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Lowdown: Shining Lights Of Success

18 Apr 2024

Warning - only good news in this week's arts news bulletin - this is not a drill! A cavalcade of creative achievements to acknowledge, as New Zealanders get the spotlight for their hard mahi.

We’re only weeks away from New Zealand Music Month - and the mood has been set.

Those in the running for a Tūi have been named, with the 2024 Aotearoa Music Awards slated for 30 May at Auckland’s Viaduct Events Centre - welcome news after its absence in 2023.

There’s a lot to unpack from the list of nominees - 21 categories, all worthy of getting recognition - but some of the stats stand out - as well as proof that creatives don’t like to ‘stay in their own lane’ (to great results).

The supremely talented Tom Scott finds himself linked to eight nominations through his various projects - four with Avantdale Bowling Club, as well as four with Home Brew.  His twin projects even compete against each other in three categories:  Album of The Year, Single of the Year, and Best Hip Hop Artist (where only  Diggy Dupé can stop Scott from getting the gong).  Home Brew is also up for Best Group, while Scott/Avantdale Bowling Club is in the Best Solo Artist category. Two of Scott’s key collaborators, Haz Beats (Home Brew) and Christoph El Truento (Avantdale Bowling Club) face off against each other for Producer of the Year along with Tom Healy (Tiny Ruins).

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Stan Walker. Photo: Damien Nikora.

Stan Walker finds himself attached to five categories, including Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Best Solo Artist, Best Māori Artist and the Mana Reo award - which recognises albums or singles with at least 50% te reo Māori content.

The Mermaidens can lay claim to having five opportunities for band members to pick up an award. They’re a chance as a collective for Best Alternative, Single of the Year and Best Group.  But it’s their non-musical talents that are also to the fore in Best Album Artwork.

Mermaiden Lily Paris West is twice a finalist for the act’s eponymous LP, as well as The Beths’ Expert In A Dying Field. Andrew McLeod is also in the running for The Coin That Broke The Fountain Floor by Clementine Valentine.

Coterie has four bites at the cherry, with Album and Single of the Year, Best Roots Artist and the Mana Reo award.

Another soulful singer, Marlon Williams could be in for a busy night, up for Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Best Solo Artist, and, impressively, Best Music Video Content for his self-directed music video for Don’t Go Back.

The Beths are currently doing their thing at Coachella, but the three-time Tūi winners have a chance to double their tally after being nominated for Album of the Year, Single of the Year and Best Group after their success at the Silver Scrolls.

Nashville-based sensation Kaylee Bell also has a trifecta in the offing, nominated for Best Solo Artist, Best Country Artist, and Single of the Year - as does 2023 Taite Music Prize winner Princess Chelsea with Album of the Year, Best Solo Artist and Best Alternative Artist.

It’s no surprise to see Fazerdaze up for Single of the Year and Best Solo Artist, but the real-life Amelia Murray is also in the running for Best Engineer alongside Emily Wheatcroft-Snape, for Break!

The triumphant return of Aaradhna (Single of the Year and Best Soul/RnB Artist), Corrella (Single of the Year and Best Roots Artist), Jordyn with a Why, TAWAZ and Mohi (all up for both Best Māori Artist and Mana Reo), LEISURE (Album of the Year and Best Group), the Tuari Brothers (Best Māori Artist and Mana Reo), Paige (Album of the Year and Best Pop Artist), Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Tiny Ruins(both Album of the Year and Best Group)  round out the extensive list of double nominations.

Throw in the 21 artists, groups and technical crew who picked up single nominations - and that is one extensive list.

Of note, Christchurch can claim to be the folk capital of Aotearoa - with all three finalists in the Best Folk category calling Ōtautahi home - Terrible Sons, and Tom Lark. 

Also, the Best Jazz artist will be awarded at the glitzy ceremony instead of at the Wellington Jazz Festival this year, meaning  Clear Path Ensemble, Dave Wilson and Myele Manzanza will get to rub shoulders with the big wigs of the music industry.

Recorded Music New Zealand CEO Jo Oliver states “The Aotearoa Music Awards was paused in 2023, as we considered the outcomes of the review we undertook in 2022. It was important to us to engage with artists and the wider music community about the format, purpose and meaning of AMA.

“The message from the community was clear: the Aotearoa Music Awards is seen as essential, and aspirational for emerging artists. We heard strong support for our continuing commitment to embed te ao Māori and te reo and to reflect the unique cultural identity of Aotearoa. We also heard that more clarity was needed around the judging criteria and processes.

“We took the time to do that work, and have taken steps to more actively promote diversity and inclusion across the judging process and the event. We are also excited to introduce a fresh format for AMA 2024, which will consist of two connected ceremonies, the Opening Ceremony and Showcase, and award more than 20 Tūī in total.

“We can’t wait to celebrate the many incredible artists that are finalists for AMA 24, and to honour them in the company of their music whānau.”

Fresh faces for long-standing award

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Sally Spicer's shortlisted entry. Image: Supplied.


One of Aotearoa’s most coveted prizes has received record interest - and will crown a new champion.

The shortlist for the biennial Adam Portraiture Award has been released, with the 451 entries the most ever for the prize. It’s been whittled down to a finalist group of 37 - none of whom have won the award before. In fact, 21 of them are making their debut on the shortlist. There are some repeat finalists, like 2022 quartet Michael Crowley, Clark Roworth, Raewyn Helms Davis and Jana Branca. 

Sally Spicer, is a two-time finalist with Creatures Akin, her portrait of her daughter Lottie and cat Jelly, making the cut.  

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Dita Angeles' shortlisted entry. Photo: Supplied.

She told The Lowdown “It's a painting that I love, and that I enjoyed making. Being a finalist already feels like a prize to me, so when people wish me luck for the competition I feel slightly perplexed, since I already feel satisfied with this achievement.  I also have a healthy dose of imposter syndrome that surfaces from time to time, especially when I view the gallery of finalists online. It's a very special thing to be part of.”

Family was at the forefront with a fellow finalist from the other end of the country. Former marine biologist and self-taught painter Brian Stewart from Dunedin used grand-daughter Shelby Sutherland as his muse for Maid of the Mist.

"I was absolutely gobsmacked to discover I was selected as a finalist in the 2024 Adam Portraiture Award.  My partner Carmen had encouraged me to enter the painting, but I never dreamed my work would be selected. It's an honour and an amazing feeling. I am absolutely thrilled.”

Former Young Australian Artist of the year Alyce Welbourne’s shift across the Tasman has been rewarded with a spot on the shortlist. She now works in Wellington as a paramedic where she met Tor Riley, the subject of her portrait, Nice One! “I was delighted to hear that my painting was successful. It is very exciting to be a part of The Adam Portraiture Award and share this excitement with Tor and the Wellington Free Ambulance community.”

One that’s sure to resonate with many is the portrait of much loved creative force, Chris Knox.  Artist Dita Angeles told The Lowdown "I knew Chris from having painted him 147 times before his stroke for an animated music video and twice after that while I was living abroad, so I know his face and personality well.

“The way we communicated for the portrait sitting would have looked a bit like a game of charades, where I would describe the concept, and he would say 'Yes!' and follow through perfectly - being the brilliant performer that he is.

"When I told him the painting was a finalist, he sent me an ecstatic photo of himself with the comment ‘Yes!!!!’ So I think he's pretty chuffed!"

The winner of the $20,000 cash prize, and well as the $2,500 runner-up recognition, will be revealed on 22 May before all the finalists’ work is shared in an exhibition at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakata in Shed 11 on Wellington’s waterfront from 23 May to 11 August - before the work embarks on other tours of Aotearoa.

Doing his mother proud

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James S Watson, A Quiet Place to Rest. Photo: Supplied.

Another long-running event peaking in popularity is the NZ Painting and Printmaking Award - into its 23rd year, recognising the value of visual art for communities and the dedication, hard work and passion that these artists have for their craft.

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Zara Dolan with her work, The title encodes the process. Photo: Supplied.

Run by the Waikato Society of Arts, the entries list was trimmed down to 62 finalists - with Kura Te Waru-Rewiri (Paint Judge) and Marian Maguire (Print Judge) bringing their expertise to the role.

It was an emotional win for James S Watson in the Print category - the largest award of its kind in Aotearoa - collecting the $15,000 main prize for his work A Quiet Place to Rest, a view from his mother’s final resting place in Eden Gardens.  

Watson told The Lowdown “I was overwhelmed with emotions (on the night of the awards). As I wrote in my artist statement, this was in honour of my mother’s memory. I took all the practice and skills I picked up with the other prints I have done and poured it into A Quiet Place to Rest.

“I dedicate my award to my mum who helped me to realise my dream of being an artist, who supported my decision to take my hobby and turn it into a career. 

"I want to thank the Judges, I never thought I would win an award, let alone the first place. It legitimises my practice and has given me a renewed purpose to continue to make prints and continue to challenge myself. This award means the world to me and I couldn’t be prouder to have received it.” 

The Print Merit Award of $2,000 went to a “delighted” Zara Dolan for The title encodes the process. “This recognition means a great deal to me and is a significant boost for my career as an artist.”

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Janet Mazenier with her work, Mudflats. Photo: Supplied.

In the paint category (mirroring the prize money structure of the print category), Toipoto artist Janet Mazenier has tasted success with Mudflats. She told The Lowdown ”I was a wee bit shocked at the ceremony to receive the award, tears were shed! I’m very grateful to the WSA team and judges, and of course the sponsors. I’d like to wish congratulations to all the finalists — there is some incredible work in the final list.

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Meg Wilson with her work, Barrier dreaming. Photo: Supplied.

“What this means to me — well, a number of things but primarily that there is still a recognition of and love for painting - and, in this case, the complexities of painterly abstraction. I’m so delighted with the award!”

Meg Wilson’s Barrier dreaming captured the merit award, the artist explained to The Lowdown “The painting is a visual display of my love and attachment to my eldest daughter, Alena. Painting my loved ones seems to be bringing out the best in me at the moment, and the comments from Kura (and the award itself) further cements my plans to continue along this path.”

The 2024 NZPPA exhibition runs until 5 May and is free to the public at Hamilton’s artspost galleries, with a number of artist floor talks throughout.

Hard Graft pays off

Oliver Stretton-Pow, Hard Graft (2024). Photo: Peter Rees.

Visitors from across Tāmaki Makaurau and beyond flocked to this year’s Sculpture on the Gulf on Waiheke Island - but they didn’t need to go far to find the audience’s favourite.

Waiheke artist and Toipoto alumni Oliver Stretton-Pow has been declared the winner of the outdoor exhibition’s People’s Choice Award for his work Hard Graft. The breathtaking sculpture was inspired by both the Cape Reinga lighthouse and a pōhutukawa tree further down the cape.

Stretton-Pow comments “My selection for the Sculpture on the Gulf 20th anniversary exhibition curated by Bret Graham and Robert Leonard  - and the opportunity to exhibit alongside some of the most significant artists in Aotearoa - is a landmark in my career. To hear that my work has resonated with the public and been voted as the people's choice is affirmation that the years of research and commitment to my practice is bearing fruit.

“I wish to say thank you to the Curators for including my work in Perpetual Guardian Sculpture on the Gulf 2024, as well as thank you to the management team, sustained efforts of the volunteers and installation crew and of course to all those who voted in this year's event.” 

Hawke's Bay lifts off

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ToiToi's Lift Off festival. Photo: Kirsten Simcox Photography.a

Last week, we reported on the blow for the Hawke’s Bay creative community with its annual Arts Festival forced into a hiatus - but it’s been a good week for the people of this passionate region.

It’s seen the debut of its new children’s festival Lift Off, put together by Toitoi – Hawke’s Bay Arts & Events Centre to make sure the April school holidays are filled with creativity. It’s described as “a festival of fun for kids, by kids, and with kids” with both free and ticketed events.
Toitoi’s Glen Pickering explains “Creativity is more than a fun activity – it develops connection, communication and is vital to the support of children’s growth and wellbeing, which is so important for our Hawke’s Bay Tamariki. We didn’t want just another event for kids, we wanted to create a festival dedicated to children, placing them at the centre of the experiences, so it wasn’t just kids participating but giving them ownership over the Festival.”
So far there’s been a Whānau Day with theatre shows, interactive backstage tours, roaming characters, immersive experiences, playmaking spaces, storytelling and Club Kids with a DJ  - headlined by award-winning Australian show Robot Song.

It also featured a pay-it-forward initiative called the 100s & 1000s club, allowing the community to donate to support access to the arts for schools and community groups, with specific emphasis on those affected by the cyclone and with barriers to access.

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazelhurst effuses praise on the latest - and welcome - addition to the town’s calendar. ”At this time, post-COVID and the cyclone, it is especially important for our young people’s well-being that we foster connection, belonging and well-being through creativity.
“It is fantastic to see our Toitoi team supporting and sustaining our artists and our young people through this new annual festival. I am really excited to see where our young people take this opportunity.”

The Festival is due to conclude on Friday (19 April) with much of the week involving events and workshops.