When music and art collide

Angela McKenzie with her artwork.

When she’s not tending her one-acre country garden at Otamarakau, near Pukehina Beach, mixed media artists Angela McKenzie is busy creating chaos in her workshop.

Experimenting with textures, shapes and colours is her passion.

“Every piece starts on paper when I lay down a whole lot of watercolours and inks then I might cut it into a shape, then attach a piece of plywood. I pour resin on top. It gives you a whole different effect to canvas with acrylic. They just don’t have the same magic as paper and watercolour.”

Layers of resin and paint achieve an almost 3D effect. It’s a process that’s evolved over the last 25 years of experimenting. It was 1998 when Angela took a watercolour night class with Paengaroa artist Lois Isaacs.

“She had a studio down the back of her garden, and I was in love as soon as I saw it. Gardening and a workshop at home; I’m in heaven.”

“I like to try new things and it was Lois who instilled that in me. She encouraged me to ask questions and experiment,” says Angela.

“Fast forward to 2006, I decided to go study at the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic. I was nearly forty and I thought ‘I’m just going to do it’.”

In 2008, Angela completed the Diploma in Visual Art, achieving top student.

She went on to finish her Level 7 advanced diploma in Art and Design at Waiariki Institute of Technology and in 2011, completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design.

“I never imagined I’d go that far, but that’s just what happened,” she smiles.

“So I’ve just kept painting. I worked in the creative industry for a few years but then I realised what I really want to do is to keep making. It’s not just painting, it’s making.”

Angela with her husband.

Angela’s work has been selected for several major art awards, including 'best in show' at the Lifestyles of the Bay Art Award.

“What I start with is the colour combinations. Having a play with things that don’t usually go together. As I go through the process – and it is a long process that starts on paper, mounting it on board, layering – music is a big thing that inspires me. I always have music playing loud and often as I’m working on a piece, a song becomes more obvious and then I listen to the lyrics and think about the story.”

A line from the song will often resonate and become woven into the art. One of Angela’s 3D works was inspired by a song by the Canadian indie pop artist Leslie Feist, ‘Intuition’.

“The line ‘a map is more unreal than where you’ve been’ really fitted with the piece I was working on. I just loved that. It’s about your life journey with the scars and the bumps and the bruises and connections you make throughout your life.”

Angela loves getting creative with paper, wire, cardboard, wax and different media and sometimes the result is a complete surprise to her.

“My art is based on what’s happening in my world, but also commenting or at least touching on what’s happening in the wider world and the craziness of social media and how that affects us all. Not political, but us as humans and how we retain memories and how when we pull them out and think about them, they often change slightly. We build on it or lose parts of it but the memory changes over time. So I play with those ideas in my head as I’m making the piece.”

It's almost an unwrapping of a Christmas gift kind of feeling as Angela unveils her art at each stage of creation.

“It’s exciting,” she laughs. “I don’t like pumping out the same thing. I normally have three projects on the go at various stages because I like to keep busy and they take so long to dry.”

Angela juggles her art with maintaining the lifestyle block where she lives with her artist husband, Clive Armstrong. The land represents her family’s farming legacy. She points out a kiwifruit vine that resembles a thick, twisting gate.

“My father would’ve planted that when we first came here in 1979. It had been cut off to graft a new variety and it would’ve been burnt so we saved it. Clive put it near the house and it became part of our garden,” she says.

“I feel so lucky that I can work from home. We get tour groups through, so I get to meet the people and talk to them directly about my work and garden. It’s a lot of work and I absolutely love it.”


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