TOI TANGATA ARTIST INTERVIEW: MAXINE MONTGOMERY
How long have you been making art for?
I come from three generations of photographers. My Pākeha grandfather Cuthbert Ginders was a photographer in Herbert Street Wellington, and he trained my Māori grandmother, Ida Dorothy Tirikatiku Procter, my mother and her three sisters. I believe he was the first photographer in New Zealand to print colour photographs. I had an obsession as a child with photography, and at age 11 years I walked up the Mana Esplanade to his garage to ask him for a lens for an enlarger I was making out of a small wooded tea box (with the slide lid) and two baked bean tins, which would fit inside one another to create a slide in and out effect for and adjusting focal length. I had a piece of opaque glass to soften the light which I wired up myself for inside the tea box. I took my lens home, finished the enlarger, and rigged it all up in the bathroom with a red light bulb, along with the trays of chemicals, and my tweezers etc. It WORKED and I was hooked! What magic it was to watch the images appear from the liquid. Unfortunately, with a big family, I had to vacate the bathroom too often, and had I have had a special space as a dark room I may very well have pursued photography as a career. My passion for photography continued throughout, and as a young adult I wandered the streets taking photos of unusual people. It was indeed my first passion.
How/where did you start?
My first experiences at making art were in 1979 when I was working in Renmark South Australia after teaching in London for two and a half years. I was working as a Project Officer for the Australian Government with unemployed youth in Renmark and I began reading a book called ‘The Last Australians’. It was about the appalling treatment the British soldiers dished out to the Australian Aborigines. I was so utterly incensed by this, for some reason I found myself with a pencil in my hand, and sketching the faces of the images in the book. I found myself somewhat obsessed with this and had no idea how to draw but I just did. I began with the eyes, and found that once the eyes were right, the pencil took on a life of its own. It generally took me an hour to complete a portrait, and I just stretched the shadows out and around the face I was drawing. I had some difficulty with co-ordination with 'cross hatching' as it is called, but I persevered and became more and more visually aware as I worked, especially of the depth of shadows in the faces of people. I was working entirely untrained as I had no experience making art before then. I did a small series of about 10 faces and then stopped. Later on, after my children were born I had a strong desire to work with stirling silver. I was working in the Wakefield Market in Wellington back then going to garage sales and picking up stock to resell in the market. I met a chap at a garage sale who worked with silver and gold and he said to me ‘all you need is one soldering lesson - I can show you’ and he did. I was ecstatic! I have said the same thing to many people since! I took a bus trip up to Auckland with my back pack and a book of American Indian jewellery which excited me. I went to Warburtons and bought as many tools as I knew I would need, and then on to buy my silver wire and sheets to take home and experiment with. I was self-taught and I made a great deal of rings, earrings, ear cuff bracelets etc which I sold in my antiques and curios market stall. I did this for many years and continued to make jewellery even after I went back to teaching. When my two daughters were young, I had a huge amount of creative energy, a force that seemed to come from out of the blue, which I call from Spirit. It was such a compelling creative driven energy, that came to me this time in the form of words and poetry. This creative period lasted for some years and I was able to write a great deal in that time, poems that I am now able to use as a way of working from within. I continued to teach in schools, particularly recalcitrant learners with challenging behaviours, using art wherever I could to motivate and encourage learning. Even though I had not made much art myself at this point I was able to teach it. In 2015, after more than 40 years in the classroom, I desperately needed to do something creative myself, and so I began my three year journey into Maunga Kura Toi (Māori Visual Arts) at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. The three-year journey at the Wānanga, bought me back to my Māori culture in a way I never anticipated. After teaching in a competitive school system for over four decades, it has been a huge eye opener and relief for me to see the Wānanga way, i.e a non-competitive supportive learning environment where teaching is based on Nga Takepu, an inclusive holistic approach which truly values everyone. This has surely opened my heart and eyes. Over the past three years in Te Wānanga o Aoteara I see what I have missed as a Māori, in my education. I have been able to connect myself to my culture, my tipuna, and I have developed a deeper understanding of the things that have been given to me through Spirit. In addition I have learned how to trust in my own creative energies by combining what I know with things ‘given’ to me, and to develop painting and other skills as way of visually expressing other-worldly things. I can connect up now, at last I am home.
What are some of the key milestones/highlights on your journey as an artist so far?
Being told ‘you only need one soldering lesson’ to get started in silverwork.
Drawing portraits out of the blue.
Writing poetry from Spirit.
Learning about my Māori Culture and completing my Degree in Māori Visual Arts at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
Discovering painting in 2016.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced on your journey as an artist?
I think as a Māori/Pākeha woman, I have found that looking Pākeha but feeling Māori has made it difficult for me to fit in to either world completely. The fact that my mother, and my siblings were not taught Te Reo Māori has had a detrimental effect on us all. For me it has felt like being a misfit in both worlds. The challenge for any mother trying to do art is a difficult one of juggling, and especially if one works full time as well, as I have done. There was further challenge for me in getting touch with my own inner creative self, after teaching for so long. Having help from tipuna has been huge for me, both in my writing and now painting.
Why do you do what you do?
Compulsion really. I want to make up for lost time and express as fully as I can my tikanga Māori for myself, my tipuna and for my mokopuna. I feel being creative challenges the higher intellect and connects us with Spirit and all that is good in human beings. To be able to express the intangible and the beautiful is compelling and addictive. It is great when someone can get what you are saying no matter what medium. Art is like laughter, it has a universality about it and can show the best we can be. It can also be a medium to make political and other statements, but so far I have not used art in that way. I may very well do in the future, but for now I am happy to continue with expressing the intangible.
What are some of your big goals and aspirations as an artist?
My main goal now is to extend my skills and produce meaningful works of art using silver and paint that express my Māori heritage.
What are five random facts about you?
I love Māori Culture, its teachings, legends, kaupapa and art.
I LOVE birds.
I love cycling and kayaking.
I love creating new memories by trying out new experiences.
I do love seeing other people doing well.
What are your other passions in life and why?
I love the outdoors particularly and motor homing around New Zealand for the past 10 years in school holidays has given me some wonderful visions of our beautiful whenua. I have a boat shed by the sea which I have bought with my retirement money. It has a painting studio space and is a place to share with others or be alone painting. There is a warm village neighbourhood amongst the boat shedders.