Colours and the art of public good

A brand new collective of New Zealand’s top artists has launched. Their mission: to make Aotearoa a better place.

Colours is a new movement providing an alternative platform for artists to sell their work and give back at the same time, via pop-up exhibitions and an online marketplace and media platform.

The new venture breaks away from the traditional gallery model, and gives a percentage of all art sales to local not-for-profits and charities.

The initiative launched with a group exhibition and three-day creative celebration – including live art, music and a boutique craft market – earlier this month to coincide with Artweek Auckland.

Colours was founded by Samuel Ryan, who saw the potential of artists working together and need for a new artist platform. “We’re excited to work with New Zealand artists across all mediums, telling their stories through film to give deeper insight into the artist while also showing and selling their work in way that hasn’t been done before,” he says.

The original plan was to only have an online community, Ryan explains, but plans changed after a refinement process.  And there’s another focus that Ryan also says is important to emphasise: design that can have a social message and make a difference. “We’re introducing a new model with 10 percent set aside for a charity or not-for-profit of the artist’s choice,” he explains. “Galleries have their place and have done a huge amount to help artists they exhibit, but Colours is introducing a fresh initiative that empowers artists to communicate with a wider audience, collaborate and support their local communities. It’s about taking fine art outside the four walls of a gallery and bringing it to the public.”

Top New Zealand contemporary artists across several different platforms have come together to bring Colours to life, most notably Andrew J Steel, Charlotte Graham, Flox, Jimmy James Kouratoras, Layla Walter and Sam Mathers.

Kouratoras, who grew up in South Auckland and works mainly works with acrylics, says he’s a big fan of design that can have a positive impact on the wider community. “To make the world a more beautiful place, having beautiful things that affect people in a positive way is important,” he says. “And design should reflect that.”

He adds the organization he is donating money to is Forest & Bird. “I’m always painting nature. A lot of my stuff is quite organic.”

Flox says she’s also giving proceeds to Forest & Bird. “It’s a great opportunity to get involved in terms of being able to collaborate [with Colours],” she says. “It’s a great bridge.”

She’s not all talk, either. In support of the launch, Flox and Kouratoras collaborated to create an original wall mural outside Ponsonby Central in Auckland.

She also says the purpose of Colours raises some important questions. “Do we need art? We need food in our bellies, but do we need art? It’s a great question.”

Conservation and protecting natural areas is also something close to Walters’ heart. Using cast glass as her medium and having had exhibitions in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Queenstown and Seattle, she points out the dangers of mining in the Coromandel – and how mining has been permitted in an 80,000-hectare area. “Cast glass keeps me working differently every day,” she says. “Drawing, carving, mold making, industrial tool working, hand polishing, writing, attending exhibition openings. Working with glass keeps me occupied, satisfied, and gives me time to reflect and engage with the wider world.”

Cast glass also has a special, fourth dimension that other sculpture might not necessarily have, she says. “As a medium glass has a fourth dimension, which is light,” she explains. “Cast glass has a special quality, something magical like swimming underwater with your eyes open. I make vessels carved both internally and externally, I am carving in negative and positive to achieve an imagery overlay. Because the glass is translucent, the carved detail can be seen from both within and outside the piece.”

She also says her designs can have a greater meaning than simply being pretty things to look at. “Design has a huge role in the world,” she says. “I make beautiful objects, and that’s my voice.”

Colours certainly has some ambitious goals for 2017. There are plans to work with over 100 New Zealand artists in the first year, an initiative for which applications are now open. In addition to the online marketplace and media platform, Colours plans to launch several pop-up exhibitions and community-driven events in Wellington and Christchurch.

Large scale public artist Andrew Steel, one of New Zealand’s most high-profile artists, thinks it’s a step in the right direction for the art community. “It’s a great opportunity to give creatives a new avenue that brings more personality to our work.”

Steel released two exclusive prints at the Colours launch, and exhibited for the first time as part of the group show. “As an artist I try to create an interesting life by learning about other people’s journeys, stories and understanding their highs and lows. Colours does just that by connecting artists to collaborate and give back to the community.”