New Zealand Enameling Culture

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By Heina PetzoldMore from this author

When one looks at a world map to find New Zealand, it's easily overlooked due to its location and size. This "spec of land" in the vast Southern Ocean, made up of two islands, is nevertheless a thousand miles long, with a population of over 4 million and a surprisingly vibrant culture and art scene for such a young country.

Sculpting thrives in all its forms, often inspired and executed by the indigenous Maori but also by European and American immigrants (my partner Eva Busch, for example, is a supreme art-award winning stone sculptor in her own right). You'd also find a vivid painting scene, but unfortunately, when it comes to glass-on-metal art there's almost total silence; like a forest with very few songbirds. The few practitioners - mostly jewelers - operate pretty much in isolation.

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Primal encounter 45 inches tall on Limestone

In that context I'd like to acknowledge especially Elizabeth Fraser-Davies, the award-winning and book-writing doyenne of New Zealand enameling who stood out in her enamel practice or-re generation before me. Her example encouraged me to persist.

Isolation can also be a virtue though, which I have embraced for many years in m1′ artistic pursuits. Never going to international conferences, nor participating in dedicated enamel exhibitions (until two years ago) or just looking over another enameller's shoulder has helped me to develop my very own style, all grown, as I call it, on my own compost.

In fairly recent times though l found myself looking for ways to finally expand into the "big wide world" of enameling: It all began when I started to exhibit some of my enamel works while participating in international sculpting events in Australia, Germany and Switzerland. In the mid-nineties - after 20 years using enamels mainly in jewelry - I also expanded into sculpting, which in due course made me combine stone with enamel inlays reflecting the strong light and intense colors of the New Zealand environment.

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Unfurling 30 x 18 inches on Limestone

Then, in 2007, my entry was selected for the prestigious "The Nude" enamel exhibition in Salou/Barcelona. That experience encouraged me so much that I decided to participate in the 2008 "Postcard with Stamp" competition at the W.W. Carpenter Enamel Foundation in Kentucky, ultimately winning the award for "Outstanding Concept and Excellence! "

What I'd really love to do now would be an intense residency in the U.S., followed up by joining enamel artist Mikhail Selishchev in Rostov/Russia for his master classes, maybe travel to Kecskemet in Hungary to participate in a six-week summer symposium or meet admired Andreu Vilasis in Barcelona. Unfortunately, all those exciting people and places are at least 10,000 miles away, and they seem even further away in our present challenging times. The longing to go is strong though, and eventually I shall!

For the last 10 years, my main exhibition space was our own studio and gallery in the heart of Oneroa, the largest village on Waiheke Island, a beautiful tourist destination in the Hauraki Gulf, a 35 minutes fast-ferry ride away from downtown Auckland, New Zealand's largest city of 1.4 million. Clients from around the world would come) be inspired and purchase, so quite a number of my/our works ended up in the U.S.

Due to our international success we have now diversified our creative pursuit and last year have let go of the gallery to be able to follow up on various international opportunities.

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Hommage to Degas, 15 x 17 inches

So, what's my style? What do I express? Basically I always loved cutting copper with my swiss-bladed handsaw. It calms me down and transports me into a creative cocoon. I must have cut through a few miles of sheet metal since the late seventies) and I still feel quite excited creating copper "jigsaw puzzles" glazed with vitreous enamels. Essentially l see myself as an abstract artist, as I experience each "puzzle bit" as an abstract creation. By putting the many pieces together, I end up with recognizable images. In some respects I see myself as a "traditionalist," focusing mainly on conventional techniques.

At this stage I am not interested in exploring new technologies or surfaces yet) as there is still so much to discover in my particular field. Presently, my fascination lies with juxtaposing the eternal qualities of the enamels with natural rocks: marble, granite, slate and limestone as well as annealed copper, which I have glazed over by the "square mile" in the past and now also use as a style element in its own right.

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John Dory, 40 x 30 inches

Yes, the natural aspects of this magnificent land are my deep well of inspiration! Never do I have to look far to find forms and energies I want to express, translate or interpret: A small rock formation on the coastline may inspire an elaborate wall-panel occupying me for months. Reflections on the many unstable fault-lines crisscrossing the country might spawn a whole series of works. Or just simply catching a beautiful "John Dory" during a fishing trip on the gulf may result in a large glass-on-metal interpretation of it.

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Parallel Realities, 20 x 20 inches

Furthermore I have observed over the years that the frequent use of archetypes and my choice of colors have often induced a sense of joy or calmness in the viewers of my creations.

Although the natural forces of New Zealand are within me and hugely influential on my artistic work, I am not made of this bedrock, since I was born in the American Sector of West-Berlin in 1953. Arriving in "Godzone" in 1980 my roots still remain German and have nurtured and defined my work as much as my adopted country has. So it is no surprise that I call myself proudly a "Kiwi-Kraut."

My vision for the future of enameling in this part of the world is to re-ignite the passion for this wondrous art-form by helping lifting it up to where it belongs: away from the common perception by the wider arts establishment as a lowly craft for making ashtrays, towards the forefront of contemporary artistic expression, brilliant and varied as it is nowadays!

By Heina Petzold [Volume 28, Number 2, April, 2009]
In association
glass on metal
Glass on Metal is the only publication dedicated to enameling and related arts. Technical information, book reviews, how-to articles and insight on contemporary enamelers highlight each issue.

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Heina Petzold

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