Art attack

Photo: Bruce Barnard.

There is one piece of advice that ACG Tauranga teacher Leana Buxton passes on to all her students: Never give up.

An accomplished artist in her own right and a recent finalist of the prestigious 2016 Miles Art Award, the 32-year-old is a testament to her own advice. Lacking natural artistic skill, but with plenty of passion, Leana says a career in art was not a clear-cut path.

“I wasn’t the best artist at school and it wasn’t until after high school that I made the decision to do a Bachelor of Media Arts. It wasn’t until I immersed myself in art and design that I found I was passionate about it and developed my skills.”

It’s this kind of real-world approach Leana brings to her teaching – encouraging students that if they truly want to become an artist natural talent isn’t enough.

“I say to the children: ‘You know, even if you don’t feel that passionate about it or feel that you lack ability, art is something that you can practise and learn’.

“If you do a ‘bad drawing’, it’s actually a good thing – from that we can figure out why this particular drawing isn’t working and how we can improve on that to grow.

“Everything you do has a purpose and is a learning opportunity.”

Leana herself is always seeking new ways to grow and develop her art, through opportunities such as the Miles Art Award. The biennial event is an opportunity for artists in the Bay of Plenty to submit their art works for the premiere award, judged by artist, curator and writer Ane Tonga. The finalists are currently being shown in a curated exhibit at Tauranga Art Gallery until October 16.

Leana, an abstract-expressionist painter, entered a piece equally focused on the construction of the artwork as the image itself – something she was captivated by during her time at university.

“I look at events such as this as an opportunity to diversify,” she explains. “I got great satisfaction out of the construction aspect at university, so for this piece I sourced macrocarpa timber from a local yard and – with the help of my father-in-law – made the frame for the painting.

“Then, I put Perspex overtop, so you can see through it, painted on the canvas, and hung it inside the frame, leaving the wood exposed. It’s about the structure and surface of the painting and pushing that further than I ever normally would.”

She credits the Miles Art Award, and competitions such as this, as a way for like-minded artists to get together and challenges the boundaries of art.

“It’s a good way to get critical reflection on your work and present pieces that you wouldn’t normally do for expert critique. You want to know if it has weight in that art world context, alongside your peers and other professionals.”

One of those peers is fellow Miles Art Award finalist Josh Buxton – Leana’s husband – who is a high school teacher in English and media studies.

“His background is in photography,” says Leana. “We both got the same email alerting us that we were finalists, and I tricked him by saying I didn’t get in!”

Leana, who is also a mother-of-three, credits her ability to work part-time at ACG Tauranga with enabling her to explore her artistic ability, which, she says, is paramount to her work in the classroom.

“I am very fortunate that I can teach and practise my own art work. I think that is fundamental to being a well-rounded art teacher, so I have a studio at home where I paint and draw.

“My kids at ACG love talking to me about what I’m doing. They are always asking what I’ve finished and can I bring it in for them. That dialogue is fantastic.

“The students also like being able to go into the gallery and see my work. It gives them context as to how I work and who I am as a person.”

They’re not the only children benefitting from Leana’s practical approach – her own three are well on their way to becoming the next Miles Art Award finalists.

“They have a little desk in my studio that they can paint at – sometimes I am happy for that, and sometimes I need them not to be in there!” she says with a laugh.

“But, to be honest, I get jealous of my kids art making! That’s because, and I think most abstract artists understand this, the style seems simple but it’s actually incredibly difficult – and for my children, they are so unrestrained and don’t overthink things. I love that.”

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