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Oamaru is teeming with artistic talent, often tucked away in solitary splendour, so the Oamaru Mail is prising open studio doors to meet the creative people inside. This week’s artist is Peter Cleverley

Q What sort of art do you create?

I make paintings and prints using the mediums of oil paint or a combination of water colour and gouache. I feel they fit loosely in the genre of expressionism.

Q Do you have formal training or are you more self-taught?

I attained fine arts preliminary at Waitaki Boys’ High School which gained me a place at the Dunedin School of Art, graduating with a degree in fine and applied arts in 1974.

Q How long have you been involved in this art?

I remember painting with my mother when I was about 10 years old. She used to equip me with paper, pencils and paints, rather than colouring books, saying: “practise drawing and painting from your own observations; that will increase your skills and help you in the long run”. So true, of course, encouraging individuality, even though I didn’t realise that then. When I returned from overseas in 1981, I locked myself away in my studio at Kakanui, painted for a year then staged my first solo exhibition in Oamaru. This continued practice was what caught the attention of art dealers in Christchurch and Dunedin, who took over all the commercial stuff, encouraging me to concentrate on making my own work in my own time. So I’ve never done a commission or needed to compromise my concepts. I’ve always prioritised my own practice, but have had part-time work to support it, including exhibitions officer at the Forrester Gallery and 25 years of teaching painting and drawing undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at the Dunedin School of Art. I finished teaching in 2016, so it’s only for the past four years I’ve been painting full-time – I’m loving that.

Q What is its appeal to you?

I’m better with pictures than words and the sheer excitement of seeing what comes about when placing pigment on to a surface is never-ending.

Q Do you experiment with new approaches and techniques?

For me, every new painting is an experiment. I don’t go into my studio with preconceived compositions. I build them and they appear in front of me. Conceptually, my works are under the broad umbrella of the “human condition” and, technically, I use a restricted palette of my favourite colour mixes, but even with those constants there is agony and ecstasy in the making of each one.

Q Are you planning to branch out into other art forms?

I pick up natural objects washed up on the beach and construct them into animals, and small sculptures. But nowadays I really need to concentrate on what I have in mind already.

Q How does your art fit into the rest of your life – is it purely for relaxation, do you earn income from it, are you aiming to make it a career?

Life fits around my art making, really. I’m thinking it, observing things that inform it, looking at it and making it all the time. I go to work in the studio just like other people go to work, often begrudgingly. It’s quite lonely, really. Then I like to shut myself away to concentrate. My dealers set the exhibitions, nudge me towards deadlines, deal with promotions and handle any client interest. That’s the way I want it, I’ve always thought an open studio sales thing would be frightening.

Q How responsive is the local community to artists and their art?

This region’s land and seascape are of such a unique beauty. It’s always attracted cosmopolitan, intelligent, creative people to settle here, their various responses to artists and art has been wonderful. Community supporting council to enable the Forrester Gallery to be staffed professionally epitomises the excellence here. I feel very fortunate to have contact with the staff of what is nationally acknowledged as a very important venue of art and education.

Q If you could design a perfect world, what role would art play?

I think art has the most important role now. Everything we see and tou

ch entails art and design. People use it in every aspect of their lives all the time, even if it is a print of the Mona Lisa on their tea towel.

Q Where can people find your works?

At the Forrester Gallery and Grainstore Gallery in Oamaru, Chambers Art Gallery in Christchurch, OCTA Gallery in Cromwell and RDS Gallery in Dunedin.