone likes or buys my painting, it’s like a really nice compliment!
What do you want the viewer to take away from your work?
I don’t always know how others feel about my work, but I find especially with my more abstract paintings, people are inspired to get creative or go into a different world. Even though it’s not usually obvious at first glance what is in my paintings, with abstract art you start imagining what might be happening or what might be there. You can engage in a deeper way of looking.
What artists do you admire?
Always the classics, like Picasso, Klee – there are too many! I also love architecture. We have a lot of clever architects here, in Europe too. There are a lot of great artists in the Coromandel too, who are very good at what they do and how they do it. I suppose I lean towards abstract artists – I do admire the technical skills of realist painters, but abstraction is my language, it’s what I like.
Can you share anything on future projects or directions with your work?
I’m part of the printing group ‘Printmakers Combined’ – in the future I will probably integrate more printmaking into my mixed media work. Printmaking is a new challenge for me. It’s a very different approach to painting – the other way around, in that you plan first, which is very different to what I do. I’m still just in the learning stage, but I’m enjoying it! Because it’s still quite new to me I keep print and painting separate in my work for now. But mixed media allows you to be very open; anything can be integrated.
What do you love about exhibiting in The Little Gallery?
I’m grateful to have the opportunity to exhibit in The Little Gallery – it is pretty much the only gallery where I show. It’s great to support local artists and have the support of people in and around the gallery.
What are you looking forward to about Artists in Residence?
I’m looking forward to spending some time in the gallery during the two weekends along with the other artists, and meeting art lovers! Also to showing my new paintings which I delivered the other day. I have quite a bit of new work – experimenting with different sizes, but presenting a mixture of what reflects my work at the moment, it will be nice for them to have some exposure and get some feedback! I encourage everyone to come in and see it in person!
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