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Artists: get a skill you can market, says Stanley Palmer

The Big Idea talked to beloved landscape artist Stanley Palmer on the eve of his latest exhibition Chart of Aotearoa and asks what advice he’s got for aspiring artists.


The Big Idea talked to Stanley Palmer on the eve of his latest exhibition Chart of Aotearoa. It features nine works, and is the first in an ‘ambitiously planned series of 50 paintings revisiting and charting his favourite locations throughout New Zealand’. He has prolific capacity - all these new works were produced between mid-2017 and now.

Stanley is one of New Zealand’s most renowned landscape artists, has been exhibiting since 1958 and has works featured in New Zealand’s pre-eminent galleries.

“I’m chasing places that are from the past,” says Stanley, though this isn’t a new concept for him. He likes placing his work “in the immediate past” – about 30 to 40 years back in time, to create a subtle reminder of what we are missing, changing, losing.

Stanley admits he’s perhaps been more intrepid than he should have been in the pursuit of these works, considering a childhood foot injury. These locations captured in oil on linen were discovered at the end of many dead-end roads from Karamea to Great Barrier and the Chatham Islands.

As well as capturing a glimpse of the past, “it’s also a critical thing,” says Stanley. “Why have we altered this? Why are we going to change this?”  He’s long been a protester – but in a quiet way, by painting the things that are all-but gone. “Don’t alter this,” his works whisper.

He’s long been a protester – but in a quiet way, by painting the things that are all-but gone. “Don’t alter this,” his works whisper.

“You have to have your own opinion about things, then you can go off on your own tangents, off into space somewhere.”

With such an auspicious career, what pearls of wisdom could Stanley impart to aspiring artists who read The Big Idea?

With an aptitude for science, he started working life as a draftsman and surveyor but the foot injury put a stop to that. It was only later, in his 20s at teachers’ college, that Stanley found art.

Stanley evidently found much joy during a period of his life teaching art in intermediate schools, influencing and encouraging students to think about and do things differently by taking them out into the environment. Though teaching also wasn’t to last, he became a widower, a solo parent and a stay-at-home dad to his young children. His first break as a professional artist came through an Arts Council grant.

His key piece of advice for art graduates today? “I always encourage people to get a skill they could market.”

And while developing your craft, “you have to keep your vision about what you want to do.”

This advice has been heeded by all his children and grandchildren who all work across many arts disciplines. Children Matthew and Anna work in the arts and film and grandchildren Lily Lawrence works for Weta Digital, Rebecca Nash lectures in creative writing at the University of Canterbury and Daniel Nash is a fine arts graduate.

“Get a marketable skill.

“Everyone has to do something, don’t you? There’s the rub!”

“Get a marketable skill. Everyone has to do something, don’t you? There’s the rub!”

Stanley Palmer “Chart of Aotearoa” opens today (Thursday 26 April) at Melanie Roger Gallery, 444 Karangahape Rd, Auckland.

Stanley Palmer will discuss his new work in the exhibition on Saturday 28 April at 11am.


Written by

Karyn Tattersfield

24 Apr 2018

I believe the arts are vital to building our community, and I am fascinated by what can be achieved with creativity - with a bit of process thrown into the mix. I love supporting The Big Idea and New Zealand's community of artists with great content to fast-forward their mission.

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