Artists birds a feather


Two friends with a mutual love and new-found respect for ink have paired up to bring their art to the Forrester Gallery.

Box of Birds opens to the public this Sunday and is a joint effort between North Otago artists Natalie Carpenter and Tracey Vickers.

The pair had sold their art alongside each other at markets for years, and decided they wanted to collaborate, Carpenter said.

“We decided that we really wanted to work together to kind of push ourselves and really focus on our art, and we thought having a group show would really pool our strengths and push us forward a little bit more.”

They went to North Otago Museum for “idea research” and were inspired by the work of Dunedin taxidermist William Smyth, which included a large box full of an eclectic collection of native birds.

Smyth’s approach was unorthodox and “a bit fanciful”, with dandelions scattered in trees and the birds and animals in unnatural poses, Carpenter said.

“My approach was kind of to highlight their relationships with each other, because they kind of were interacting and they’re quite playful in the box. So we kind of both tried to keep those elements, I think.”

Carpenter has completed a bachelor of fine arts degree, majoring in painting, but printmaking has always been her passion.

“I kind of thought printmaking wasn’t really accessible outside of art school. Just because of the equipment – the inks and it’s not a very portable process.”

But about five years ago, the mother of three found an old clothes mangle in a Hampden second-hand store, and turned it into a press to use at home.

“The kids were all still little and I was kind of sneaking out to the garage while they were sleeping.

Vickers studied for a bachelor of design degree, majoring in 3-D, but said she had always been an artist as well.

She loves using frames in her pieces, and takes inspiration from Art Nouveau and artist Alphonse Mucha.

“He does females and he puts frames around them, like halos,” she said.

Until now, Vickers had mostly worked with ink pen and watercolours, so this experience was new to her.

“The ink that I work with and the ink that Natalie works with … They’re completely different,” she said.

“This is purely washes of ink .. It was quite interesting to use a different medium that I wouldn’t have otherwise probably used. So I got to experiment a bit.

Carpenter said working on the exhibition also pushed her out of her comfort zone.

“There are a lot of processes that I wanted to explore, and it really gave me just a focus and a chance to push my boundaries and way of working,” she said.

Carpenter’s prints are mostly monotypes, but many different processes fall under the monotype name tag. These include dark-field – covering the plate with dark ink and forming the image by removing the ink in different ways – and pochoir, a stencil technique in which areas are masked out and then the ink colours applied in different layers.

The pair started on the exhibition a year ago in anticipation of a May opening, but then Covid-19 hit and things were delayed.

This gave them some extra time to explore their theme, and also frame their work.

Both women are mothers – Carpenter to Fern (9), Hayden (7), and Luke (5), and Vickers to Owen (7) and Olivia (5) – so the exhibition is the first for both in quite a while.

Vickers described herself and Carpenter as re-emerging artists.

“We’ve been away in our little family cocoons.”

Children are encouraged to go to the exhibition and make their own boxes of birds.

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