Power and peace of land and sea channelled in art

Artist Maree White is glad to be back in Waitaki, hosting her summer exhibition in Otematata last...
Artist Maree White is glad to be back in Waitaki, hosting her summer exhibition in Otematata last week. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE
Creativity has always fuelled Maree White’s soul, and whether it is with a paintbrush or the bagpipes in hand, she is happy. At her annual exhibition in Otematata, the Whakatane artist, who grew up in Waitaki, tells Kayla Hodge about her love for the arts.

Maree White started as a blank canvas.

Born into a farming family who embraced a creative lifestyle helped draw White’s attention early on to the world around her and the endless opportunities.

At age 10, White, a self-taught artist, held her first exhibition in Waimate - nearly every painting sold and she pocketed $400.

It took her years before she held another exhibition, but that was part of becoming a professional artist.

"It’s taken me years really to just develop the craft. You’ve got to be very determined and you’ve got to weather the frugal time," she said.

"You’ve just really got to have self-belief when it’s hard and I’ve done that, I’ve just kept going and now I’m really enjoying the designing."

Her enjoyment was clear to see as the painter greeted people with a beaming smile at her summer exhibition in Otematata.

The exhibition, which finished on Sunday last week, showcased 14 paintings from her past year’s work.

Having hosted the exhibition for the past seven years, the Whakatane artist said it helped her relive her childhood spent at her family’s Otematata bach.

"I paint here all year and I don’t have to feel homesick."

This year’s collection detailed landscapes of the Ahuriri River to the Waitaki Lakes, and her feature piece, She Sang to the Sea and the Sea Sang Back, was based on running along the Kakanui coastline. All her paintings gave people a moment to stop and be present, she said.

White loves creating landscapes. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
White loves creating landscapes. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
"The likes of the lady who’s the sea, that’s all about joy and her compass of joy, running down, getting her feet wet. I always believe wellbeing comes from being in nature.

"A lot of it is about what’s happening on the inside of me too. It’s about being able to resonate with others and sometimes, just the human expression."

Landscapes always piqued her interest. They swayed her to find the light, capture changes in weather and paint pieces where "you’d like to sit and just be with yourself".

She put that interest down to her parents, Bruce and Beverly White.

"My parents taught us to look and so my heart very much, like a lot of people and farmers, really resonates with the land and the sea."

Growing up in Pikes Point, White fell in love with art early on. When she was 10 her family moved to a deer farm in Ikamatua, on the West Coast, and her parents created an art studio in their "cream shed".

White painted, her siblings tried pottery, her mother did weaving and dyed wool and her father loved collecting art.

After school White moved to Willowbridge, and held art classes in Waimate. She now holds workshops in Waimate, Oamaru, Whakatane and Taupo.

It was through her Waimate classes that she fell in love with teaching - "it’s like a language" - showing people basic techniques and pushing them to follow their natural style. Teaching was now a pivotal part of her life.

White had learnt to create videos of herself painting, and they had become an "essential" part of her exhibition.

They also blended her two loves - art and music - together.

"It was always a bit of a battle of ‘should I be a musician or should I be an artist?’. For music I spent lots of money and the artist started paying me money," she laughed.

Maree White with her feature painting, She Sang To The Sea And The Sea Sang Back, based on the...
Maree White with her feature painting, She Sang To The Sea And The Sea Sang Back, based on the Kakanui coastline. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
She played guitar, piano and the bagpipes.

Bagpiping ran in her family and it was an "honour" to play the pipes.

"It’s a real gift. The pipes help people to cry."

She composed her own music, with a cinematic feel, for her painting videos detailing how she created each piece.

"That kind of adds to the paintings - the paintings are a place to rest and also the music gives people a place to feel peaceful."

People were intrigued by the videos, and it helped them see how she created landscapes.

"All the locals they get to see their place - that’s really special," she said.

They also helped her grow her approach to the arts, which was one of the main things keeping her going.

"The thing I love about the arts is I will never stop learning.

"The other thing I love about it, it’s a really simple thing, but I just want to be able to give people ... some sort of peace. It’s a little thing to offer the world - I like the positivity of that."

When she returned to Whakatane, White would clean her studio, painting it white from the ceiling to the floor. It was a tradition to cleanse herself from the previous collection, and move forward.

It is almost like she is returning as a blank canvas once again.


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