Painter turns love of local nature into international career

Alexandra artist Denis Kent works on a painting in his home studio.. Photo: Pam Jones
Alexandra artist Denis Kent works on a painting in his home studio.. Photo: Pam Jones

Alexandra artist Denis Kent has notched up more than 50 years of contributions to the Central Otago Art Society Alexandra Blossom Festival Exhibition.

As Kent prepares to exhibit more works in the next festival exhibition, Pam Jones finds out about his journey through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular landscapes.

His first paintings hung under the eaves of the local swimming pool changing rooms, and  the first artwork he sold fetched 10 guineas.

But despite humble beginnings, Alexandra artist Denis Kent has made an international career for himself, and his landscapes are  spread around the world.

A keen fisherman, he favoured  painting scenes of the native bush and waterways  that were also his favourite places to explore, Kent said.

He also enjoyed painting "the barrenness of Central Otago" and had even painted dozens of Scottish landscapes, despite never having been there.

He had struck up many friendships over the years, but a memorable one — and the one that forged his Scottish career — was with a fisherman he met on the Hakataramea River who also happened to own an art gallery in Scotland.

When the Scotsman discovered he was a painter he asked to see some of his work and then ended up commissioning dozens of pieces, which he  painted from photographs.

It was a cherished chapter in a career that had captured some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenes, Kent said.

He started painting at school in Dunedin, and also studied pottery at the Dunedin School of Art while completing his secondary schooling at Otago Boys’ High School.

He then moved "sideways" into commercial and display art, later entering the furnishings trade as well.

He moved to Alexandra in 1964, but it was only in 1993 he decided to "make a go of" painting full time, moving to Makarora, where he built a house and art studio.

He painted 25-30 paintings a year while in Makarora and the studio became well known to New Zealand and international visitors. He had remained friends with many people who had bought his  paintings.

Kent, who moved back to Alexandra in 2007, said he still remembered selling his first artwork, a painting of Lake Hayes,  for 10 guineas at the first Central Otago Art Society (COAS) Alexandra Blossom Festival Exhibition he entered, in 1966.

Hung under the eaves of the changing rooms at the old Alexandra swimming pool, the exhibition was the start of his five decades of involvement with the COAS.

This year is the 51st year he will enter artworks in the blossom festival exhibition, and COAS president Nigel Wilson said the society was proud to have had such a long involvement with Kent’s works, which were distinctive and respected.

"Denis Kent’s skilful paintings take their rightful place in the tradition of one of the most honourable of themes, that of the pristine New Zealand landscape."

Kent has won various COAS awards over the years, and other awards from the Otago Art Society.He said his favourite place to paint was  Mt Aspiring National Park, and feedback from art lovers showed his scenes of the bush and forest were "what they love most of all".

"I try to place the viewer in the painting, to feel the atmosphere. And that’s what people tell me — they feel as if they’re there when they look at my paintings, especially of the bush. You can just about hear the sandflies."

• The Central Otago Art Society Alexandra Blossom Festival Exhibition will open to society members and guests at the Alexandra Community Centre on September 20, and be open to the public from September 21.

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