Mercury Bay Art Escape: My Studio Tour

  • 21 March 2016
  • Sarah Holden

The Mercury Bay Art Escape is a self-drive Open Studio Tour centered around the beautiful coastal area of Mercury Bay on the Eastern Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand.  My girlfriend and I went to check out some of the studios that were open – we only had one day so we had to make the most of it.  We weren’t going to get to see everyone so I flagged the pages in my guide of who I wanted to see in my guide and we went on our way.  The sun was shining and glorious as we hopped in the car, coffee and water in hand, excited about our ladies' day out.




Of first stop, of course, was The Little Gallery in Tairua where Carole Shepheard was the artist in residence during the first weekend (someone from outside the area but she has links to the arts in the Coromandel. Carole was the opening speaker at last year's art escape and had also taught this year's speaker, Matt Gauldie.  She has also taught a number of workshops to the local artists from the region and you can see how she pushes some of them to use a variety of materials in their work).   I had already seen the exhibition but my girlfriend hadn’t and I wanted to help Carole set up and get ready for her busy day.  People often start or finish in Tairua so I knew the morning was going to be a bit of a whirlwind.

Carole was in fine form, excited and energized about the work she had lovingly created for her exhibition ‘Uncanny Nature’ and there were lots of people around admiring her work (please note that the work will be displayed until the end Easter).  There is a great depth to her work and you need to take time to look at the work and take in all the layers that she has created using oil, acrylic and vanish.

Then it was off to meet some of the Tairua based artists and visit their studios.  Paula McNeill showed off her diversity from portraits to impressionist landscapes to evocative abstract art.  Each one with a unique story to tell and often created after a dream in the middle of the night.  Some stand out with bright colours and some with their moody atmosphere - all of them lure you into the work and force your eye to travel through the painting.





Kate Hill’s studio (which has a great view over Tairua/Pauanui waterways) was beautifully set.  Kate loves to incorporate a variety of techniques into her original pieces and combines collage, photography, needle word and painting to create modern art.  She also tells a story through her work and she descibed how she had used letters that her mother had written to her from England.  She had reverse the print so you couldn't read them but the sentiment of a handwritten letter is definitely there.  I think a lot of people could relate to the work as many live so far from their families but the way we keep in touched as definitely moved on.  There is something lovely about a letter though - maybe it will be a tradition that becomes trendy again.




Julie Whyman was opening her studio for the first time for the art escape and she had a great variety of work on display including birds, landscapes and waves.  She has a fantastic talent at being about to create texture and movement in her work – allowing your eyes to explore the whole work and move throughout the painting to take each element in.  Julie was also the co-winner of the Artists’ Choice award at the opening night of the Art Escape held at Hot Waves cafe.  It was a pleasure to deliver her a voucher from The Little Gallery as recognition for the win.




For a different art form it was great to visit Tim Aldrich, wood carver.  His works are slick and show great personality and detail.  He was telling me about his plans to offer people who have caught a large fish and want to keep it as a momento without stuffing it then he would carve it for them.  What a fantastic idea!!  I would much prefer a carving in my home rather than a stuffed fish on the wall. 






Sally Samins stunning view over Hot Water Beach is picture perfect in it’s own right but combine that with her vibrant art work and you have a match made in heavan.  Sally also shows great texture and you are drawn into each work by the vibrant colours catching your eye and taking you on a journey through the painting.  I love the strong oranges and teal colours that she uses.






Always a character to go and visit, Gary Nevin is full of fun and laughter and his work is full of this humour and personality.  He doesn’t take himself seriously, nor his work, but they make fantastic garden art.  Quirky, bright and unique.  He takes the clay from his back yard, behind the house and mixes it to his preferred consistency - recently this has been a mix with cement.  The then paints and glazes them in fun colours. 






Last stop was Wendy Walls and Verena Tagmann who shared studio space following the tragic loss of Verena’s home due to a house fire.  The ladies were in fine spirits who had joked about being on the go all day.  Verena’s work she called the phoenix as it rose from the ashes and has evolved and changed as a result of this life changing experience.  I truly admit her positive and courageous outlook and the new work is fantastic.  Wendy has been experimenting with form and colour, giving you a sense of motion as you move through the painting.  

It was a beautiful day and a lot to take in and absorb with the art.  So much to see and too little time but I’m pleased with who I chose to visit.  Next year I’ll try to visit different artists and give you a different taste of the tour.



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