The Arts Access Podcast is available on all major streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and Apple Podcasts. Below, you can also listen to the episode, Pablos Art Studios: Affirming identity through art.
The following is a transcript of the interview.
Pablos Art Studios: affirming identity through art
Sam Morgan: Kia ora, welcome back to the Arts Access Podcast. On today's episode, we take a visit to Pablos Art Studios. Pablos is a Wellington creative space that supports participants’ mental health and wellbeing with free art tuition and materials. To start off, I had a chat with Francis Tunicliffe.
Francis: So I’m an art tutor here at Pablos working Monday and Wednesday and I'm also the outreach coordinator, which means that I marry other tutors up with different outreach opportunities. And I myself do outreach as well.
Sam: So what are the outreach opportunities usually?
Francis: So outreach is where we go to an organisation. They might have a room and a group of people who do art, or it could be going into somebody's home and doing art one-on-one to build up their confidence so they come into the studio.
Sam: So are a lot of these people who are coming to Pablos re-introducing themselves to making art?
Francis: It varies. We get a lot of people at Pablos who remember making art as a child and then life gets in the way. But they remember the joy of it. So for some people it's a relearning or an unlearning of what they used to do.
Sam: I find that I refrain from doing visual art because I'm not very good at it …
Francis: Yeah. That's what a lot of people say. So we have strategies around that. Activities where artistic merit is not needed. For example, doing life drawing but not looking at the paper.
Sam: And then I suppose it's quite interesting to eventually look at the paper?
Francis: Oh yeah! Yeah.
Sam: So what kind of other strategies do you have?
Francis: So keeping the activities simple is a good one and also achievable for people to do. For example, doing print making but on foam boards instead of using carving tools. So you can just push into the foam with a ballpoint pen. So making activities more accessible for people.
Sam: Are there issues around the expense of these resources?
Francis: Pablos pays for everything. So there's no cost to the artists, there's no cost to the outreach that we do. We supply materials and we can also specialise once we get to know an artist and what sort of materials they would like, we can buy them specifically for them.
Sam: I’ve popped in and there were some sound art installations … Do you have quite a range of mediums?
Francis: Yes. So the sound art is often done with found materials, contact mics that Matt has made. So recording the sounds that buildings make. The groaning and moaning that buildings can make.
Sam: I think I saw the other day … there was a banana on a hard drive or something spinning around?
Francis: Okay. That sounds about right. But they make lovely homemade instruments as well.
Sam: So why would someone come to Pablos?
Francis: We might get people who are rehabilitating from a stroke or an accident. Anyone can come to Pablos. It's all about wellbeing, affirming identity through art. You don't need to be referred by a clinician. We just have a few forms that people fill out and then they can start making art.
Sam: How many tutors do you have?
Francis: We try to have at least two tutors on every day. We've got seven tutors altogether, I think. Part-time capacities.
Sam: How was it supporting the artists through Covid?
Francis: So we made up art packs. And we dropped them off to the artists. We received funding for that. We did some online stuff. We had a couple of sessions where we met up in a park so we could socially distance and did art outside. And we supported artists with phone calls as well to check in on them.
Sam: So Pablos sometimes run exhibitions?
Francis: So Pablos used to have a gallery. RAW Gallery it was called: that had to be shut down in the very first lockdown. So that was a great loss to Pablos. We did external artist exhibitions there as well, so we've had to look for other exhibition opportunities. We recently had a group show at Meanwhile Gallery in Willis Street. And we also support Individual artists when approaching galleries by themselves.
Sam: I remember one of the artists, um, Paul, when I first came here, he was like, Oh, come, I'll show you the gallery … And it was in the wharepaku ...
Francis: Ha ha. Yeah, The Swirl Gallery.
Sam: And are you looking for another gallery?
Francis: Well, we're looking for a new space. This building's going to get demolished and we're always hoping that we can bring the gallery back.
Sam: Do you see some positive changes in the artists over time?
Francis: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. That happens all the time. We notice when people start Pablos either in the studio or at outreach, and after a few weeks they're just way more relaxed, more communicative. We definitely see a big increase in people's wellbeing.
Sam: How do you make the process of making art more accessible?
Francis: Well, there are the workshops where it's directed step by step and repeated over and over. Making sure that we have a variety of materials, making sure the media that we have is expansive and varied. You know, we don't just have paint and pencils, we have lots and lots of other materials. So people can get tactile if they need to. They can use clay and collage and …
Francis: Yeah, bananas if they want to. . Yeah.
Sam: How has art helped you in your life?
Francis: Art’s always been a constant for me. So during my childhood, I've always had art around. Drawing, making funny little magazines and comics and that kind of thing. For me, I like it as a way of making sense of my past and even my present.
Sam: Do you have any advice for someone who is maybe a bit shy when it comes to making art?
Francis: Trusting in the process. Ignoring the finished product of being perfect. There’s always going to be somebody who's more accomplished. So not putting yourself in other people's shoes is important. Just stay grounded.
The Internet's a great resource. And give Pablos a ring.
Sam: I popped out into the studio to have a chat with one of the artists.
Alexandria: My name is Alexandria Tasker. I am an artist here at Pablos Studios, and today I am working on one of my mixed media artworks that is untitled as yet, but will probably be called “Community”. It is an artwork that is 900 millimetres high by two metres long, and is made of various materials, found objects, foam core, milk bottle tops, coke bottle lids, and foam core art board.
Sam: And have you been artistic your whole life or is it something you've found recently?
Alexandria: My whole family was actually very, very creative and we were always doing colouring competitions as kids and I was strangely winning them quite a lot. So yeah.
Sam: Can you win at art?
Alexandria: I think you can definitely win at art. Winning at art is just the application of actually taking that creative process and running with it. There is no really failing at art. And again, I think it also depends on what you are doing it for. It is very important if it's for mental health reasons.
Sam: Is that one of your reasons?
Alexandria: Well, that's one of my goals, yes. Yeah. For me, my art making is actually part of my Buddhist philosophy. So yeah, the act of doing within that space of making is very important. So while they look very, very abstract and very industrial looking, most of my art is in fact actually spiritually based.
So it represents my Buddhist theory and my practice as well as whatever is actually going on in my life at that time. So yeah, they look like very abstract representations of computer circuitry, but that is like the pathways of the decision-making process and the design philosophy that I use to explain that visually.
Sam: How does it feel to have a space like Pablos where you can come and do this?
Alexandria: Fantastic because while I can actually work on the stuff at home, having that interaction with other artists and bouncing ideas off other artists like Paul, for example, and Reb and the tutors here really helps with solution-orientated making.
When I'm stuck at an impasse I need an idea for how I can maybe do this in such a way and I'll get five or six ideas, and then I can work on each one of those and work out which one is the best way to do it, and then apply that to what I've made. So yeah, It adds to the idea of the project behind it being about community and the complexity of community.
So having these different perspectives to pull on for the art piece in general I find is actually really, really important.
Sam: So have you had any of your artworks featured in exhibitions?
Alexandria: I've actually had quite a few group exhibitions. I haven't really had a solo exhibition yet.
The major piece that I had in at the Pablos Art Auction in 2020 was my first major piece that had been done in this style and that sold for $720. Given that I'd actually only put $400 on it as a base starting price, and I didn't think that would actually sell for that much … The fact that it sold for that amount of money was just like, “Okay, yeah, I need to actually scale up my value because if that's what it went for, just like, wow. Okay. Of course.”
Sam: Do you find it hard to put a price on your artworks?
Alexandria: Yeah, I do because the amount of work that actually goes into them couldn't just be valued at an hourly rate, in which case they would be $400, at least upwards to $1500 to $2000. ‘Cos yeah, if I'm in that very zen meditative state while I'm working on it, time just passes and I go, “Okay, well there goes 12 hours without even trying”. And it's just like, most people would be like, “How can you do that?” And it was just like when you're working on your art as a meditative process, rather than doing it because you have to. it's a very different way of actually creating. So time actually isn't really relative to it. It's only relative if you've got a deadline.
Sam: How do you find working with deadlines?
Alexandria: Oh, I hate them. Absolutely. I hate having deadlines. But that being said, it also gives you a structured fixed time in which to do things.
So sometimes you have to scale down your creative impulses to meet that challenge. But currently a group of us are working on a submission towards a gallery, and they have literally said, “Well, there's no free spaces for exhibitions until a year and a half away.” So that deadline is plenty of time to get stuff done.
Sam: And having somewhere to go like Pablos, during certain times of the day, does that help speed up the process?
Alexandria: Given the responsibilities that being an artist rep here has – uh, actually confers on me – sometimes it actually sort of like negates that process. So yeah, sometimes I can actually come in and literally spend the whole day just talking to people and not get anything done.
Other days I can actually just cut rock in with my headphones on and just spend six hours .. five, six hours here, and it just goes through in a blink of an eye and it's just like, “Okay. Really good day’s making”. So now I can bugger off home and not come in for two days while the thing dries.
That's always the trade-off. A very productive day. Always has a downtime after it because it takes so long for one of these things to dry and it needs at least 24 hours.
Sam: So how was your experience with the Covid lockdowns?
Alexandria: For me, that actually wasn't much of an issue because when I'm being a homebody, I can actually just stay at home all day.
I've got other interests outside of my art making, like my garden project or, you know, just weeding in general. That takes a bit of time. But on a fine day I can be found in my car port working on any number of one of my physical pieces of art that I'm working on at home, or I could be on the computer doing the digital stuff.
Yeah, I'm never really stuck for things to do. So when somebody says, “Oh, I'm bored.” Yeah. I'm just like, “No, I don't understand that.” I've just got so many other things that can keep me busy that yeah, I just I don't have time to be bored.
Sam: And Pablos supplied you with art materials?
Alexandria: We had the option to take home some artist packs that have coloured pencils and rulers and erasers and things like that. But I've got most of that stuff at home anyway. And while I was working on “Covid 19 version one”, it was more PVA and toilet paper that I was using.
So that was kind of one of its major selling points – the fact that it was actually a commentary on the insanity of toilet paper binge-buying at that period. And the fact that I was buying a six-pack or a 12-pack of toilet paper to turn into a piece of artwork ...
Sam: Is there anything you want to tell the world and anything related to art?
Alexandria: Just get out there and actually do it. The joy comes from the making.
Sam: Well, thank you for sharing with us.
Alexandria: You’re very welcome.
Sam: That’s it for today's episode. A huge thank you to Francis and Alexandria, and also to the College of Creative Arts, for letting us use their fully accessible recording studios.
Thank you for listening. Mā te wā.