“There's a big march for meaning [at the moment],” he elaborated. “I think [there’s] enough meaning [in allowing] someone to sit down, look and process the painting. And often when that's happening, I find what's forefront in the viewer's mind will sort of be worked out when they have time to sit [with] themselves without preconceived things or sequential constructions around them telling them how to think.”
Time to sit. Time to think. Time to form an opinion. For the Tāmaki Makaurau-based artist Reece King, time is one of the most invaluable resources available to an artist — one that’s becoming increasingly scarce, along with the space and materials required to restore painting to primacy as one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s chief artistic exports.
That’s part of King’s ambitious mission, first formalised with the establishment of the ‘painter-run’ space, Sanc, in Auckland in 2020. As one of Sanc's founding members, King is equally as devoted to using the space to advocate for other practitioners of the medium as he is to simply letting the work speak for itself.
“I’m for the people who don't like talking, so we paint instead,” King says of his contemporaries, all of whom practice a medium that has supposedly fallen out of favour. “There's a lot of people that can't put their paintings into words or their feelings into words. So we're a gallery where it doesn't have to be about that. I want to champion painting [and] make it cool again.”
In another convergence of art making and viticulture, King was recently announced as the inaugural winner of the Church Road Art Initiative, marking a significant stride in the first collaboration between Church Road winemakers and the MTG Hawke’s Bay art gallery. The multi-year venture aims to bolster local emerging or mid-career artistic talent while infusing the Hawke’s Bay region with cultural vibrancy. As Chris Scott, Chief Winemaker at Church Road, phrased it recently while on-stage at Semi Permanent Aotearoa, “Art and wine both enrich the places that we live and they enrich our lives.”
The linchpin of this collaboration is the Church Road Art Initiative's annual award, bestowed upon an Aotearoa New Zealand artist whose work promises to leave an indelible mark on the national landscape. The selection process involved a tripartite judging panel comprising Scott, Toni MacKinnon, MTG Hawke’s Bay Curator, and Becky Hemus, Editor-in-Chief of The Art Paper magazine and Art News Aotearoa. King’s selection as the inaugural recipient underscores the Initiative's commitment to nurturing artists who push the boundaries of conventional expression and promise to elevate painting to a stature befitting the country’s vast and dynamic cohort of practitioners.
One of the most unique facets of the Church Road Art Initiative lies in its dedication to providing the awardee with an expansive platform. The winning artist not only secures a coveted spot in MTG Hawke’s Bay's permanent collection but also earns a spot in the talent lineup of Semi Permanent Aotearoa. This includes an on-stage talk, allowing the artist to delve into their creative process and share their insights with a broader audience.
Hemus, who moderated King’s appearance at Semi Permanent, emphasised on-stage the challenges artists face in gaining exposure and financial support, saying, “I think that was also a really key part of what we found exciting, [this] being a painting prize, that Reece also supports so many other painters to do what they do and to flourish.” The Initiative, she noted, is a privileged opportunity to recognise and uplift artists, ensuring their work becomes a lasting part of the cultural tapestry of Hawke’s Bay and Aotearoa more generally. The selection process involved an extensive long list of artists, curated against specific criteria; the subsequent collaborative judging process, discussed in a virtual round-table, emphasised the panel's commitment to finding an artist whose work resonates not only with the established criteria but who also exudes a unique energy and vibrancy - a trait the three judges unanimously agreed King’s work embodies.
“When we started speaking about Reece's work, we didn't quite know how to pin it down,” recalls Hemus. “[We] didn't know what it's doing, but it's doing something that feels quite exciting. […] After we had finished going through all the artists, it was clear that Reece was one of the few people in that group that had really stood out to us all.”
Likewise, Scott acknowledged the unanimous excitement that permeated the discussion, indicating a shared recognition of King's distinctive style. “It was difficult to put into words, but there was a lot of talk of energy and vibrancy," he said. "I loved that the works are really recognisable. There's a real signature to them.”
Key to the success of a painted work — and perhaps also a successful wine — King ventured, is a sense of harmony: “Being one with nature and balancing the picture play in the same way that universe balances the particles that make it stable enough for us to be here right now," explained King. "But then there's also taste. And I think even if I don't like it, I can still understand if it's good or bad based on harmony.
Like King, Scott likens his winemaking approach to something far more intuitive, a creative process that’s just as reliant on expression, instinct, science, and materiality. “That's why I enjoy winemaking so much. We start with a vision and that vision isn't always fully formed. Sometimes it's very, very vague; sometimes, in the case of our pioneering winemaker at Church Road, a guy called Tom McDonald way back in the 1940s, [he] wanted to make wine that tasted like the great Bordeauxs that he loved. And so he had a very, very clear vision. And sometimes we have a picture in our mind of what we want to produce that's very, very clear. Sometimes it's vague and there's a lot of experimentation. Sometimes it's just [a case of] ‘I wonder what'll happen. Let's try this, let's give it a go.’”
King, upon receiving the award, expressed his gratitude for the recognition and the financial support it provides, emphasising once again the importance of time for artists wanting to delve into their creative process, while also touching on the uniqueness of painting as a medium that allows the surface of a work to bear “the scars and traumas” of an imperfect creative journey. The success of King as the Initiative’s inaugural recipient also sets a promising precedent for the continued intersection of art and winemaking — a collaboration that not only enriches the cultural landscape of Hawke’s Bay but also serves as a beacon of support for artists seeking to carve out their own niche in the vibrant tapestry of Aotearoa New Zealand's burgeoning contemporary art scene.
Photography courtesy of the artist and Matthew Clode