Secret Lives of the Front of House Staff: Alice Fennessy

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‘Bogan culture is close to my heart.’

Alice Fennessy is one of our newest Front of House members. Raised near Palmy, and fresh from her Massey degree in Fine Arts and Design, Alice told me about her early experiences at City Gallery and her love of the gothic, bogan aesthetic.

How long have you worked at the gallery?

I started at the end of February this year, so not that long.

What were you doing before you came to work here?

I was studying. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Massey, which I followed with a Graduate Diploma in Design. I have Honours in Fine Art as well.

What sort of work did you make in your Honours year?

Paintings! I paint figurative paintings, which is kind of not that cool. I love painting, I painted all through high school. At Massey I worked with Bryce Galloway and Simon Morris.

Are you from Wellington?

No, I’m from just outside of Palmerston North. I grew up on a little farm just outside Palmy.

How did your Graduate Diploma in Design go?

It was good, I specialised in illustration, which was something that I was really interested in because my paintings is quite illustrative as well.

Do you do everything on computers now?

I used a mixture of traditional media and Adobe software. Photoshop is so efficient, it is easy to use. But if you are not good in traditional media, then I think that it Photoshop is harder. You have to have that grounding in traditional media, else it is pretty tricky.

Are you looking to do more design work now that you have graduated?

I do little bits and pieces but I mainly wanted to do the Graduate Diploma for my own personal practice, so that I could think about narrative and other things that I could apply to my own art-making.

Part of working at City Gallery was in the hope that I could find out what I want to do next! I want to have my own practice but it has to be sustainable, you know…

What sort of ideas did you take from your design year?

Well, I learnt a lot about how to express a narrative and also how to just suggest narrative components and get the pacing right; and how to do that without using words and making that narrative really convincing.

I also learnt more about the craftsmanship element of painting. At Fine Arts, it was very concept driven. It was quite hard to get good advice on painting. At Massey, we don’t have specialisations, all the disciplines are broken down and everyone is working together. So if you wanted to become more skilled at your craft, this is quite tricky. Practical things like composition etcetera; those old fashioned painting ideas are quite uncool, but I think really important.

You must be really looking forward to the Shane Cotton exhibition coming up. And what other artist models did you study at Massey?

I love the Canterbury school of figurative artists. I love Séraphine Pick and Saskia Leek and Tony de Lautour. I really love those NZ figurative painters. I’ve also recently been enjoying Matt Hunt’s work.

The Séraphine Pick show that was here in 2010, I think I came about six times. I absolutely loved it. I wrote essays about it…When I was working at Farmers, Seraphine came in one time. I was like a creepy fan; I think I totally freaked her out. I just said, ‘I love your work!’ She was really nice.

What other shows at City Gallery have you enjoyed?

I remember the first show I came to here was with my high school and that was Patricia Piccinini. And I loved that show. Also, the Neil Pardington show, The Vault; photographs of museum collections, I really enjoyed that show too. I came multiple times.

You made the trip down from Palmy to see the shows?

Yeah! And it was my first time at City Gallery. I was like, ‘Wow!’ And now that I work here, I love watching the reaction from school groups when they come in to the gallery.

Do you have any favourite gallery visitors?

It always funny hearing dialogues start up, when people start questioning the work and saying ‘What is art?’, and those kind of questions. I think that is really good. For some people, being in a public gallery, this is their only interaction with contemporary art, or their very first interaction with contemporary art. It is exciting to witness that, and see people question what the art is trying to say.

Whenever the opportunity comes up to talk contemporary art with people, I love doing that. Especially with the kids that come in, because they have the most primal, instinctive response to the work. It’s fun with them and they are really insightful.

What is your own painting like?

My work is based on dreams and memory. I think it’s quite surreal but also very kitsch. I love the aesthetics of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I’ve been painting on denims and velvet fabrics and stuff like that, just to fully commit to that aesthetic.

I’m always drawn to things like bad album covers and paintings on cars and bad airbrush paintings. I love that look, I guess it reminds me a bit of rural New Zealand and Palmy. Bogan, very bogan. The bogan culture is close to my heart.

What is ahead for you in 2013? 

I’m still working that out. I’m working on my own art, and I have a show at a gallery in Whanganui in January, Space Gallery. And I’m trying to find other shows and am working away in my studio.

Do you think Whanganui is the new Wellington?

It definitely has an exciting vibe at the moment. I spent a Saturday night there last week, and it was pretty fun. It’s kind of this dark, creepy place, but also has this exciting arts community as well.