A series of setbacks tested the resilience of painter Zana Renton but also set her on a path to a creative career that’s helped her to heal.
There’s a beautiful mix of vibrant energy and freedom in Zana Renton’s abstract paintings. She believes that might be down to her upbringing on a Mangatahi farm in Hawke’s Bay.
“I was one of those kids running around with bare feet on the grass, surrounded by so many farm animals and horses. I think a lot of my brushstrokes relate to trees, rivers and water movement,” she says.
It was back home in Hawke’s Bay where Zana was inspired to take up art professionally, following a short stint in Melbourne in 2020. “I really struggled when I moved to Melbourne. I was in this big city and I was living in an apartment. I felt so suffocated! When Covid hit, it was an easy decision to head back home.”
Zana took advantage of being back in Aotearoa, surrounded by nature and with a generous studio space to paint in. She was even more delighted when people wanted to buy her art. She set about creating a website and, as her business took off, decided the best place to be based was Auckland. Signing with Auckland-based modelling agency Red 11 was another nudge towards the big smoke.
Now living in Grey Lynn, she doesn’t have a huge amount of room to paint in her home, and has to pack all her work away each day. “But I definitely try to envision my work on a big blank wall and how it can bring character and energy to a room,” she says. “I really base my work off energy. I don’t think you want to bring a piece of work into your home if you don’t have a connection to it. Otherwise it’s just like another piece of furniture.”
She says Covid prompted her to take her art seriously – prior to the outbreak, she’d hoped to put her degree in hospitality management to use in Melbourne. Growing up, she’d been into sports, and only signed up for art on a whim, in her last year of school. “I brushed it off as a nothing subject. It was just time where I could do what I wanted.”
Sadly, her beloved father Paul passed away the same year, and the “nothing subject” had a profound effect on her. “I found it really healing just sitting down and painting during the day. I lost my dad when I was 16 and my high school friends didn’t have a clue about how to approach me about it. And looking back on it, I didn’t really talk about it to any of my friends until later, after I went to university. Art was therapy for me, in a way. I was just able to express myself. I absolutely fell in love with art.”
Zana says her creative outlet also helped her manage periods of depression as a teenager, and she keenly hopes her art and a new foray into blogging will help others who are also struggling. “I’ve only just started writing and it’s a lot about my own personal life, but it’s definitely becoming a passion of mine, which is funny because I’m very dyslexic. Spelling, punctuation and grammar really aren’t my strengths. But I get so many messages after
I post a piece of writing, saying, ‘Wow, it’s so nice to see I’m not the only one that’s going through that.’ It’s all worth it when you get people responding to your writing like that.”
Zana is adding poetry to her abstract works and is keen to study interior design. “The biggest thing for me with my artwork is having enough things to do on the side so I’m not consumed by my art. Any artist knows that it is so incredibly hard to just wake up, go to the studio and paint every single day. Especially with me and my mental health, it’s so important for me to have these other outlets because then I can come to the studio with a fresh perspective.”