Local art & design destinations

From art galleries like Whitespace and Orexart (recently relocated to Ponsonby Road) to design stores like Bob and Friends, Dawson & Co, Bauhaus, ECC and Homage, there are a plethora of inspiring local places to draw from when the soul needs more than just things.

Art offers people both an escape from a world in the grips of pandemic as well as reflection and reaction to our most human experiences during a time of crisis. While in Aotearoa we are somewhat sheltered from the full effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are all keenly aware of how fortunate we are and how easily things can change.

For many of us this situation creates a state of heightened anxiety and increases our need for something more intangible to feed our souls and quieten our minds. The arts are well placed to help us with this. Our local musicians, performers, artists and designers have already shown how incredibly vital they are in this way. They have freely shared their talents with online performances, podcasts and more, since the very first lockdown.

The need for art to not only reflect the times and our history, but also be accessible and inclusive is well served in Ponsonby where we have both incredible design stores, art galleries and public art displays on our doorstep. This March sees the launch of the Auckland Art Festival with a full range of free art events and experiences for locals to immerse themselves in, as well as a range of exciting exhibition openings at local galleries.

For Rex Armstrong of Orexart the recent lockdowns have revealed a heightened awareness of the immediate environment. “It’s like the quieter streets and slower pace have cleared some visual and aural pathways. It’s been a good thing in lots of ways,” explains Rex. “Weirdly it’s been great for business and people are certainly buying more art! It’s partially due to the fact that some of the more fortunate have their ‘travel budget’ burning a hole in their back pocket - but it’s also that people are spending more time at home - actively living with things - and appreciating them more.”

The new location of Orexart on Ponsonby Road has also illustrated to Rex and the team just how important art is as a conversation starter. “Having a gallery right on Ponsonby Road makes art really accessible and visible to anyone walking by at any hour 7 days a week. We’ve been amazed by the number of people who come in saying things like, “Hey, I walked past with my dog last night and was so struck by the painting in the window...” says Rex.

Rex and partner Jennifer Buckley believe the role artists play in interpreting and reflecting our world is important all of the time, but it’s even more important in times of crisis. “Artists invite us to travel alongside them on a journey and good artwork is almost always a stepping off point for somewhere else,” explains Rex.

Recent exhibitions have quite literally transported viewers to other places: Richard McWhannell’s latest works are a road trip through the wild west borderlands between Texas and Mexico. Peter James Smith’s new paintings offer a history of water, and celebrate the great oceans that surround us. “A personal favourite is called ‘The Crack in Everything’ which alludes to lines used by bards William Shakespeare and Leonard Cohen and also happens to be an absolute cracker of a painting,” shares Rex. Whether you are a collector or just someone who finds inspiration through the arts, there is so much that can be enjoyed strolling our local streets or just by going a little further afield this March.

Gundry St and Karangahape Road is the site for The Educate to Liberate – Polynesian Panthers Mural project which begins on March 4. It’s one of the many free experiences locals can enjoy as part of the Auckland Art Festival. It’s an international collaboration created by the Whakaako kia Whakaora Collective (Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho, Numa MacKenzie, Toa Sieke Taihia, Emory Douglas, Tigilau Ness and Chris McBride) that reflects the experiences of many Pasifika families in our local area and beyond. Festival orgnanisers describe it as a visual celebration of the interconnectedness between the Polynesian Panther Party of Aotearoa and the Black Panther Party of the American Civil Rights movement – a positive inspiration for future generations.

Other free events and experiences during Auckland Art Festival include an aerial dance event at Coyle Park on 5, 6 and 7 March called The Air Between Us. It’s the first half of a double feature in the park that’s followed by A Figure Exhales, a site specific outdoor performance, meditative and stylised for visual impact by performance artist and choreographer Zahra Killeen-Chanc.

Just out of the local hood is Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery where another free art installation, Ka Mua, ka Muri, runs from March 6 to 21 March. A sound and moving image installation from artist Shannon Te Ao, it explores our experience of time, history and song, using the road movie genre as its starting point. The film also includes two original songs developed by Te Ao in collaboration with Kurt Komene.

What is true of good art is also true of good design. It enhances our sensory human experiences through sight, sound, touch and smell and now more than ever it is our homes that are the focus of our design interests.

“I see the desire for good design is more profound for people in the current environment,” says Angus Dawson of the family owned design store Dawson and Co. “We are all spending more and more time in our homes and we want them to be both an escape and a sanctuary,” he explains.

It’s an extension of the idea that our homes can and need to do more than just function for us on a practical level because they impact so directly on how we feel. “How our home makes us feels is effected by good design, not simply by how they function,” details Angus.

The need to replace the experience of travel with something in-home is a phenomena he believes is growing. It is prompting people to be more creative in duplicating the sense of what they can’t have with our borders closed.

“Whether you’re yearning for the feeling of being amongst the rolling hills of Tuscany, working in a home office that has an edgy New York aesthetic, or you have the need to recreate a sense order in the chaos with the minimalist influences of Danish Bauhaus architecture, it’s all possible,” he says. It’s not simply a case of just acquiring things. It’s about utilising design as an art-form to produce authentic human responses. “Within your own home, thoughtful design and the careful curation of pieces, from floor coverings to furniture, from decor to fine art, gives you the power to create a home space that feeds the soul and inspires you every day,” concludes Angus.

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