Sobriety brings out passion for art

23:46, Dec 06 2012
Southland Times photo
Riverton artist Christopher Flavell is living the gypsy life.

The winner of the Provincial Pride art award talks to Gwyneth Hyndman about combining art and surfing, painting to Pearl Jam, and why drinking got in the way of his creative calling.

For Riverton artist Christopher Flavell, getting serious about art eight months ago initially meant sobering up.

The former plasterer and surfer has been living a gypsy life since his art has been in demand in galleries as far off as The Netherlands, but for a long time, Flavell describes a creative existence he had little control over.

"I have more confidence now," he says, explaining how things are different since he stopped drinking - and why his art is suddenly selling.

"Before I didn't have any control over it . . . I tried drunk painting but I wasted two years of my life. It didn't bring any happiness to my soul."

Now there is more focus, more drive, and more stability in his life, he says. From a solid standing he is able to create a canvas that reflects what he wants the hours in his day to be about.


His Sun, Moon and Earth series - the last one of which won him this year's top prize in the Provincial Pride Awards - is the story of the cycle of a day, he points out, and how it gets filled: "I like to choose what I want to do with my day."

The cycle of life theme he has been centering on has also looked at "the process of nature" in parenting - as a father, the concepts have a special resonance from his own experience.

"A mother gives rest and comfort; a father gives light and growth."

It was his ex-wife who first introduced him to painting in 2006.

She was a painter, he says, and one night when she asked for an opinion on a piece she was working on, he told her what he thought. Flavell says he told her it could use a few improvements - which didn't go down well with her.

She told him if he had such a strong opinion, he should give it a go then.

Six hours went by. At 4am he woke her up and told her he had found a new passion.

Lately, besides successful shows and producing award-winning art, this has meant sending off his projects to galleries around New Zealand and most recently in Europe. He also has developed a peculiar way of signing his art work.

The series that went overseas had titles all inspired by songs from a Pearl Jam playlist. It was what he was listening to at the time and it made sense to him. Flavell also scrawls long descriptions on the back of each painting.

"I write back there all the time. Each is a week in my own life - it might have nothing to do with what I'm painting; it would just be what I'm thinking about."

It all got written down in raw form, he says, coffee stains and all.

Flavell just returned from a stint in Gisborne, where he worked on combining art with his other love - surfing.

The arty town was where some of the top galleries in the country were at, but it was also where the best waves happened to be, he says with a grin.

His days consisted of bringing his "office" down to the beach where he would surf, come in and paint in the sand, then return to the water.

Flavell also started picking up gallery brochures. One of them led him to artist and gallery owner Paul Nache.

"I think he thought I was eccentric," Flavell remembers, describing how he just rocked up to the gallery with his art and introduced himself.

But Nache was game, and spent about half a day with Flavell, going over his work, and giving him advice. He gave Flavell a reading list of art literature that Flavell took away with him.

Going up north was one of the best moves he had made, he says.

He still has to work his way through the reading list - but when he returns to the gallery scene, he plans to arrive with a knowledge of the art world he is on the precipice of.

"I can't be a spoiled kid and just go in there and ask for toys."

Marketing himself is also an area he wants to get better at.

With promotion, comes funding, he has learned, especially as his pieces have started to sell.

His next project, called Dream Gate, was made out of three rimu bed frames he scored from the Habitat for Humanity shop in Invercargill. The piece is intended for a Ngai Tahu-owned restaurant in Kaikoura - another beach town he has been spending time in recently.

As the transitional year comes to an end, Flavell is contemplative about how far he has come.

"There were too many problems in life before. I decided to stop drinking and focus on art. I'm starting to see what I'm capable of now."

The Southland Times