Oil And Clay

“I’m inspired by people, 'love them to draw; they have personality, an expression or a posture to capture. But even my still lifes have personality - they move and flow, they’re alive too.” Leigh’s Awa Gilgren is calm, observant and knowing, with a ready smile. Long red hair drapes over her shoulders; creativity courses through her being. Her home is a collection of textures, spaces, curves and lines, memories as portrait, framed paint and figure. A homely embrace of shadow and light greets those visiting, imbued with the scent of coffee, paint and something similar to thyme in its sweetness and familiarity. 

Awa works with ceramics and oil painting, creating a wide range of work rich in stylised form and expression. “I got to a certain point in my work when I was studying at Hungry Creek, before I had my daughter. I did an exhibition of ten different shelves (which were made from repurposed pottery bats), each shelf displayed a whole room’s setting in ceramic miniatures; each had something a bit off - a chair toppled over, a bedroom with paper airplanes littering the floor. All the scenes raised questions while creating a dreamy aesthetic,” Awa says. “I love the meditation of sitting down and doing small things. Small but many. They are precious - a whole world in your hands,” she says, cupping her paint-smudged fingers together. Art collector Sir James Wallace chose one of her pieces to add to the Wallace Arts Trust - a treasure trove of one of New Zealand’s most important art collections. Awa hopes to make more of these miniatures in the future. 

“The idea of ceramic as a surface to paint and draw on is also interesting to me… I played with glazes for a while, enjoying their organic nature, but I really enjoy the drawing and painting on of imagery.” Dishes and tiles by Awa are adorned with faces and figures, stylised, abstract and finished with unassuming glazes.

Raising her vivacious five year old daughter, Wini, has naturally meant less productive studio time for Awa over the last few years - creative time became collaboration time. “She wanted to be involved, of course, so I started cutting Wini her own board. She exhibited with me at my last two shows.” Awa smiles - she has bigger plans in the works for the future. “It’s my dream to have a room full of blank surfaces,” she says, of her upcoming painting exhibition. “I’m going to have fifty-two ready to go. It’s that thrill thing - that juicy, ecstatic feeling before something begins.”

“Peter Gossage was an early influence. I grew up with his images, copied them, and adopted his style a lot at the beginning,” she says. Her grandmother, Jan Dowse, was another significant influence, and one close to her heart. Jan had an art gallery in Gisborne, and grandchildren who visited often. Works were exhibited at the gallery by artists such as Brent Wong, Graham Sydney and Don Binney. “It was an abundance of culture. It was all ocean waves rolling in next to the windows, loud classical music being played, gin and tonics and art,” she grins.

“I’ve always had an appreciation of creation. There’s no other way I’d rather spend my time. I want to create, not take away. To be an artist of the people - I struggle with the money aspect of the art world, the expense of it. Smaller, more affordable art can reach more people. I like that.”

Create Matakana and the Fenton Gallery are currently exhibiting some of Awa's pieces. Keep an eye out for more details on her upcoming exhibition soon. 


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