Artistic family

West Harbour artists Emma, Ali and Jerry Howlett enjoy supporting their local arts community....
West Harbour artists Emma, Ali and Jerry Howlett enjoy supporting their local arts community. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Dunedin artists have got in behind the West Harbour Arts Charitable Trust as they raise funds to continue its artist in residence programme. Rebecca Fox talks to a creative Deborah Bay family who have benefited from the programme.

When the works of Ali Howlett and her two children Emma and Jerry are put on the table, it is impossible to detect their relationship.

Pencil drawing by Emma Howlett. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Pencil drawing by Emma Howlett. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The ceramics, drawing and diorama they have created for the West Harbour Arts Charitable Trust auction come from completely different parts of the art spectrum.

Yet it is completely normal for the Howlett family.

"We’re all creative, just in different ways."

Howlett has been a potter for 30 years, studying ceramics for a year at the Dunedin Art School back in the 1990s, but a growing family — she has four children — meant she had to put it on the back-burner.

"I got all set up at home but family came along and life got busy."

When her youngest left home, she decided it was time to invest in herself and headed back to art school to do a bachelor of visual arts degree.

Her love of clay has never waned.

"As a material it is so responsive, yet it has a mind of its own at the same time and you have to work with it not against it.

"There are so many possibilities with it.

Ceramics by Ali Howlett
Ceramics by Ali Howlett


"Often I can’t make up my mind what I’m making because there are too many options."

When she finished art school in 2019, her works reflected an interest in animal rights and environmental issues.

"I’ve been pulled in all different directions. I’d like to pursue that more."

Howlett also creates bowls and dishes and teaches nightclasses in ceramics at Otago Polytechnic.

"I love making things that look beautiful for their aesthetic quality or they have a function. I like a bit of both."

While Howlett was not actively making when Emma and Jerry were growing up, they were always encouraged to be creative through various crafts.

"We’d get out all the craft stuff; that’s what we’d do for fun," she says.

They attended Port Chalmers School where, with the help of the West Harbour Charitable Trust, each year an artist spent a week working alongside pupils to foster their creativity and appreciation of the arts.

Over the 25 years of the scheme, performance artists, musicians, painters, sculptors, jewellers and printmakers have taken part.

Diorama by Jerry Howlett. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Diorama by Jerry Howlett. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED


It has grown to also include sessions Purakaunui School, Koputai Early Childhood Centre and Port Chalmers Kindergarten.

At the end of the week the children get to parade their creations down Port Chalmers’ main street.

Last year local artist Jim Cooper was the resident artist and this year the trust has confirmed a joint residency with Aroha Novak and Anya Sinclair.

Jerry and Emma’s memory of the residency is of the years when an artist got them to make giant puppets, and one where a drummer showed them how to drum.

"It showed them art wasn’t just something on the wall," Howlett says.

A lot of the art they made during those weeks with the artists has been kept by their mother.

"I’d have those puppets somewhere."

The parade down through Port Chalmers was a nice way to show the community what the children had been doing.

"It was always quite varied in what you’d do — giant puppets and flags. One year it was musical puppets. It draws people together as an event, all different parts of the community are getting involved in it," Jerry says.

Emma found it a "lot more fun than maths".

"I do remember mine falling apart."

Jerry always enjoyed the experience and has gone on to study art himself at the Dunedin School of Art.

For the past few years he has been working on his own practice.

"I always enjoyed making things with my hands."

Now back at art school doing his master’s, Jerry says 3-D work has always been his interest.

"I like to play around a lot with figurines ranging in scale from human-sized figures or giants at 8m tall, right down to miniatures."

At the moment he is creating worlds within boxes, such as his auction art work.

His dioramas play with miniature surreal worlds, which he began experimenting with in 2019 with his dreamscape series.

"They’re reflections of the world in a surreal way. You can do a lot with scale. It draws people in, making them immerse in the work. With the miniature works you’re god-like figures looking down on these little worlds."

Creating the level of detail he likes requires lots of tiny pieces.

"The amount of pieces I loose by dropping them ... they seem to go into a black hole."

In comparison, for his honours year, he created an 8m giant which again aimed to draw people into the space.

"Once you start walking in the space you become at one with it."

Emma, on the other hand, has always been a drawer.

While art school was not for her, drawing has been part of her life that she revisits every now and then.

"It comes in phases. I might be into it for a while and then not touch a pencil for a year."

She likes the impermanence of pencil, which enables her to rub things out when they do not work.

"You don’t have the commitment to it like paint or ink. With pencil you have more room to breath, I like the softness of it too."

People have always been her subjects as she never got the knack of drawing landscapes.

"They’re nice shapes, and there is nice shading and movement. They’re always different. They’re all about emotion and interaction."

She likes to draw people from the neck down, but Howlett says that does not mean Emma does not get across their personality.

"She can portray that emotion without the face in such a tight crop."

Emma says there is such pressure when drawing a face to have a likeness, but without it there is much more to work with.

"It could be anyone you are looking at. You can just draw hands, arms, whatever."

The Howletts’ works are among 80 artworks from a range of artists including Robert Scott, Alan Dove, Richard Killeen, Jane Dodd, Madeline Child, Nick Austin, Manu Berry and Jim Cooper that are being auctioned to raise money for the artist residency.

Trust member Octavia Cook says the trust has been maintaining the residency in a "hand-to-mouth fashion", uncertain of making ends meet.

So the art auction is aimed at funding this year’s residency and also to make the future of the programme more secure.


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