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Anna Leyland artwork captures caffeinated Auckland multiculturalism

“Perfect timing,” says Kiwi artist Anna Leyland as she picks up the phone. She’s just returned from a photoshoot with online t-shirt store, Mr. Vintage, for a couple of child-size additions to the company’s Artist Series, and featuring Leyland’s son and niece as models in the promotion.

Indeed, Leyland is one of the country’s busiest artists right now, with new designs on Mr. Vintage’s shelves, her print and original collection selling consistently online, and a brand new commissioned work for Nespresso freshly launched.

The 1.5 square metre piece, currently displayed on the corner of Queen and Customs Streets in Auckland and titled ‘Golden Discourse’, is made entirely of nearly 2,000 Nespresso coffee capsules and was created to celebrate the opening of Nespresso’s new boutique at the location.

According to Leyland, the piece “represents the multiculturalism of Auckland”, with a series of gold arrows moving towards the center of the work serving as “a metaphor for the different people and cultures that converge in the city’s center”. 

“My work is often about embracing multiculturalism,” says the artist. “The arrow design pulls into the centre, representing all walks of life, all the people from different backgrounds coming into the city. The city itself is a crossroads. And the shop ended up being right on the corner of Queen and Customs Streets, so that has sweetened the meaning even more.”

Leyland describes the work as “an open conversation” about the beauty of multiculturalism within Aotearoa.

“This design represents my beautiful city, Auckland….the gold represents this allure and the energy of being in the city…a place to meet, work, play, converse, be immersed in and be inspired by the energy within.”

Leyland says the work, while a labour of love, was conceived and constructed under considerable pressure.

“They offered me the job November 1,” she says, “and they gave me five weeks, so there were no days off. Five days later they told me it had to be framed too, so there were a lot of logistics to be sorted out. It was a challenging project, but I loved it. And it was exciting to be working in a different medium but keeping true to [the themes of] my original paintings”.

Leyland says that the brief was only minimally prescriptive, with one of her early drafts quickly and enthusiastically accepted.

“They gave me a lot of freedom,” she says. “They said ‘come up with few designs for us’ so I lay awake for a few nights, came up with a few ideas and they said ‘we love it’. So it’s been easy. It’s been great to have been given the opportunity to just do what I do.”

Though Leyland is one of New Zealand’s busier artists (she’s currently organising her contribution to Melbourne’s White Night exhibition in February and working towards exhibitions in New York and LA), that doesn’t necessarily translate into steady cash flow.

So how does Leyland continue creating new work while avoiding the ‘starving artist’ cliché?

“Well doing this doesn’t provide a weekly wage, so I’ve had to learn to budget,” she says.

“But I’ve been out here for two years and I’m still going, so I’m feeling really grateful.”

“I’m a single mother as well, and that’s made me work even harder. It’s given me the drive that if I’m going to do this, to live my dream, I’m going to have to work hard to do it.”

Jonathan has been a writer longer than he cares to remember. Specialising in technology, the arts, and the grand meaning of it all, in his spare time he enjoys reading, playing guitars, and adding to an already wildly overstocked t-shirt collection.

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