Mandy Hague has had an interest in natural history for as long as she can remember. Her fascination related not only to how things looked and acted, but to their evolutionary adaptations and physiological make-up. “I caught up with a lady the other day who was a neighbour of mine many years ago,” Mandy recalls. “She told me that she remembered me as a child picking up roadkill. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I still do that!”
With her sense of curiosity intact and a strong portfolio of conservation-based artwork under her arm, Mandy enrolled directly into the Diploma of Art & Creativity (Advanced). Not surprisingly, she chose to work with natural objects, with animal skulls, insects and feathers making their way into her work. “I found that the art I was producing was very different, but it still continued along the lines of what mattered to me,” says Mandy. “I was pleased about that, because in the end you have to be true to yourself.”
During the process of art-making, Mandy made an interesting discovery: “I realised that what I was trying to say in these works related not only to nature, but to our [human] relationship with nature,” she says. “Often there is a tension in the work that comes from human interaction with the natural world. I'm very aware of how our planet is inhabited by the most amazing creatures and ecological systems and also of how we are destroying those systems. This tension shows itself in the form of opposing ideals such as birth and death, beauty and ugliness, natural and man-made.”
Fast-forward to the 2015 Rotorua Museum Art Awards, where Mandy was named winner of the $10,000 Supreme Art Award for her painting ‘Fools Gould’. It was not something Mandy had been prepared for… “I was at the awards night when it was announced and I went into shock!” she says. “I mean, it was so much money. It was just so wonderful to have your work acknowledged like that.”
‘Fools Gould’ was inspired by, and incorporated, the work of John Gould, English ornithologist and bird artist. “I’ve always had an interest in Natural History paintings and so I selected a print from an old book of bird paintings by John Gould, which featured two finches on a branch with berries,” says Mandy. “I attached the page to a larger piece of watercolour paper which allowed me to add my own elements and actually take them off the page and onto the watercolour paper.”
The painting’s complexity and ‘deliberate blurring of boundaries’ was noted by judge Lucy Hammonds and Mandy was thrilled to have her work acknowledged in that way. Says Mandy, “I was meticulous in my painting technique so that it was difficult for the viewer to tell which was the original John Gould work and which was added later by me. I added some berries but rather than bunch them naturally I spaced them in an ordered arc framing the birds and I added a cat skull and a rat skull. It was a work which pushed some boundaries and I can thank my Advanced Diploma training for that,” she says.
The timing of the generous award couldn’t have been better for Mandy and her husband, who were in the process of moving house at the time. “I’ve had to spend some money on the new place,” she says, “but I am definitely putting some aside to invest back into my art practice.” With a group show coming up at the Tauranga City Gallery in September, no doubt the extra injection of cash will come in handy.
If you’d like to enquire about studying at The Learning Connexion School of Art and Creativity, call us on 0800 278 769, or email us at email@example.com.