An enduring bond with Coromandel and a desire to connect with nature on a daily basis are key to an Auckland artist’s immersive paintings.
For many New Zealanders, the words “working from home” now conjure up nightmarish versions of makeshift desks in not-fit-for-purpose locations around the house, or laptops quite literally on lap tops, of family squabbles over who gets which space, and frequent Zoom meetings exposing formerly private living areas to curious colleagues.
By comparison, Auckland artist Brenda Clews’s workspace – a home studio she comfortably shares with husband Peter, a freelance commercials producer – is a white-walled, light-filled oasis of calm and colour.
Bordered by stacks of her lush landscapes and pastel-hued nature scenes, grounded by a few pieces of well-cared-for vintage furniture and punctuated with an eclectic assortment of paint, brushes, and vases filled with dry and fresh flowers, it’s an enviable spot to work in.
Although the mother of three’s studio is in the original part of the 1930s bungalow, she frequently moves to the 1960s extension at the rear of the house.
“The light is better there in the winter months. It has huge windows and beautiful year-round light. Peter is much better at keeping his work separate from the rest of the house, whereas I’m constantly moving around with the light – and when I move, my paints and mess move with me.”
Even more enviably, on research days Brenda’s “office” might be a serene stretch of sand and sea or a park brimming with inspiration from the outside world.
“We’re really fortunate to live within walking distance of Cornwall Park,” she says. “I try to spend time running and walking in the park – it’s important to have somewhere nearby where I can connect with nature. On the weekends I love to take my camera up to the park with the kids and take photos.”
Many of Brenda’s landscapes are inspired by time spent in the Coromandel, a place she has visited every year since she was a baby.
Rather than being an accurate depiction of a specific location, they’re an accumulation of places. “But they’re real in my mind,” she says, laughing. “Coromandel is the place I associate with taking things slow. I have time to stop, pick up my camera and just notice nature in a much more mindful way.”
Back in Auckland, Brenda’s photos become important references for creating paintings – “I have a huge gallery of photos to draw from.”
Nature is a constant source of inspiration and she’s never short on ideas for paintings. “Even the same landscape presents hundreds of versions of the same view – in different seasons, times of day, and lights.”
She uses a mix of heavy-bodied and liquid acrylics, and loves the way that different mediums can create many transparent layers.
“My process is very much about layers and the adding of texture and marks. I love seeing textured brushstrokes as there’s a kind of honesty in texture, and in marks that are slightly awkward.”
Her colours are also informed by nature’s palette, with the hues of the sky reflected in the land, water and foliage she paints.
Brenda considers flowers to be gifts from nature that she can bring into her home. They feature prominently in the studio, both in real and painted form. “I find them incredibly uplifting. I haven’t had a lot of time to spend in the garden so I pretty much rely on lovely friends and neighbours to keep me in good supply!”
From a young age, Brenda has spent time sketching and painting. At primary school she was always the first to put up her hand to be chosen to draw the biblical scenes to be hung in church. While she was travelling in her twenties, she’d always have a pen and journal at hand. When she and Peter got married, they didn’t have any extra money to buy art, so Brenda picked up her brushes and started painting canvasses for their walls. Her passion for painting was reignited and continued to grow.
These days, blocks of time need to be scheduled in and around busy family life. She works on her paintings throughout the day, grabbing moments whenever she can.
“I might add a couple of marks to a painting as I’m walking out the door to do the school run or in the middle of cooking dinner – painting is always going on in the back of my mind!”
Brenda finds painting a meditative and calming activity. “It’s a chance to clear my mind and immerse myself in something that feels like a very natural extension of myself,” she says.
Worries disappear as she becomes immersed in the art-making process, ruminating over decisions such as whether she’s chosen the right shade of green.
“Sometimes I forget to make dinner or do an errand or hang the washing out because I’ve been caught up with painting. But that’s okay – we can always have cheese on toast, and there’s always another day to do chores.”
To see more of Brenda’s artwork, visit brendaclewsart.nz.