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Leonie Sharp is a Sculptural Artist based in Wanganui. Traditionally trained in Whatu Kakahu & deeply inspired by her rich Maori heritage, Leonie creates striking Maori feather woven artworks. We have just got her latest work and thought it was a good time to get to know Leonie better and her practice as an artist.
What do you make/art practice?
Although my beginnings were in learning the techniques and history of Whatu Kakahu, (traditional Maori cloaks), my journey has been ever changing. I have experimented with many mediums and particularly enjoy sculptural work.
How did it all begin - where did this passion come from?
I learn from the collaborations I have been involved in and constantly look for new ways to showcase traditional art-forms. Adopting and adapting what I have learnt to better make a point or tell a story. My work for the Poi Room is my Exploration of symbols and features vibrantly coloured feathers.
What does a normal day look like for you?
As with most artists in NZ I have a part time job. This often means that I work on my art late into the evening. To work with feathers is a process. I usually get whole birds from the farmers and hunters around Whanganui and freeze them until I have time to pluck them. During the feather harvesting I sort into sizes, colours and shapes and then wash and dry the feathers to remove anything unwanted. Once cleaned and sprayed with a pyrethren based insect spray, I add them to my huge store of feathers and they become available for use. So when someone asks me how long it takes to do a piece I cant really explain as the preparation is a major time factor. Every piece is unique as I can have special colours or shapes from special birds come and go over time. I always have more than one series of work going at a time, my mind often creates while I am doing the tedious sorting or plucking and there is a lot of trial and error involved in the more sculptural work. I am constantly reading and will note a theme or idea from books which may take years to form into a single piece or exhibition.
What is your studio/creative space like?
My studio is in the centre of my rather unusual home (ex-butcher shop converted 10 years ago) and it is always a mess. I hate the necessary clean up days so these are infrequent.
Where do you find inspiration as an Artist come from?
Fashion, especially where cultures meet and a fusion occurs. World of wearable art NZ Literature- Witi Ihimaera , Patricia Grace.
History- Genealogy, I love dusty museums and op shops Symbols- looking for the common symbolism across cultures and the natural world
Artists- Manos Nathon, Diggeress Te Kanawa, The Hettet Whanau, and all those wonderful women from the past who have kept our traditional art forms alive.
What do you love most about working & living in Aotearoa?
I have travelled extensively and so am confident that we live in the most beautiful and varied country in the world. Whanganui is my home now. The community I live in is not a wealthy one and so I do feel a responsibility to help where I can, especially if it is to help a young person chase a dream. Over the years I have been involved in working with special needs teenagers, classes of 8-9 years olds who needed to know they can achieve and set goals in a hard life, culminating in a public exhibition of their work. Holding a hui about Ipu Whenua and collectively producing vessels for them to gift to our hospital and the next batch of new mothers in our city. And of course to donate work to fundraising causes. Although not cash rich, in terms of history and talent Whanganui has an incredibly gifted pool of artists who support each other and work together to make our city a recognised artistic destination. This is why I love living here.
Describe your relationship with The Poi Room & how our values fit with your business?
Selling your work is like sending your child to school, you need to trust the people who are influencing how it is received and where it ends up. I choose my galleries based solely on how I feel about the owners and staff, how they treat me and my work and how professional they are. My relationship with The Poi Room has blossomed this year and I am very happy about this.