Written by Joanne Barrett
Although Viky was born in Wellington, her early childhood years – or her 'Kodak' years as she describes them - were spent in the small rural town of Pahiatua located just south of Palmerston North. Viky’s parents were refugees to this country - her father from Greece and her mother from Poland – one of 734 Polish children who settled here as New Zealand’s first refugees.
As a family they eventually left Pahiatua and returned to Wellington to live. 1970s Wellington was stimulating. A culturally diverse city it could lay claim to one of the largest Greek communities in New Zealand. It was home to many musicians and the arts were alive and well.
As a young student, Viky was tutored by Vivian Lynn who later became Lecturer at Schools of Architecture and Design, Wellington Polytechnic and Victoria University, and is known for her important contribution to contemporary art in New Zealand. Vivian Lynn has made art for over 60 years; her work is considered topical, relevant and vital and her dedicated, disciplined and focused approach has remained a constant inspiration to Viky.
Viky says she didn’t have the opportunity to attend art school but knew art was always something she was good at and wanted to do - but it would be a few years yet before her art practice would become a reality.
In the late 70s Viky worked at Marmalade Studios in Wellington. Her job was to work with advertising agencies and book musicians to create backing tracks for television and radio commercial voice-overs. Marmalade Studios is where she met musician Steve Garden. They married in 1981 and moved to Auckland, buying their home in Sandringham in 1986.
“I live by the shops and no one minds when I roll up in my painting clothes.” Viky says.
“I feel at home here in Sandringham.” says Viky. “Sandringham has always been like a comfy old slipper to me. It's a laid back multi cultural suburb. We have the best Indian food and supply shops, a secret bar for the best dahi puri and a tipple of stout. More recently, a new bar opened over the road and I go there for an espresso martini when I’m feeling invincible.”
When Viky first started painting in 1988, self portraiture formed the major focus of these early works. Her more recent work, at first glance could be seen as representations of herself, but they are more than that. She uses self-referencing as a vehicle in which to portray a situation, event or theme. Her paintings are based primarily on the female experience, so in this way the personal becomes the universal. The work resonates with other people because like a narrative, it tells a story. People are not buying portraits of Viky Garden - rather they see or feel something of themselves in the work.
When asked what excites her creative spark she says, “it is an ongoing desire to define something in my own visual language that is also understood by others.”
In the summer of 2013 Viky took a hiatus from painting. “I had been curious about making small torsos and the timing was perfect. I wanted hand sized pieces - each of these feel and fit into the hand, they're such beautiful forms to hold - I liked the idea that they were tactile and not precious.”
She says to learn to make moulds was trial and error and it was more trial that led her to small editions of each piece. One of the torsos, a bronze cast edition she used as her maquette and she had it printed larger using 3D technology. She has plans to produce more in this series early next year.
There have been other learning curves and changes in Viky’s practice. For the first 25 years she painted with oils but two years ago she made the switch to acrylic paint. She wanted to challenge her approach but wasn't sure how to go about doing this.
“For two months I stopped painting altogether and played a lot of backgammon. I think it helped in a contemplative way because in February 2015 I put away the oils and paintbrushes and began painting with liquid acrylic using bits of cardboard. It was an enormous risk, says Viky, because I had no idea how to paint with acrylics or what it was I was trying to achieve.“
Despite the change in medium and method used, Viky’s work continues to have an assured discipline, a consistency in quality and a certain charm about it. Right now she is working on a large portrait.
She says, “I’m arguing with myself as to whether or not (in this instance) pattern is important, working out how much I can leave out of something and yet still feel it exists in the painting – bearing in mind the surface of the work, the layers of pigment, their importance or relevance - it’s like creating an enormous puzzle.”
Viky works from a small studio room she had built onto their house some years ago. But early next year, all going to plan she will move into a bigger studio in the back yard. This is an important move as it will enable her to expand her practice.
“Technology and social media has changed the way we look at art – or are introduced to someone’s work“says Viky.
“Within the last few years the art market has changed significantly with our dependence on mobile phones, and this will only increase. It's given people instant, direct access to artists and enables artists to communicate with those who wish to learn about or collect their work.
“The feedback I get on my Facebook page still feels new to me because prior to this people would visit a gallery and respond to a dealer. The artist very rarely got to hear what people thought about their work or who came in to view it.
“While there's a plethora of art junk to be found online,” says Viky, “the good work always gets through. Good art has a positive influence on our environment and community and for me personally, art gives life its meaning. As for any long-term goals – I am living them right now.”