Louise McRae's work is the centrepiece of many a Matakana coast home. But her dealer galleries in Newmarket (Seed) and Wanaka (Gallery 33) field commission requests from much further afield. The often large-scale pieces are essentially scraps of painted, charred or foiled wood that are individually hand-split and glued onto to ply. Lou describes them as "paintings that look like sculpture and are made from building materials". But there's much more to them than that.
Lou has been very successfully working this medium for five years, but she's only now finishing her Masters degree in fine arts at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design. Why now? "I needed to be able to articulate my work, to challenge myself and sharpen my critical thinking," she says.
The conceptual work she's been doing at Whitecliffe, although an intellectually rigorous process, has by necessity been a no-bullshit one. To start with, she's possibly not the easiest student – "My tutor said my main strength is a complete disregard for the conventions of painting," she says wryly. And as a solo mum with little time or money, necessity has, to a degree, informed the process. Materials are thrifty and the process is fast and loose. But that speed has charged the works – and herself – with a new energy. And with a small degree of surprise, she's found herself back at her existing work, and knowing it better.
"It's all about the deconstruction process. Breaking stuff, and finding meaningful spaces within the breaks. Splitting the wood breaks it along the grain, makes it fluid. The grain may be curved, which, when I put it back together, gives it the organic lines that create the movement within the whole piece. I look for that kind of unexpected spatial interaction in a lot of what I do. You'll always find me subconsciously going the wrong way down supermarket aisles and coming in through exits – you do tend to get some very interesting interactions that way!"
This summer, Lou is packing up her studio to move into a new workspace. She and partner, bike builder Tim Stewart, have bought a section in Pakiri; they plan to build the ultimate studio/workshop where they can each hone their respective crafts. "There will inevitably be changes – the environment will ensure that," she says. But that won't be the only change: Louise's trademark paint-splattered jeans, ascerbic wit and huge grin will be sorely missed in village coffee shops in the mornings.