Toi Art | Inspired by our national art collection

To celebrate the opening of Toi Art, Te Papa’s new art gallery, and to show how art can inspire people in all walks of life, Te Papa has asked a few collaborators around the country to create their own responses to an artwork in the national art collection.  Including yours truly! 


I've been a fan of the previous gallery, Toi Te Papa for a lonnnnng time - I feel like I've been on a one-woman ambassadorial rampage for that gallery, telling everyone in Wellington it exists, taking dudes there on dates (because I'm very casual) and visiting it myself repeatedly.  So, you can imagine my excitement to learn that Te Papa was undertaking a redesign of its art gallery to take it to another level.  I've been an ignorant art lover (def: likes to look at interesting things, retains zero information relating to said art) since my Nana took us to the Auckland Art Gallery as wee tiny kids, and I've written before about how art can inspire you when you get dressed.  When Te Papa approached me to see if I'd like to get dressed up for art and write about it on my blog, it aligned with my interests so closely that it was scary - as I say, dream come true. 

I narrowed 600+ pieces of art from the online collection to two pieces.  Then came the most exciting day of my life - visiting Te Papa's art storage (nice guessing on the 'gram, you guys!) to see the works in person.  It was extremely overwhelming, in a good way, and although I tried to be very normal I was very excited and I had nervous butterflies all morning and got tears in my eyes when I was telling my colleague what I had been doing.  You can now truly understand how much I revered Toi Te Papa (and now, to transfer my affections to Toi Art). 

I deliberately didn't read about the works, so that my inspiration wouldn't be tarnished by actual knowledge.  I'm very strongly in favour of art being accessible. Don't worry if you've never read an art history book in your life - art can be colours, shapes and ideas that inspire you regardless of whether you know what it's all "supposed" to mean.  I'm pleased to confirm that there will be no quiz at the end of the gallery! 

Check out the product of my inspiration below, and come over to Instagram for more behind the scenes art action.  Scroll to the end of this post for info on the gallery's opening and to learn about the exhibition I am ultra excited for.  

I've put the art works into lightboxes, so if you click on them you will be able to see them as a right-sized image (instead of having to scroll the length of them).  You're welcome *hat tip*

Look One | Paint by Numbers Definition

Sing Tai Wong, Man in the mountains, circa 1972. Te Papa

Born 1943 in Otaki, Wong Sing Tai (also known as Harry Wong) is one of the country’s leading Chinese-New Zealand artists and filmmakers. Wong won the inaugural 1968 Benson and Hedges Art Award, painting in a style which Colin McCahon described as New Zealand’s ‘first Pop Painting’ for its graphic depictions of rocket ships, bombers, and commercial logos. Around 1970, Wong began to use his graphic, hard-edged style to experiment with a more abstract style of painting influenced by Buddhism. After a 25 year hiatus to focus on filmmaking, he has recently returned to painting to revisit some of the formal concerns with the expressive and spiritual power of colour and shape that has interested him since the 1970s.

This work jumped out of the collection for two reasons - the use of various shades of blue, and the really defined use of colour (on my visit to Te Papa they noted the paint by colours approach and I felt proud for thinking that when I looked at it online.  I am easily chuffed).  I felt inspired by that definition, the blue, and the pops of yellow.  So, I present you with....


I wanted definition and a crisp demarcation between items, so I stuck to strong shapes and high contrast items.  The yellow skirt is a vintage number I picked up last year, which has a massive tail/frill on the back - wearing it here with the sleeveless coat was an easy way to play down the drama of that feature, and to introduce the white space from the painting.  As well as introducing a different colour blue, the necklaces broke up the solid mass of dark blue through the centre of the outfit. 

I think this outfit demonstrates that you can pick and choose what you want from an artwork when it comes to inspiring your own creativity - I disregarded the green, gave the yellow more prominence, and picked up the brighter hue of blue in my necklace (and background, but I can't take this wall everywhere I go).  That's important, I think.  I'm living proof that you don't have to be an art aficionado to get pleasure and inspiration from art! 

Did you spot the man in the mountain in the art work?


Look Two | Movement and Flow

Gretchen Albrecht, Indian summer, 1974. Purchased 1975 with Ellen Eames Collection funds. Te Papa

Gretchen Albrecht CNZM was born in Auckland in 1943. She graduated from the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts with a Diploma in Fine Arts with honours in 1963. In the years following she established herself as a leading artist of her generation, with a diverse practice encompassing figurative painting, watercolour, prints and sculptural works, and as one of New Zealand’s most influential abstract painters. In 1978 she travelled to Europe, where the experience of European art history at first hand had a profound influence on her work. Shortly after her return to NZ she was awarded the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, in 1981, and in the same ear began to exhibit the shaped ‘hemisphere’ canvases saturated in colour that are among her most distinctive works. She has exhibited widely in New Zealand and overseas: highlights include her first major survey in 1986 at Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua, Whanganui, and subsequent surveys in 2002 at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki and in 2005 at Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Albrecht now divides her time between Auckland and London and continues to investigate the potential of colour and abstraction in her hemisphere, oval and rectangle paintings.

This is just divine.  Again - no idea how this is painted, no insight into its deeper meaning, I just saw it and really, really liked it.  As I say above, it's okay to be not that deep when it comes to art.  It's a visual medium, you're going to get something from it even if you don't know it's an allegory for something something something.  From this artwork, I got a strong sense of flow, and I loved the use of such a range of colours together. The most important thing was finding some kind of long outer layer to create the movement and flow. 


And here we are - movement achieved!  It's a toss up whether it's the coat or the skirt that gives the most to this outfit.  Together, they perfectly captured the "swish" that jumped out of this artwork towards me.  

For me, the pink and burgundy dominated the artwork, so I used them as the block, anchor colours in this outfit too, and then introduced print and details to bring in other colours.  

The skirt was an incredibly serendipitous find during my prep for this project, because it picked up the use of contrasting colours that I loved about the artwork and deployed it in a beautiful silk that moves with you.  That print allowed me to easily introduce my yellow shoes, and then my large wooden beads - all tied together by their use of that similar yellow shade.  

I love this combo very much and I will be wearing this outfit again and again! Imagine how great it will be as I stride down the streets of Wellington in the spring equinox winds. 


Toi Art opens on Saturday 17 March - check out the opening weekend schedule here.  It includes a frock-rock down the catwalk at 4.30pm with the Pacific Sisters, which I need you all to go to.  Stay on after 5pm for Art, Drinks, and Music. 

Speaking of the Pacific Sisters - if you head along (and your only excuse is being out of town!) then may I direct your attention to Pacific Sisters: Fashion Activists.  Te Papa describes it as a celebration of mana wāhine, indigenous identities, and the role this collective has played over the past 26 years – through their collaborative works across fashion, performance, music, and film – in giving voice and visibility to Māori and Pacific peoples in Aotearoa New Zealand.  It's open until 8 July 2018, which means you have plenty of time to see it...or, if you're me, plenty of time to see it again and again. 

If you can't make it to Te Papa, you can still view 620 of the art works in Te Papa's collection online here.  I challenge you to find a piece you love and let it inspire you to wear a combo you might never have considered!