Hooked on New Zealand

Last updated 12:06 18/01/2013
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WARWICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ
CHARMED: Italian artist Anna Valdoni, now a Palmerston North resident, shows some of her work.

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Anna Valdoni started life in Rome and has travelled from there to Greece, Ireland, Paris and North America. She tells Jono Galuszka how she landed in Palmerston North.

When people think about wearing sunglasses in photos, it usually means that they are hungover, but Anna Valdoni has a far more innocent reason - she has caught her first New Zealand cold.

Despite the affliction, she is more than happy to talk about her journey from Roman native to New Zealand-based artist.

She started drawing "as soon as I was born", which is not a surprise, considering her family.

"My grandfather drew very well, and my sister did too.

"I always watched people drawing and always wanted to do it."

The path from child painter to a working artist did not happen overnight.

"In Italy, painting seems to be the thing to do if you don't want to do anything. So my mother told me I had to study."

But the art stayed with Valdoni and, after finishing high school, she packed her bags and went travelling.

She visited Paris, North America and India, before she settled in Greece for a few years.

All along the way, she kept painting.

"In Greece, I worked in a cocktail bar and would hang my paintings all over the walls. I did murals and helped friends with T-shirt designs - all sorts."

While working in a cocktail bar and painting on a beautiful Greek island sounds like the good life, Valdoni says she was talked into moving on by a friend.

"They said I had to go and immerse myself into the world of painting."

That immersion was three years of study at the the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Founded in 1648, the school has produced countless artists, architects and film-makers.

Between study terms, Valdoni would cross the English Channel to teach art herself.

"I spent a lot of time in Ireland and my best friend ended up being a little niece of Captain Cook who lives in Dublin.

"She wanted to learn to paint, so I thought I would teach her."

Dublin has changed a lot since Valdoni was there about 25 years ago, she says.

"It used to be just a little fisherman's town - very easy and very nice. It made you slow down."

But home called and Valdoni ended up getting married and helping to run a farmstead.

New Zealand was not even on the horizon until her husband heard about the fishing here.

"My husband loves fishing, but he said he needed olive oil for his fish.

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" ‘They won't have it there', he said."

A quick Google search found some New Zealand-made olive oil on Waiheke Island, which quickly solved that problem.

The couple and their son headed there for six months in 2009 and Valdoni's husband was smitten.

"My husband fell in love with this country completely.

"He likes his own home and it was the first time he would say he wanted to leave his house."

The couple decided in February last year to move to Manawatu.

It all seems a bit crazy, moving from Tuscany to Palmerston North. Valdoni knows exactly what people are thinking.

"Everybody here says I'm crazy."

Even she says she had her doubts, which helped inspire her latest series of paintings.

She says she was anxious about the move and that came through in her art.

"I was painting before I came here, and my husband looked at it and says, ‘It's New Zealand'. So I did all these paintings while thinking about all the beautiful things here. I did nearly one a month."

Looking at her artwork, it is hard to miss the New Zealand influence.

Native birds feature throughout her pieces, along with backdrops which mirror both seaside locations and mountain ranges.

Using her emotion to inspire painting has always been a part of the creative process, she says. "The creative process comes from the love I feel for people, or a person, or an emotion someone has, or from something new for me.

"From one very small thing, I can make mountains. I've got a large imagination. Sometimes I go very far and have to come down."

That process has slowly changed over time, she says. "Before, I was always searching and experiencing. Now, the feeling is a bit more abstract.

"It's a feeling everyone feels differently and there's no law for it."

But having an idea of what to paint is only the beginning, she says.

"The most important thing for me is to have the desire for me to paint. I always have that feeling I want to do it."

She always aims to have something in her paintings to draw the viewer in.

While some may find that easy, she says it adds its own challenges.

"It can be more difficult to take a picture of a person and draw something out of that person, rather than something you can play with as you like.

"The eyes or face or animal, you can't play with it, so you have to go deeper."

She tries not to pigeonhole her style, but does acknowledge she started with more bold styles, before sinking into someone closer to impressionistic.

While it was a worry, she says she now realises it is part of an artist.

"I used to think about it a lot and then a painter I knew said, ‘Don't worry about it, because one day you will see all your work in front of you and you will see your hand is everywhere'."

Many of her paintings feature various mediums, with charcoal and paint the obvious two.

"I never just paint then draw. I draw, then paint, then draw more, then paint. It helps make layers and textures."

Since arriving about two months ago, Valdoni has quickly immersed herself in the local art scene. "I just came here with my suitcase of paintings and went around to some galleries."

She already has paintings hanging at Taylor-Jensen Fine Arts Gallery in George St and is working with someone at Te Manawa on a project.

Despite her experience, Valdoni says hanging pieces in galleries has always been a bit weird. "I never really like putting a price tag on my paintings. I never really went into the art business world. I've tried to do things differently."

Instead, she likes to collaborate.

"I like to do things with people, even if I have to spend money.

"It's just a bit more relaxed and fun."

Anna Valdoni's work is being exhibited at Taylor-Jensen Fine Arts Gallery as part of Take Your Pick: The Summer Selection.

* For more information about Valdoni's work, see annavaldoni.com.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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