“Painting for me,” says Arwen Flowers, “is about capturing the transient moment between states, the border between one moment and the next, one place and another.”
Flowers has accepted an Individual Creative Residency in March 2016 granted by Muriwai Earthskin, a charitable trust whose mission is environmental stewardship to foster and inspire the creative arts.
The intense examination of life and the environment draws Flowers to respond to edges, in-between places, and to changes in state, both evanescent and physical. Until recently she explored these concepts using colour, and texture represented by layers of torn canvas, each individually painted and then reassembled so the flat, pristine original was reconstituted in a new form.
She says, “Layering torn canvas evoked a sense of weathering, of degradation, but also a falling away, and thereby, eventual transformation. It’s a difficult thing to capture – the transition through that magical point of change.”
More recent landscapes are painted onto the canvas rather than made from it, so the juxtaposition of a small sky reflected large in water, the margins between tide and sand, rock and running river, provide the mystical line between one thing and another.
Inspired by realism and the details therein, Flowers’ stylistic approach is both flexible and ‘painterly’.
Auckland’s magnificent west coast beaches and the Waitakere Ranges where she grew up mark her work with strong visual influences. Artistically, she thrilled to Tony Fomison’s use of light and dark, to McCahon’s abstraction, Robert Ellis’ complex aerial urbanscapes, and Don Peebles canvas constructions.
Graduating in 1995 from Elam School of Fine Arts with a B.FA, her studies included an initial two years of photography under John Turner and Megan Jenkinson, followed by arts tutoring under Don Binney, Robert Ellis, Dick Frizzell and Philippa Blair.
Photography provides the time to work with an image before committing to paint. “I use the camera to capture the way I see light and motion, but I enjoy handling physical materials. The final image is personal, something imbued with who I am, so I rarely stick with the images I capture. I want to rework them in some way.”
Up until 2014 Flowers worked exclusively with acrylics but now includes oils. That led to a progression in her work. Initially used to combat the flatness and quick-drying problems of acrylics, they also provided a solution to issues of torn canvas textures becoming dominant, and allowed more time to move paint around.
Artistic challenge is connected with the notion of success and she admits she’s still trying to work out what that means to her. She paints for herself as a palpable need. “If I’m not able to paint for a while, I can get pretty crabby. From the perspective of the work, the challenge is always in conveying that thing, the eye-gripping wow-factor.”
The Muriwai Earthskin month-long residency will provide the dedicated space to utilise her graphic design and artistic skills to create artwork, and also posters for print and social media using photography, collected images, mobile apps, graphics, and art mediums. In exploring ideas around collecting and cataloguing as a way of promoting species preservation, she intends to highlight the value of those practices in supporting a biodiverse, sustainable future.
“While keeping New Zealand native life in the foreground, I’m really taking on the role of an explorer,” she says. “I’m excited to see how the final pieces come together because they will be a result of multiple processes and combining media I’ve not used before. I will have the luxury of being able to draw from all creative parts of myself for a focused period of time.”
Words by Theresa Sjoquist