Written by Sheryl Burson
In the centre of Titirangi sits the imposing structure of Lopdell House: an iconic piece of architecture in West Auckland and the home to many businesses and cultural activities in the village. It is also home to The Upstairs Gallery. I meet up with Sammy Milne, Gallery Manager and Curator to find out more about the gallery and this year’s awards.
The Upstairs Gallery is a community-centred space that supports and promotes emerging artists - young and old - and promotes itself as a hub of inspiration, creativity and of Whanau. It provides a place for emerging artists to socialise, to showcase artwork of all mediums, and offers an opportunity for everyone to connect with art. All curated by Sammy Milne, with the help of gallery co-ordinator Carlos and a tribe of volunteers, they believe in making art accessible to all. The gallery hosts around 12 exhibitions per year, with a mix of solo and group shows. It also hosts a number of events and community competitions to raise awareness of the gallery and promote arts within West Auckland and the wider Auckland region. Being a not-for-profit community art gallery, the Upstairs Gallery relies hugely on sponsorship, the support of our community volunteers, and its paid gallery members.
This is the 10th anniversary of the Emerging Artist Awards and in celebration of this has a theme of ‘Empathy’. This is the first year the awards have had a theme. It is one which they are they are incredibly passionate about; it also has an amazing back-story.
Gallery Manager Sammy went on to tell me about how the theme was inspired after a talk at an opening night event with a professor of psychotherapy - a tenant in Lopdell House - about an amazing demonstration of empathy by an artist who had done a portrait of the husband of a very recently-widowed sponsor. Feeling moved by the sponsor’s generosity and commitment to the event at such a hard time, the artist had found images on the internet of the husband. She then painted an amazing portrait that captured him so well and dropped it off at the gallery for them to pass on to the widow. The psychotherapist went on to tell Sammy that art and psychotherapy are linked in so many ways and that he had always been fascinated by artists and their work, how their work becomes a form of therapy. So, she decided to take his idea further and hence the theme for this year’s award.
Connect, an organisation to help with mental health issues and recovery, are also one of the sponsors and will be holding workshops and talks. They have an art therapist who will also be running some workshops.
With this theme in mind, the Upstairs Gallery wants the art to engage the local community in support of mental health with the belief that art is a tool to help people understand mental illness in a way that is both enlightening and therapeutic. As expressed in the call-to-artist brief: “A work of art can evoke powerful emotions. The colour palate, the textures and the subject matter can all cause an immediate emotional response. This intense trigger of emotion is why we have chosen empathy as the theme for this year’s exhibition. Let your creativity run wild by submitting a work of art that cultivates empathy, helps people become more aware of their own emotions and more receptive to the emotions of others.”
Last year’s winner was Danae Ripley who is currently travelling abroad continuing working on her art. Another of last year’s winners was Lucasz Ograbek who received the Robin Kewell Award.
I caught up with Lucasz in his Glen Eden studio. He is a self-taught artist in his spare time from his job as a house renovator. He is absolutely passionate about his art and how much feeling and sentiment art produces in the viewers. He works in his sketchbooks religiously and tries to capture everything that inspires him visually. He is soon to have a solo show at the Upstairs Gallery. Opening night on Friday, August 31 at 6:00 PM until Sunday, September 23.
The work of 10 deserving finalists will be exhibited in The Upstairs Gallery from Friday 3rd August until - Sunday 26 August, and three artists will be awarded prizes worth over $5000.