Virginia Winder: Coming out in the art world
Amanda Crehan has finally revealed herself as a painter.
"As I jokingly say, this is my year for coming out."
Sitting at her kitchen table at Oakura on a blue-sky day, Amanda talks of flowers, gardens, art, her family's long and strong creative streak and being part of last weekend's Taranaki Arts Trail.
On the table is an anthurium, its leaves glowing in the sunshine. Asked if she would like to paint it, her reply is swift: "I want to paint all sorts of things – what don't I want to paint."
Outside a 25-year aloe is in flower, wax-eyes flitting in to feed from the golden cob-like blooms. "They seed like crazy – we are forever pulling the seedlings out and giving them away."
It could also be another painting subject for Amanda, especially with the Tasman Sea breaking in the background.
Amanda and husband Tom have been in their Oakura home for five years and they have plans to dramatically change their property with a courtyard garden and a little orchard.
They have kept a mass planting of agaves and have introduced only one plant, a pup of a spiral aloe, from their former garden at Wallath Rd.
That property was on the old Duncan and Davies site in New Plymouth. "We used to grow some amazing things and we had some weird things grow up in the garden at times."
One of those was an unusual Norfolk Pine that seeded every year, which meant explosions of seeds raining on the roof.
The area beneath this tree they called Ton's Hoek, which is Dutch for Ton's Corner.
In 1995, after six years living in The Netherlands, Amanda, Tom and sons Graeme and Jonathan, returned to New Zealand because her father, Anton Reitsma, had cancer.
Anton was a sculptor and a member of Group 60, a Taranaki underground art group, and he exhibited locally and nationally.
"Just before he died we bought Wallath Rd. That was his corner. It had a little pergola he used to sit in. It was a place we could imagine him watching us in our new house."
Growing in this corner were blue cinerarias, which Amanda has captured on canvas.
"The big thing about this painting I loved is the great depth through to the leaves behind."
The blue blooms have been painted with all their imperfections, because she particularly loves capturing the life cycle of flowers. "I just paint what I see."
Art is also engrained on her mother's side. Amanda's great great grandfather was the founder of Auckland's John Leech Gallery in 1855. "He was a looking glass maker, gilder and framer."
"So I grew up with art all around me, but I didn't start to paint seriously until about 2010."
She took a couple of hobby painting classes to hone her techniques and ability to "see".
"I wasn't very confident as a painter because I just could do it, so I never thought I was any good.
"Because I could just pick up a paint brush and paint, I never thought it was anything. I just thought it was ordinary."
That's not the feedback she received when people wowed their way through her downstairs studio and makeshift gallery, draped with black to help the paintings stand out.
People on the arts trail were greeted by colourful poppies, found and photographed while walking through a small rural South Canterbury town.
The poppies were outside the library and Amanda was struck by their vivid hues and subtle textures. "The depth of colour and luminosity, the fall of light and shadow, the gloss and silkiness of the petals captured and challenged me," she writes on her description of "Waimate Poppies".
She painted this work from a photograph, but she has also worked with real objects.
"I began by working in a shadow box to learn how to paint objects in 3D," she says explaining that she made a complete black box of her desk, enabling light to be directed on to still-life compositions.
Her first-ever oil painting is called Reflections on Morocco. It features a silver teapot bought in that exotic land, mint in a glass and a teaspoon.
"It's my first and hopefully only self-portrait," she laughs.
If you study the painting, there she is, reflected in the teapot.
She had to paint the mint first, before it perished.
Her works are painted over a long period of time because she works full time as the business administrator for TCB Dentures, a business she and Tom own.
Each painting takes between 60 and 100 hours to complete, so that means live specimens won't last.
That was the case with a work called "Studies in Light", starring a glass jug and a lemon with its sticker still on. "That was in the shadow box and it slowly dried out and wizened."
But the lemon in the painting looks fresh and realistic. A woman came in to the gallery and went to peel off the label, before stopping herself and saying "ooh, I can't do that".
"It's those imperfections again – it's a place and time."
In her all-black studio, Amanda is painting a magnolia grandiflora from a photograph taken at Athenree near Waihi.
Beside her is a container of rice with her paintbrushes orderly placed upright among the grains, an idea she got from another artist.
Her pallets are two glass shelves from a wee bar fridge that sits outside her studio. She keeps the oils in there to stop them drying out and even pops her brushes in the fridge.
The magnolia on the easel is part of her flower series, which includes blue hydrangeas, the cinerarias and poppies. She has begun a sunset series and a mountain series, and other works include capsicums, a boy in a kayak, vegetables, eggs and a beater, plus a slice-of-life painting called "The Flat". In this she has painted and open Persil box and a basil plant, still in its plastic wrapper.
It's from Jonathan and wife Jennifer's first Wellington flat, where everything was on a slope. "There was nothing square about the flat. If you dropped something in the lounge it would roll to the other end. The door frames were all slumped and gradually over the years the doors had been planed and planed."
Amanda has plans for more quirky slice-of-life works, and her dream is to work full time as a painter.
Sharing her works with others is another driver, which is why she has opted for a printing technique called giclee. It uses pigment-based inks that have a 100-year-plus long-life rating and the prints are of museum quality.
"This is something special. I can get these out to many people and they can enjoy the same quality as the original."
She has placed the original cineraria painting next to the print and asks her guests to guess which is which. The writer picks the print and the hawk-eyed photographer chooses the real one.
Going for giclee wasn't a straight-forward decision. "It took me thousands of dollars of misprints, until I found this place," she says, silent when asked who and where.
"It's my point of difference," she says.
Back upstairs, son Graeme James playing on the stereo, Amanda shares more of her immediate family's creative bent.
Earlier this year Graeme, a professional musician, presented a TEDx talk at Queenstown titled "The Beautiful Tension of Taste". He is also married to a full-time singer-songwriter.
Jonathan, married to a graphic designer, has his own music academy in Wellington, for which he composes and arranges music. He is also a composer for orchestras, choirs and individual singers.
All the family were in the Crehan Celtic Band, led by Tom who played the lead role in Godspell back in the 1990s.
Despite this life full of sound, Amanda opts for the opposite while working.
"I paint in stillness," she says. "I don't have any music going. I'm in my dark cave."
Her mind is quiet but full of the colours she's working with.
"It's just that creative space – I'm not thinking about anything else but what I'm doing."
★ Amanda Crehan is opening her studio again this weekend, from 9.30am to 4pm today and from 10am to 4pm, 8 Shearer Drive, Oakura.