November 1st 2013, launch of the Park and Stride programme at MPS Primary school, Masterton, with our wonderful pou!
Below is my speech in absentia….
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
I am very sorry that I can’t be with you today to launch this wonderful project and our beautiful work. All I can do is send words and aroha, so here they are. Firstly I’d like to thank the people who made this project possible; Sam Winslow, Kerry Hefferen, and Sara Feringa. Everyone involved in this project worked so hard, with enthusiasm and vision. I felt very warmly welcomed and supported by everyone at the school, so thank you all. For cups of tea, and korero, and painting the pou, and all of your support. And of course, thank-you to the class! This was a project where I felt I was not only teaching, but really learning as well, and most of all I learnt about the incredible spirit of working together and helping each other here at this school. It was truly uplifting to be a part of that, so thank you all of you.
So, a little about the pou! The kaupapa of this project was always that everyone is creative, and we all have the right to express ourselves. My process is about including everyone’s marks in the project, and the difference of all of them is what creates the richness of the artwork. In the last stages I said to the class ‘I wish I could have one of these at home!’ and they said to me that I could just make one, but, as I told them, ‘I’d need all of you to come and help me make it!’.
Our process began by taking a walk around the area where the pou would be placed. Because it was spring, we saw beautiful blossom trees, as well as dogs, cats, all sorts of different leaves…. we had talked about ‘looking like an artist’, so transforming the complexity of landscape into small details. We used our hand as viewfinders to look for compositions, colour and form, which we photographed as our research. We looked for human made elements as well as nature, collecting a real representation of our route to school.
We then looked at a range of artists who use lots of different elements in their work, including Aboriginal artists, contemporary Maori art, and visionary artists from the USA. We used our photos as inspiration, but, as all artists must, and we were all artists in this project, we used our license to change things. If you can’t decide to make the sky pink as an artist, who can?! We practised on paper first, learning painting technique, mixing colours and how to use our hands, brushes and sponges. We shared ideas, learnt about repetition, and filling up all the space. There was lots of discoveries and learning all the way through, but the most impressive thing seemed to be how mixing lots of colours made brown! We made lots of different tones of brown, and learnt about how important it is to have these neutral colours when you use lots of colour. Mixing brown was one of the times I really saw how well this class works together, as it involved going around and asking for a teaspoon of everyone’s colour. The answer was always yes, here you are.
Finally, we got into it! In three groups, we took on a pou each, and painted our hearts out! The first layer was hand painted, and then we used sponges, paintbrushes and finger to create the intensely patterned and detailed pieces you see today. We were on the stage, so the deal was, painting shirts, no shoes, and putting socks over those painty feet at the end! So thank you too to all the parents for your tolerance of perhaps some paint on tops on under fingernails and feet; hopefully you feel it was worth it!
At the end of the project, I really felt that I had learnt as much as the class. Every art project teaches me so much more about my practice and where I want to go next. This experience was the same; as exhausting, and rewarding and rich as any of my own art projects. It made me want to do more painting, and definitely to work more in schools. Sara organised a lovely farewell, with korero and cards from each pupil. I was so moved, and grateful. I got into my car, and thought, I’ll let myself read one card. I opened the top one, and it said ‘Thank-you for coming to my school, you made me realise my art was good.’ Yup, that made me burst into tears, because that’s what it’s all about, that your art is good, and yours, and yours, and yours. That every mark is important, and every person’s vision of that route to school and what they see is important too. Later I read some more, with drawings of me and my pink hair, and I’ll mention one other; a drawing of a student thanking me, and me saying back ‘You’re welcome’. Truly, you so were, thank-you for your commitment, enthusiasm, stories and wonderful art making, it was my pleasure to work with such a talented group of budding artists.