Meet the maker: Formantics artist and ceramicist Susan Christie

CHRIS McKEEN/Stuff.co.nz

Art is a successful new direction for former defence force member and psychologist turned award-winning painter, Susan Christie.

If you're an Instagram loving design appreciator, you might wonder who the mind is behind lively decor brand Formantics.

Popular abroad and at home, the playful, colourful pieces that make up the brand's style walk a tightrope between fine art and interior design.

Their abstract shapes hint at a deeper understanding of form, yet the colours are decidedly on trend, the prices are purposefully attainable.

Susan Christie lives with her husband and two children in a bright and breezy home on the point in Bayswater, Auckland, ...
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Susan Christie lives with her husband and two children in a bright and breezy home on the point in Bayswater, Auckland, that's full with her own colourful art and ceramics.

How can this be so? Well, the unique creations that are Formantics are the brainchild of creative Susan Christie, and there's more to her than meets the eye.

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Sure, Christie is a wife and mother. She's sweet, affable, and a broad consumer of popular culture, but don't you dare underestimate her - at heart there's a constructive determination that has helped to make creativity her reality.

These days she abides with her family in "a lovely Californian bungalow" which she absolutely loves in Auckland's suburb of Bayswater.

"Most of my art is around happiness," said Christie.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

"Most of my art is around happiness," said Christie.

Born in South Africa to English parents, she arrived in New Plymouth as a young child but grew up in Hamilton.

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As you would hardly expect, she began her working life in the New Zealand navy, where she met her husband, Dave, a career army man.

Either Christie's motivation to continuously evolve began here, or was with her all along.

Christie's home studio is where she makes her Formantics magic. She doesn't mind if the kids are home, she's probably ...
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Christie's home studio is where she makes her Formantics magic. She doesn't mind if the kids are home, she's probably listening to pop music anyway.

Applying herself to the next set of challenges, she trained in psychology at Waikato university and spent 18 years in the field, before having two children, Jessica, and Tom, now 16 and 14.

It was at home with the kids, enjoying a slower pace that "the creative thing" began to "fit in" to Christie's life.

"You're going for a walk with the pram, and you have a lot more time to think about what you love," she said.

Christie's design brand Formantics offers cushions, ceramics, originals and prints. They're a well coordinated bunch.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Christie's design brand Formantics offers cushions, ceramics, originals and prints. They're a well coordinated bunch.

For her it was "a time that I worked out that being creative was what I really love."

She realised that the realm of art was the final frontier for her, and chose to retrain in art and design at Auckland's AUT.

You could call this a gutsy move. Many adults likely hold a secret wish to quit the rat race and pursue a career in the arts, but not many have the courage.

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Small Cushion Sophora
Small Cushion Sophora
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Perhaps it is the discipline that she first learned in the defence force that helped her to be pragmatic achieving her goals.

Being the oldest student in her art class was intimidating for her at times. Pretender syndrome ran amuck, but she soon proved the relevance of her choices.

In her final year, Christie was one of a select group  of students to win the Gus Fisher Gallery painting prize and exhibit there.

Christie feels at home amongst her creations.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Christie feels at home amongst her creations.

"Next month I'll be 48. I've kind of fitted in quite a lot," Christie said.

Take that other people's expectations.

Now she's been running her online art and design business Formantics since last year, and due to her lively and easily digestible style, is experiencing demand that only grows.

Christie's family home looks straight out of a magazine.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Christie's family home looks straight out of a magazine.

She describes her work as "blurring the boundaries between art and design and craft."

Indeed, her works do blur boundaries. It's hard to decide if her paintings are crystals, popsicles, animals, vegetables or something even more surreal.

It's a little like being presented with the ink blot test, and that's the point - she intends to play with the viewer's imagination.

The candle holders up close are inspired by Christie's love of the Bauhaus art movement.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

The candle holders up close are inspired by Christie's love of the Bauhaus art movement.

Christie may have left psychology behind, but the deliberate interplay between her work and the varying perspectives of her audience is ironically charming.

As an artist, Christie is entranced by the abstract concepts of "form" and "in-betweenness."

"The in-between-ness is definitely something I'm thinking about when I'm making art," Christie said.

Sleek and functional, it's the Christie kitchen.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Sleek and functional, it's the Christie kitchen.

She seeks design elements "that uplift and complement one another", and to create fine art that is both "high" and "low'"- unique pieces that are "accessible", thereby bringing real art into the homes of real, normal people.

Formantics itself is a play on words. Form - that enchanting, guiding idea, and antics - for the playfulness that she feels is innate to what she produces.

Another reason she feels her art bridges "high" and "low" is the influence and inspiration she gains from pop culture.

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Rangitoto Stool
Rangitoto Stool
$299

"Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, Adele; contemporary popular music."

"Pop culture is definitely an influence. I like to call it 'contemporary visual culture.'

"I keep a really close eye on what's happening across fashion and music and interior design and craft."

The tools of the artist.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

The tools of the artist.

Christie is delighted to speak of the New Zealand artists that inspire her own artistic outlook. Dennis Watkins and Saskia Leeks are two of her favourites.

"Often people don't talk about New Zealand artists when they talk about inspiration," she said. 

In her ceramics, Christie interprets the ever-evolving visual culture she observes online with patterns taken from the Memphis movement through the eyes of Bauhaus minimalism.

The Formantics aesthetic is strong in this home.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

The Formantics aesthetic is strong in this home.

The current Cuffs and Collars ceramic collection is a direct nod to the world of high fashion.

"Every single thing of the ceramics is an original. Each piece is hand-built and a complete original."

"It's original, it's quality, it's a bit different."

Get to know the story behind formantics and Susan Christie, award-winning artist.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Get to know the story behind formantics and Susan Christie, award-winning artist.

Christie hopes that purveyors of her work "feel uplifted, and experience a sense of humour."

"Most of my art is around happiness," she said, "You are never going to be look at my art and get depressed."

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Equilibrium
Equilibrium
$18
The latest ceramics range that Christie has produced under Formantics is influenced by the shapes of high fashion ...
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

The latest ceramics range that Christie has produced under Formantics is influenced by the shapes of high fashion garments. It's clear in the wrap around shapes and the name - Cuffs and Collars.

Susan Christie's colour palettes are often inspired by the world of fashion.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Susan Christie's colour palettes are often inspired by the world of fashion.

Christie's favourite art from the past adorns her home studio.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Christie's favourite art from the past adorns her home studio.

 - Homed

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