Bigger markets beckon artists

The Good Mixer, by Justin Summerton.
The Good Mixer, by Justin Summerton.
While art is in good heart in Otago, some artists are looking elsewhere.

St Clair painter Justin Summerton is one of several artists who have been selling their wares in a bigger marketplace.

"When you're a serious artist and it's your job, you have to go to the centre of the market, and that happens to be Auckland," he says.

"There are 90 galleries in Auckland. That means your works are being seen by a lot of people who are seriously into art.

"A lot of collectors go through Auckland. There may be 100 people there who have major collections.

"There's a great art community in Dunedin but, when you're a mid-career artist, it's not where you focus. You want to go forward, like a musician. But Dunedin is a great place for young and emerging artists."

Summerton (40) was born in Liverpool, England, but emigrated to New Zealand with his family when he was 6. He studied English and commerce at the University of Otago before dedicating himself to a life of art.

"I don't know how it's all happened, really. It's a miracle. I never went further than UE [University Entrance] in the field of art. But, since I left uni in '93, I've never done anything else," he says.

He returned to Liverpool in 1992, before exploring Paris and then Copenhagen, in Denmark, where he was commissioned to paint a mural.

"In 1994, I drifted off to the US and ended up doing a show in Detroit, before learning how to `live paint' in Central Park.

"Then I went to the south of France. It was Nice in the Cote d'Azur, and it was real van Gogh stuff. On the street and with a sign out - `A penny for the artist please'."

He has since exhibited in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Summerton has a prosaic view of the local art market.

"We do have an inflated art market here. In Australia, they can't get over how much young New Zealand artists earn. But, in the last year, five galleries have gone bankrupt in New Zealand," he says.

The surrealist painter favours a utopian New Zealand.

"Most of my art is related to the ecology of the world," Summerton says. "I'm not a happy, greenie painter who rants on, but maybe I am an environmentalist.

"New Zealand is a bit of an oasis like that and I've had that theme running through my work for a while."

Summerton is also a keen surfer, coming third in the masters section of the Otago Surfing Champs in February.

Justin Summerton is one of 13 Otago artists featured in New Zealand's Favourite Artists 2, by Denis Robinson.

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