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Friday, 26 April 2019 05:50 pm

Emerging artist gets residency at Wellington gallery

UNFINISHED, vividly coloured paintings line the walls of Emma Chalmers’ new Wellington studio.

The Dunedin artists’ work on women’s domestic conditions has landed her a rare type of residency at Wellington art gallery 30 Upstairs.

The multidisciplinary artist says the gallery offers one of the only New Zealand artist in residence programmes for emerging artists.

“For the majority of the residencies in New Zealand, you have to be established,” she says.

Miss Chalmers says she applied for the residency because she heard great things about the project space.

Mal Brow, who established and runs the space, says Miss Chalmers’ strong body of work is one of the reasons the gallery chose her as their artist in residence.

“It appeared very clear she had a strong passion for what she was doing and good work ethic,” he says, “and most importantly, she is very talented, and her art work fits in very well here.”

The gallery doesn’t take a commission from its artists, and Mr Brow says he does it for the love, not money.

“I get an enormous amount of satisfaction being involved in the art industry and believe strongly that 30 Upstairs can make a positive impact.”

Mr Brow also says the gallery gives all types of art collectors the opportunity to buy quality original art works without paying art dealer prices.

Miss Chalmers has left her Dunedin studio and tour-guiding job at the historical Olveston House for three months to produce a final solo show at the Wellington gallery in May.

Her previous artworks have looked at women’s domestic conditions in rural New Zealand and she says her first exhibition will have similar themes.

Standing near some of the art she’s been working on, she says it’s about having an open conversation on how families are changing.

“The idea of the family is not just the nuclear family, you can have two mums and a baby, [or] stay at home dads.”

Originally from Garston, a small Southland town with a population of about 100 people, Miss Chalmers says there wasn’t much happening culturally but her friend’s mother was an artist and would take them to art exhibitions.

“I remember one of the first experiences I had looking at a painter’s life was when we went to see a movie about Frida Kahlo.”

“We were quite young, there was lots of sex in it and her mum was like, ‘dont look!’.”

Pointing to some of the bright colours in her paintings, she says she’s been influenced by Michael Smither, David Hockney and also Gauguin for his use of colour.

Miss Chalmers says she’s also spent a lot time walking around Wellington and has injected more colour into her work than usual.

“I never used to use much colour, but I think it was because I was also a little bit scared of it. I wasn’t that good at mixing colours and figuring out how they complement each other,” she says, “when I came into the studio, I felt like I wanted to bring colour into the work.”

In terms of financial sustainability, she says her idea of success as an artist is being able to make a regular living off the art she creates.

“I think it doesn’t necessarily have to be showing in top galleries, it’s about making the best art that you can and that comes with time and commitment to making.”

“I think it’s also getting residencies overseas. New environments and information bring new things into the work.”

Miss Chalmers says getting funding from art bodies like Creative NZ can be hard for emerging artists.

She successfully used New Zealand crowd sourcing site PledgeMe to fund an exhibition in Auckland last year.

“Crowdsourcing is quite good because your friends and family are your biggest fans.”

“When you start to build a rep, that’s when bigger funding bodies like Creative NZ will start to take notice.”

Miss Chalmers graduated from the Dunedin School of Art in 2009 and says making a living from art is about being proactive and marketing your work.

“When I went through art school, they said only one percent of you will actually go on to make art as a living. It’s such a depressing thought but it’s quite true, I can probably count on one hand the practising artists now.”

“All of a sudden I just realised the harsh reality of life, if you seriously want to do this then you have to be really proactive and you’ve got to tell people what you’re up to, you can’t be shy about stuff you’re doing.”

The exhibition will be held on 9 May at 30 Upstairs.

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